Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 288 pp., $25.95.
"Can you tell a Sunni from a Shi‘a?" Many people cannot describe the differences between these two major Muslim traditions. However, battles between Sunnis and Shi‘a dominate news from Iraq, and Sunni-Shi‘a relations are critical to the future of that country. In Lebanon, a major Shi‘a organization, Hizballah, plays a significant role in politics and, as the Israeli-Hizballah battles during the summer of 2006 show, this Shi‘a group has an impact on regional and global politics. In addition, Sunni and Shi‘a characteristics are important to the self-identification of competing major states like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
As a result, it is startling when people in important planning positions dealing with U.S. policy toward the Muslim world and with counter-terrorism admit that they do not know the differences between Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims.Shi‘a are an increasingly visible and important force in the contemporary Middle East. Ignorance about Shi‘i Islam and about Sunni-Shi‘a relations can be dangerous for the interests of anyone in business, government and humanitarian work in the Middle East (and globally).