The ‘Sunni-Shia conflict’ narrative is misguided at best and disingenuous at worst, suggests author.
During the period of European rule over Rwanda, the Belgian colonial administrators of the territory accomplished an extraordinary feat in their subjugation of the local population – the deliberate manufacture of new ethnic divisions.
By formulating ethnic categorisations based on subjective judgments of Rwandans’ height and skin colour, the Belgians sought to keep the Rwandan people at odds with one another and subservient to them. Entirely fabricated histories and genealogies were concocted for the «Hutu» and «Tutsi» peoples, although these terms themselves had been taken from the dustbin of Rwandan history and had had little effective meaning for hundreds of years.
This strategy of divide-and-conquer eventually resulted in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, a bloodbath which shocked the conscience of the world and claimed the lives of roughly 800,000 people. Hutus and Tutsis, themselves only recently fabricated identities, had come to believe in a false narrative in which they had been in opposition to one another since the dawn of time.
Today it is increasingly common to hear talk of the existence of a «1,400 Year War» between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In this narrative, the sectarian violence of today is simply the continuation of an ancient religious conflict rooted in events which transpired in the 7th century. While some Muslims themselves have recently bought into this worldview, it would suffice to say that such beliefs represent not only a misreading of history but a complete and utter fabrication of it. While there are distinct theological differences between Sunnis and Shias, the claim that these two groups have been in a perpetual state of war and animosity throughout their existence is an absurd falsehood.
The conflict now brewing between certain Sunni and Shia political factions in the Middle East today has little or nothing to do with religious differences and everything to do with modern identity politics. Just as in Rwanda, Western powers and their local allies have sought to exacerbate these false divisions in order to perpetuate conflict and maintain a Middle East which is at once thoroughly divided and incapable of asserting itself…. MORE