You Say Shia, I Say Sunni

by digby

Perlstein noted that the president's little white slip was showing again this morning when he started blathering about "these people" who will come over and kill us in our beds if we leave Iraq. (He also repeated his previous dire warning that "they" are a threat to the reporters' children.)

My favorite little "oops" along this line, however, was this one:

There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern.

He's an inspiration.

But then, the whole Iraq invasion is essentially racist. Really --- why else did we invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 except as a grand exercize in "they all look alike to me" mentality? And Bush's signature line "they'll follow us home!" is nothing more than off-the-shelf racial fear mongering.

Apparently, the assumption among leading pundits is that we are all just as racist as the president. Instaputz sent me this lovely little excerpt from Joe Klein's new column:

... without a political deal, the sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and Shi'ites will intensify—and eventually explode when the U.S. military pulls back from Iraq. The stakes in Iraq then become questions of moral responsibility and regional stability. "How many Srebrenicas do you have the stomach for?" a senior U.S. official asked me, referring to the Bosnian massacre by the Serbs in 1995. Given the antipathy of the American people for the war, I'd guess the public reaction would be, "Those Arabs are just a bunch of barbarians, and we could never tell the difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis anyway."

I guess it's the anti-war folks who can't tell the difference between Sunni and Shia. Really?:

In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.

Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

Not that his likely successors have any more of a clue, even today:

MR. VANDEHEI: Mayor Giuliani, this question comes from Eric Taylor (sp) from California. He wants to know, what is the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a Muslim?

MR. GIULIANI: The difference is the descendant of Mohammed. The Sunnis believe that Mohammed's -- the caliphate should be selected, and the Shi'ites believe that it should be by descent. And then, of course, there was a slaughter of Shi'ites in the early part of the history of Islam, and it has infected a lot of the history of Islam, which is really very unfortunate.

Afterwards all the braindead gasbags said that was a wonderful answer and the press believed them:

Chris Cillizza:...Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani looked like he might stumble when asked to explain the difference between Sunni and Shia but wound up getting it exactly right...

Anonymous: You said that Mayor Giuliani aced the Sunni/Shia question. What event in history was he referring to when he said "and then of course there was a slaughter of Shiites in the early part of the history of Islam, and it has infected a lot of the history of Islam, which is really very unfortunate"?

Chris Cillizza: I don't claim to be an expert on the history of the Sunni and Shia. In the coverage I watched following the debate, it appeared as though Giuliani was factually correct about the differences between the two groups. That was all I was referencing. And, from a political standpoint, I think Giuliani dodged a major bullet with that question. I wonder how many of the ten men on that stage last night could have come up with something approximating a right answer on that question.

Rudy "got it exactly right," you see, because he's a religious scholar, even though it was a "trick" question:

GIULIANI: I honestly think we might have gotten tougher questions during the Fox interview, but they were substantive questions. During the MSNBC situation, we got some really good questions. But we also got some of the trick questions: Shia and Sunni.

You know, do I know the difference between Shia and Sunni? I felt like I was, you know, defending my doctoral thesis. It happens that I am a student of the history of religion.


GIULIANI: So I knew the answer to that.

Mitt must be one too:

MR. ROMNEY: ... I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shi'a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.

Run fer yer lives!

Chris Cilizza, (who apparently doesn't know the answer to the "trick" question either because he took the word of the crack post-debate MSNBC team for it) wondered if any of the ten men on the stage knew the answer to that question. But shouldn't we wonder why they wouldn't? These are the same ten men who say that the threat of Islamic terrorism is the most serious threat the world has ever faced and that they will "follow the terrorists to the gates of hell." Those ten men are the ones who are running as the heroes who will kick any ass that stands in their way of defending truth, honor and the American way. Is it really too much to ask that know some basic facts about what is fueling the fighting in Iraq and what the threats we face actually are? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations...

This merely illustrates that for the base of the Republican party, this election is stripping away all the codes and all the artifice about "compassionate conservatism" and going back to basics: fear and loathing of women and non-whites. They don't care about fetuses and they don't care about Jesus and they don't really care about "family values" except to the extent it keeps their prerogatives in place. After years of listening them drone on about the culture war, they are likely to nominate a someone who is either a gun grabbing, cross dresser from New York City or a flip-flopping Morman from Taxachusetts --- their "principles" and their insistence on "cultural affinity" are a crock. The only thing they really care about is trash-talking racist machismo. Let's admit that and deal with it shall we, instead of playing these ridiculous culture war games and allowing them to twist us into a pretzel? The issue is clear:

Americans, do you want another arrogant cowboy dumbshit like George W. Bush running the world for another eight years? If so, vote Republican, because that's the only thing they have to offer.

Update: Hah. I see that John Edwards said today:

"What we are seeing now in this campaign is John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and the other Republicans running for president of the United States are trying to be a bigger, badder George Bush. Is that really what America wants over the next four years?"

(I'd add dumber, but perhaps that literally isn't possible.)