Wednesday, November 26, 2008

But there are rabbits...

I spend a good amount of time watching the Comedy Network, whenever I feel like some TV. In particular, the stand-up comics. There's no lack of them and many of them are fellow Canadians. I was listening to one routine and it shames me to say I can't remember whose it was, but the lad was talking about people who claim to be afflicted by the SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder). He said they claimed to become depressed when snow was on the ground, that they lacked in energy and motivation...that all they wanted to do was lie on the couch or in bed. So the comic then says: "Christ! Get over's called winter!! It happens every year!! Perhaps you've noticed a pattern developing since when you were a child!!!! Hell, everyone feels that way!!!"

I was thinking about that as I walked home from the bus stop yesterday. In the end, we all choose how we're going to feel about anything. So what kind of positive spin could I manage to put on this winter? I'll freely admit that I'm not a big fan of the white stuff. Oh, I guess there was a time when I was, for any number of reasons. But these days it just means a lessening of mobility and no riding. There is always Winterlude (or more accurately, Water-lude...) and the activities on the Rideau Canal. It's pretty hard to really enjoy a steaming mug of mulled cider in the summertime... But then there's the cold damp, the filth and slush, the salt... Busing in the winter means never being able to see out of the bus' windows. Ever. I swear they never wash the buses during the entire winter season, so once those windows are covered with slush the first time, that's pretty much it...

As I passed one of two empty lots on my way home, I stopped and peered at the cover of freshly fallen snow. There, running parallel to the treeline, were the unmistakable shape of rabbit prints. I smiled and this picked up my spirits, as we had not seen rabbits in our back yard in at least a month. We tend to get a little concerned if it's been a while since we've last seen them. We're always hoping they're all still healthy and well. This then was visible proof that they were still out and about. A visual check of our neighbor's yard proved likewise, as they generally like to set up house under his little yard shed. I know there are some of our neighbors who are less than thrilled with their presence. They do tend to occasionally raid gardens in the neighborhood. But there is nothing we like better than to sit quietly and observe them nibbling away at some of their favorite plants and flowers. We've been priviledged over the last couple of years, to actually have three generations of rabbits come through our back yard. We've watched a mother nursing her three young ones and watched those same young ones return to our yard the following year. They absolutely love dandelions, you know. It's comical to see them take a very long one and start munching it from the cut end, the remainder dangling outside their mouth like some ridiculously long cigarette.

So yeah, okay... winter's here and we'll all get used to it, as we always do. It's only for a couple of months anyway, right? And look at how fast the last spring, summer and fall went by. We'll get splattered and sprayed, partially frozen and spend too many hours of our days in darkness or hidden away indoors. But least we know there are rabbits.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And it only took 8 years...

Ottawa residents have some particular quirks that I've been observing since moving here in 2000. For one, just about everybody and their dog carries a backpack. I used to marvel at this and wonder what they could find to stow inside besides a lunch and the odd book. I would routinely see people getting onboard the bus, loaded down as though they were about to set up base camp at the foot of Everest. Were they running away from home, I found myself wondering? Were they moving but couldn't afford to rent a van, and therefore had to transport all their worldly possessions, one backpackful at a time...?

Students, I completely got... With all the books, change of clothes your folks wouldn't let you wear out of the house, life support system (makeup, gel, hair dryer, the list is endless...), I could understand their being loaded down like pack mules. I weathered a couple of Ottawa winters before deciding I could use a packpack to carry a couple of 'severe weather' items, just in case the weather should turn between the time I got to work and the time I left for home. You know... heavier gloves, scarf, balaclava... For a while, I actually lugged a pair of 'office shoes' along with me, so I could doff my winter boots when I got to work. Then the light came on and I simply left a pair of shoes at my work desk.

Another quirk (or fashion statement) which seems nigh-on traditional that I've noticed about Ottawans, was their predilection for wearing these sherpa-type winter hats. Okay, I'll be honest with you and admit that my initial reaction to this type of headwear was less than receptive. Frankly, I thought they looked gay... There are a number of 'traditions' that I can readily get onboard with, when it comes to living in Ottawa. Sherpa hats was never one of them. Skating on the Rideau Canal in the wintertime? Sure. Gorging onesself on beaver tails and hot chocolate to ward off the chill? Absolutely. Taking in the beauty of the Tulip Festival? Why not... Taking one of Paul's Boat Tours on the Canal in mid-summer? Loved it... But for some reason, I could never see myself wearing one of those sherpa caps.

This morning I made my way into work, through our first 'official' snowfall for the city. I was dressed warmly enough, but this ballcap from good ol' Cape Breton did nothing to keep the wind off the back of my neck. As I strode through the Rideau Centre, passing through the ground floor level, I noticed that right outside the Tim Horton's they had set up a 'Wild Winter' sales booth. These folks specialize in hats, gloves, mitts, scarves, etc... They also carry those infernal sherpa hats. I stopped to examine some of them and noted how far down they came in the neck area and how well lined they were. Hmmm... If anything would keep you warm in an Ottawa winter, these probably would. Well to make a long story short, after resisting the urge for eight years, I finally broke down and bought one.

In my defense, I tried to pick the least offensive of all of them colour-wise, and don't believe I made out too badly. And hey, it's hand-woven in Nepal, so how gay can it really be? I'll perhaps try it out on the bus ride home this evening. So I guess it's official, I'm just another one of the regular schmoes that out-of-towners will point at and say: "Hey, Doofus...nice hat! Bwahahahaha!!!". Then again, I don't give a rat's ass. Winter time in these parts is so-oooo not about looking stylish. It's all about being warm and cozy as you go out and brave the elements. Well, at least it is in my book... :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

On colds...

If there's anything that I really dislike, something that can really take me down a few rungs, it's a first winter cold. I was blessed with one of those this past weekend. It began Saturday morning upon waking up, when I noticed that I had an incredibly sore throat. This is normally the harbinger of worse symptoms and I have to say that I haven't been disappointed so far. Today I decided to sally forth into the workplace regardless. Oh, I'm sure the gang could manage well enough without me, I just don't have any sick days left to my credit. I used up all mine for the current fiscal year, as I was recovering from the bike accident.

Be that as it may, it's now developed over the last weekend to that stage where a sneeze or a cough, creates an emergency situation, where either the head's sinus cavities spontaneously drain and send one scurrying for tissues, or cause a full-out sprint for the nearest washroom. This is something I try to do out of eyeshot of my colleagues, as let's face it... it's never a pretty sight to see someone eject fifteen pounds of mucus from one's nasal apertures. One thing I absolutely loathe, is those instances where you think you're prepared to blow your nose... you think you have a sufficient amount of tissue on hand to handle any contingency, but when you blow, it's like all of a sudden you've managed to tap into extra reserves of the stuff. I can't possibly imagine where else it might be stored, other than one's head... and I know my head is not near big enough to contain what all it emits on an hourly basis. Is there some sort of secret reservoir in my neck? Does it come up from my feet...? What??? The ensuing flood generally makes a mockery of what you have waiting to stem it.

Worse yet... as you inhale to get ready to blow, you suck in the waiting Kleenex, wetting it with your tongue and rendering it useless in the face of the ensuing tsunami of goo... Yes, these are the days best spent out of the glare of the public eye. With only the least amount of control over either of your extremities, you're only a nanosecond away from some sort of tragic bodily release, which will scar your fellow employees and leave your self-esteem in ragged tatters. Your co-workers may initially admire your dedication to the job, but that admiration will soon vanish if you turn them off food for the next three weeks. Then there's this weird space/time continuum that you go through, where time slows to a veritable crawl. I swear it's been 1700hrs for the last two and a half hours... It's like 1800 hrs will never get here. And then there is the long bus ride home... How marvellous. What a great way to cap off the day...

Yes, there's no doubt that I would have been a far happier camper, had I been able to stay home in bed, or drooling on the downstairs sofa... But so far, so good. One can only hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Things could always be worse, right?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Voices from the past...the wonders of Facebook

I signed up on Facebook some time ago and have since been amazed at the number of people from my past, that I have managed to touch base with. In many ways, it has been a Godsend and has certainly shortened any search period that one might have gone through, in the years before it's coming into existence. Just about every week, someone finds me from my military past and brightens my life. Yet none of this could have prepared me for the 'Friend Request' I received, only yesterday.

Many years ago (say 1987), when I was still serving in the Navy and at the height of my professional drinking career, I met and subsequently married a woman who had certainly at least as many issues as I had. No surprises there, that's just the way it goes. Someone dysfunctional will never, ever be drawn to a healthy, normal human being. The very same as no normal, right-thinking person would ever hook up with someone with severe dysfunctions. It takes a special brand of insanity to do that. By the way, if you're wondering what the odds were, a survey conducted in the late 1970s suggested that at least 70% of the North American population suffered from one form of dysfunction or another. If anything, things are far worse these days. So basically, to be abnormal is 'normal'...

Be that as it may, during the brief period that we were together (some six years...), we had two children, a boy and a girl. When I began my program of recovery in 1990 (read: Alcoholics Anonymous), I began to grasp and practise a new and sane way of thinking. My folks were not bad people when I was growing up, but I came to recognize that their parenting skills were only those that they obtained from their parents, and so on. It's simply the way it was back then. In all fairness, is still the way it's done today. Parents are just as clueless these days, despite all the good material that is out there. But they are also far more permissive today than they were in my day. At the very least we were taught to mind our elders and respect our parents and others. Today it seems everyone wants to be their child's best friend, nobody wants to be the parent. It comes then as no surprise, that we have children killing people and generally believing that they are untouchable in the eyes of the law.

But I digress... Logic (and any decent program of recovery...) dictates that if a dysfunctional person wants to get better, they shouldn't hang with other dysfunctional people who aren't trying to do likewise. Just as if you want to stop drinking, you shouldn't hang around in bars... I had spent the first few years of my recovery, working on myself. It then occurred to me that I would have to work on my surroundings. It happened when I was living in a bucolic locale in Nova Scotia, by the name of Porter's Lake. In the program of A.A., there is something called The Serenity Prayer. I had been sitting out on the back deck, looking out over the lake and reciting this prayer to myself, as I attempted to deal with the mounting turmoil within me. Call it a prayer, call it a mantra... it is there to refocus us on the task at hand and remind us of what we do and do not have control over in our daily lives. It goes as follows:

God grant me the Serenity
to Accept the things that I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things that I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

One of the very first things you learn to accept and believe, is that as individuals, we hold no power whatsoever over people, places or things. None... So anyone who has ever gotten into a relationship thinking: "he/she is not a bad person, but I can change them...", you're only deluding yourself. You are no more capable of changing another human being, than you are capable of changing the tides. If we have no control over such variables in our life, what then do we have control over? The answer to that is simplicity itself.

Since we cannot change anything in our world, we have to accept that the only thing we can influence change over, is the way we choose to interact with it. Whether it be people, places or things. In other words, you can change nothing but yourself. My continued progress in my recovery would require that I remove myself from where I was, away from the remaining dysfunction which surrounded me. It was this very same sense of self-preservation which would lead me to leave the Navy entirely, in the fall of 1996. Not long before we decided to go ahead and get married, I pretty much agreed to her mother moving in with us. Her mother... the source of many of her own dysfunctional issues. So at the time I arrived at my decision, there was no lack of dysfunction surrounding me. And so I left, in 1994.

The divorce was bitter and financially crippling. Her lawyer did a fine job of portraying me as an individual who was soon to join the ranks of the local Hell's Angels chapter (based on my interest in motorcycling and despite a successful career in the military). The judge, a woman who had garnered a well-deserved reputation as an unabashed man-hater within the legal community of Halifax-Dartmouth, had no problems getting onboard with these fictitious tales and rendered a decision which was devoid of both justice and reason. My ex was awarded sole custody of our children and I was cut off from them, with the able assistance of the courts themselves. I was reduced to a meal ticket. A decision, I might add, which continues to impact my financial well-being to this very day. Over time, I lost contact with them altogether and they eventually moved to parts unknown. For my own survival, I left the province in 2000 and settled here in Ottawa, where my two eldest daughters reside.

Some fifteen years later, I am approached on Facebook by not only my ex-wife, but my daughter as well. No word yet from my son, but I intend on finding out news of him as well. I was floored by this unannounced visitation. I could feel some of the old bitterness rising inside me, but I decided to put it aside. My daughter has grown into a beautiful young woman, who now resides in Michigan. Neither she or my son had anything to do with any of this. It is my hope that we might yet rebuild some of what was torn apart, all those many years ago. As for my ex-wife, I feel no ill will towards her. I am hopeful that this contact might signal some sort of willingness to end this particular financial burden, as both children are at or past the age of majority. Was my decision back then the right one? It probably depends on whom you ask. As far as my recovery goes, I now have eighteen years of continuous sobriety under my belt (06 June). To me, that is answer enough. For without my sobriety, as a recovering alcoholic, I have nothing.

Nobody ever said life was easy...or simple.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Changes in Physiotherapy...

So yesterday saw a follow-up interview with my doctor, who had performed the surgery to reconstruct my arm and shoulder. The appointment was slated for 1430hrs and I arrived a few minutes before the appointed hour. The weather on the way over had been very warm as I was possibly a little overdressed. I was wearing a cardigan under my Columbia jacket. I was positively sweating by the time I got off the bus and walked the couple of hundred feet to the ICU building entrance. I stripped off the cardigan as soon as I got inside the building.

A coffee would have been nice, but I had but a couple of minutes to make it upstairs for 1430hrs. The actual appointment took all of 15 minutes, but there were the X-Rays beforehand and then of course... the waiting. It was actually all of 1643hrs by the time I got to see my doctor. It is safe to say that the 'rehab' clinic of the OGH is a retardedly busy place. So much so that for literally all of my waiting time there (other than the 15 minute wait for the X-Rays...), I had to stand as there were no free chairs in the waiting room. That should give some sort of idea of how popular this place is.

Dr. Pollock was pleased with my progress and I actually made him laugh when I related how I had rode the bike into work, all that week when the weather was so fair. I admitted that I probably shouldn't have, but that I pretty much had to, for the sake of my own peace of mind. It had been my own bench test to gauge my progress, and to assure myself that I could or would be able to still ride.

He issued me a change of orders as far as my physio went. Up until now I have been doing all 'passive' physiotherapy. Which means I've basically been working on my range of motion with the left arm and shoulder. All these exercises have been 'assissted', meaning my arm has been moved by means other than it's own musculature. Well... all that's gonna change. This is going to be the "owee" part of the physio. I will finally get to work on re-building my atrophied muscles, as well as continuing to expand my range of motion. As I have a physio session slated for this very evening after work, I will be putting this new regimen to work right away.

It was dark outside by the time I returned to the hospital lobby and grabbed a medium double-double. It was just after 1700hrs. Calling my Honey up, I discovered she was in traffic out in Orleans, making her way home. She offered to double back and pick me up, but the logistics would be horrific. It was just as easy for me to take the Loser Cruiser back home. I did not put the cardigan back on, but rather left it stowed in my backpack, as I was still feeling warm. Bad move on my part. I had no way of knowing how the temperature outside had plummeted since the sun went down... I walked to the bus stop, sipping my Timmie's, in time to see my bus (the 106 Hurdman) sailing away. No worries. After consulting the bus schedule at the stop, I noticed that the next one was to be there at 1709hrs.

Actually, it was more like 1715hrs by the time it appeared. I was well happy to get inside, as I was really starting to feel the cold. We arrived at Hurdman and I came to the realization that this was not a good place to get caught waiting for a bus. Certainly not when I was now underdressed for the weather. The volume of bus traffic through this hub is phenomenal. You really don't want to nap here, either. The busses stop, wait a second, then tear off again. If you snooze, you lose! All the busses heading East to Orleans were impossibly full. Packed to the gunnels, they were. Truly a tangible sign of how the population out there has simply exploded over the last few years. Finally, at 1745hrs I got to board the 94 Millenium which would take me home.

Before long I had regained some warmth and was busy solving yet another crossword puzzle. I made a mental note to upgrade the hat, gloves and other sundry severe weather items I normally stow and carry along in my backpack, the moment I was done having supper.

It's encouraging to have finally reached this stage, although my enthusiasm is somewhat dampened by the knowledge that this will be a particularily long and difficult part of the whole rehab process. Still, my good doctor has done all that he could. It now falls to me to influence the outcome of my treatment. My eventual recovery will only be as good as I make it. This will truly be a case of: "you get out of it exactly what you put into it". All things considered, there is no reason to suppose that I won't come out the other end in very good form.

For the moment, I remain the eternal optimist...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On my daughter's Birthday...

Last night after work, I made my way home on the Loser Cruiser, as per the norm. My head was swimming with distractions as there is admittedly a lot going on in my world as of late. Thank God for this electronic New York Times' Crossword Puzzle game my better half got me some time back... It takes up my time when on the bus, stimulates my mind in a positive way and allows me to drift away from all the bad stuff in the world. After all, I don't want to end up being like the people in those TV commercials, where they have wee little heads from lack of mental stimulation...

Arriving home by 1715 hrs, it occurred to me that it was the birthday of one of my lovely daughters. Doing a little detective work, I discovered she was expected at her place of employment from 1800hrs on that evening. I grabbed a quick bite, took care of some phone calls I had on the back burner and then got dressed to take the bus back into town, at least as far as where my spouse works, as I planned on taking our vehicle for the remainder of the trip in. The bus arrived at 1837 hrs. Before long I was disembarking at the corner of Innes and Blair and headed to my spouse's jobsite. Once there, she helped me locate a wonderfully soft and cuddly lounging blanket, perfect for warding off any winter chill while snuggling on the couch at home. I had one more short stop to make along Alta Vista on my way in and ended up arriving on Bank Street at 1930 hrs. I was pleasantly surprised to find a parking spot very near my final destination. She was in the company of her beau and several friends and was both surprised and delighted to see me.

I shared a drink with her (non-alcoholic, of course...) and we had a wonderful visit. She is so beautiful, so intelligent, so very talented on many levels and so full of life. Still, I cannot look upon her without seeing that little girl who could charm and make everyone laugh. She retains this wonderful sense of humour to this day. She fills me with pride and admiration. Now she is a parent herself, her own daughter verging on her teen years, though one would never suspect it to look at her. Over the years, as circumstances had forced us to be provinces apart for a number of these occasions, I have not always been there or even remembered such precious events. They were celebrated far from me, in the company of others, her 'other' family. Yet my love and concern for her has never faltered. I seem to have a mental blockage for dates, possibly a result of my professional drinking career. I missed so much of their teen years and early adulthood. Times I truly wish could be recaptured. All I can do, is to fully enjoy those moments we are ever so fortunate to share in the present. And last night was certainly enjoyable.

Happy Birthday, my little girl... I love you.

On quitting smoking...

So I was just thinking the other day, that it's been officially over a year now since I decided to stop smoking. It was last October, though I couldn't tell you the exact day if I wanted to. The funny thing is, if you had asked me if I could ever do it, I probably would have told you "No!!". Now as I look back on it, it doesn't seem like such a big thing. That's probably because the power that this addiction had over me, is not nearly as strong these days and frankly, I don't even think about it all that much.

Don't get me wrong... there are still those isolated moments when the mental stimulus to have a cigarette, will decide to pop in unannounced. This is normally in a situation where before I would "reward" myself with a cigarette. Normally after doing either some mundane or technical task and I decide it's time for a break or a rest. It doesn't happen every time, mind you and it's not like this really strong craving. It's just like my brain saying: "Hey...ya know, that was a good job there. You should stop and have a smoke. Sit back and admire your handiwork... maybe have a coffee with that smoke. Remember how good it tasted...?". Then my mind snaps back: "Nawwww... it tasted like shite, if ya wanna know the truth. AND I decided I really like this new 'being-able-to-breathe' thing... and my clothes smell so-ooo much better. So does my shop, come to think of it... Why, the benefits are endless! So, no... I don't think I want to pick up that filthy habit again...". On the good side of things, these 'mental intrusions' happen less and less frequently as time goes on.

I suppose it's like many moments in our life, when we find ourselves facing the unknown. The fear and dread of what lies ahead is often much worse than the actual experience itself. That's how I found it's been with giving up smoking. I gave up drinking back in 1990. I probably would have done it sooner and saved myself a whole world of grief, had I only realized that I had the option to. It's been the same thing with smoking, for me. My daughters have been after me for years to stop. Yet just as with drinking, a person has to come to the decision that it is something they must do for themselves. With both decisions, it's your life and well-being that's on the line. Still, a person can't be pressured or coaxed into it. And don't ever use the old emotional blackmail trick of: "If you loved me, you would stop...(insert the addiction of your choice here)". That move will only add more misery to the mix for everyone.

Taking on an addiction is a very interesting and daunting process. Far too many people succumb to their addictions, for the simple reason that they don't think or know, that they have a choice. Hell, most of them don't even know they have a problem to begin with. If a person accepts the realization that he or she is an alcoholic (or suffer from any other dysfunction...), that is the first step in turning their life around and ultimately surviving their addiction. Of course, you have to be willing to go further. There are some people who have no problem 'admitting' that they're an alcoholic, but then use that as a reason for their continued self-destructive behaviour. "Hey...I can't help it, I'm an alcoholic!" Basically, they're admitting it, but they're not accepting it. You really can't get more fucked up (or wrong...) than that. By accepting the fact that a person is a practising alcoholic, they must also accept the fact that they do so out of choice.

They can choose to remain so, or they can choose to change their behaviour. Is it really that simple? Absolutely!! And don't let anyone ever tell you differently. For most of us, it will take one or several horrible, if not near-death experiences, to finally get our attention. This is called hitting your bottom. When you hit a point in your life where it seems utterly impossible that things could be any worse. For some alcoholics, this is still not enough. They will go on to hit their bottom several times. Many don't survive it. Some of us are lucky and live long enough to come to the realization that we "might have a problem in our lives, caused by alcohol". But bear in mind... if a person has been a raving alcoholic for fifteen, twenty, thirty years... they're not going to "get all better" in the space of a long weekend. Or a 28 day detox program. Just like a man who walks 25 miles into the woods, it's gonna take 25 miles to walk back out again. But each day, he'll be a little less deep into those woods. The whole end game is to learn to live a normal, rational life.

Even those of us who for some reason, may be genetically pre-disposed towards alcoholism (I happen to believe that this disease is largely hereditary...), it does not mean that we have no control over the choices we make. Nor does it mean that we should be treated any differently, when it comes to being held accountable for our actions, I might add. Drunkenness ought never be used as a mitigating circumstance, in the judging or sentencing of a person charged with criminal acts. To do so is to absolve them of their behaviour, which in turn only encourages the continuance of same. Remember, a person has to make the conscious decision to have that first drink. In doing so, they have no choice but to take responsibility for everything that might occur afterwards.

Our court system is notorious for the aiding and abetting of such criminals. Our judges have become classic enablers, as has our society in general. The only reason I could ever see for this remaining so, is that there are far too many practicing alcoholics within our judiciary. That's right... the ranks of those who write and enforce our laws in this country...? Full of drunks!!! There is no other reason for it... Instances where individuals have wanted to sue a party host or a bar, because some drunk had left there intoxicated and subsequently taken someone else's life? Utter horseshit! A bar is not responsible for an individual's behaviour. If bars stopped serving patrons when they were legally drunk, they'd go out of business, plain and simple. Is it their responsibility as to "when to say when"? Absolutely not. That responsibility is completely up to their patron. It always has been. This is just another example of a society which wants to hang responsibility for it's actions on anyone else but themselves. It's as stupid and ludicrous as a group or an individual wanting to sue a gun manufacturer, because one of their loved ones was offed by one of Samuel Colt's fine products. It's time to grow up, kids...

But back to this non-smoking thing. I had always been of the opinion that it was something that I 'couldn't do'. It was with great trepidation that I considered stopping. Initially, part of you grieves the 'loss of this longtime friend'. For as strange as it sounds, it's true. But in the end, I had just gotten mad. I was sick and tired of not being able to breathe properly, of that hacking cough I had developed, of the time that I found myself devoting to this particular pursuit. But most of all, I hated how powerless subjugating myself to this addiction made me feel. I had finally had enough and it was at that juncture that I decided: "Okay... time to stop". It was that simple. My time had come.

My biggest problem...? Finding stuff to do during those times of the day, when I would normally be smoking. I had to think of it for a bit at first. Breaks at work here, I would maybe go outside for a short walk around the block, just to change the air in my lungs. I did find myself snacking more than usual. I went from a 34 waist to a 36 (I'm still friggin' there...*Sigh!*), but that's also because I've become far too sedentary these days. I literally have to get off my ass and do something about it. And I will, I'm sure. After all, even though I might be able to convince myself that I deserve a whole new wardrobe for having quit smoking, there's no way I could afford or justify the cost. Besides, all that money would be better spent getting my ass down South during the winter time. For the longest time, I was convinced that I would also have to give up coffee and tea, as these were always two of my biggest 'triggers' when it came to wanting to light up a smoke. Turns out I can still enjoy both nowadays, without feeling the need for a cigarette.

So for any of you who might be of the same mindset that I was... For those of you toying with the idea of quitting but still unsure as to whether or not you can do it... Rest assured, you absolutely can. If the time is right for you, you will know it. Don't attempt it because some has nagged you into it. Don't attempt it "because if you really love me"... Don't attempt it simply because "look at these insurance rates for non-smokers"... Don't attempt it because that really, really hot new chick at work despises smokers... Just do it because you're ready to and you want to stop. I guarantee you it will work for you this time around...

Have faith in yourself. You're much stronger than you think.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On the Sunni/Shia rift...

Okay... I know nobody asked. Muslims are not simply 'Muslims'. For as much as they strike me as the type of folks who are xenophobic to the nth degree and cannot possibly co-exist with members of other faiths, imagine my surprise (or lack thereof...) to discover that largely, they can't even stand one another. Oh sure, there are those odd cyclic events which occur every other millenia, where all factions will come together to kill a third, non-muslim party, but by and large... they're pretty much busy killing each other all the frikkin' time.

So how and where did all this nonsense start? The condition is best known as the Sunni-Shia Rift. Not much of a name for something that has caused unabated bloodletting for centuries. Then again, they also adopted the quaint monicker "The Troubles", for the 300 years of bloody sectarian genocide in Ireland... So, what's in a name, right? Here then, in long form you might want to know, is the basic historical introduction to Islam, who is on which side, how they are dispersed around the globe and of course... the famous rift.

Sunni and Shi'ah are the two major denominations of Islam. The demographic breakdown between the two-groups is difficult to assess and varies by source, but a good approximation is that 85% of the world's muslims are Sunni, and 15% are Shī‘ī, with most Shī‘īs belonging to the Twelver tradition and a small minority divided between several other groups. Shī‘īs make up the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain, and they are the largest religious group in Lebanon. Sunnis are a majority in other Muslim communities in South East Asia, China, South Asia, Africa and the rest of the Arab world.

The historic background of the Sunni-Shī‘ah split lies in the schism that occurred when the Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632(CE), leading to a dispute over succession to Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world.
Over the years Sunni-Shī‘ah relations have been marked by both cooperation and conflict. Today there are differences in religious practice, traditions and customs as well as religious belief.


Successors of the Prophet

Sunnis hold that Abu Bakr was Muhammad's rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders (Shura) endorsed by the Qur'an is the concensus of the Ummah, (the Muslim community). Shī‘īs believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his only two grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next Caliph, making ‘Alī and his direct descendants Muhammad's successors.

Sunnis follow the Rashidun "rightly-guided Caliphs", who were the first four caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali. Shī‘īs discount the legitimacy of the first three caliphs and believe that ‘Alī is the second-most divinely inspired man (after Muhammad) and that he and his descendants by Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, the Imams are the sole legitimate Islamic leaders.

The Imamate of the Shī‘ah encompasses far more of a prophetic function than the Caliphate of the Sunnis. Unlike Sunni, Shī‘īs believe special spiritual qualities have been granted not only to the Prophet Muhammad but also to ‘Alī and the other Imāms. Twelvers believe they are immaculate from sin and human error (ma'sum), and can understand and interpret the hidden inner meaning of the teachings of Islam. In this way the Imams are trustees (wasi) who bear the light of Muhammad (Nūr Muhammadin).


The Shī‘ah and some Sunnis differ on the nature of the Mahdi. Shī‘īs as well as many Sunnis, particularly Sufi Sunnis, believe that the Mahdi will appear at end times to bring about a perfect and just Islamic society. The Twelver believe the Mahdi will be Muhammad-al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam returned from the Occultation, where he has been hidden by God since 874 AD. In contrast, mainstream Sunnis believe the Mahdi will be named Muhammad, be a descendant of the Prophet and will revive the faith, but will not necessarily be connected with the end of the world.


The Shī‘īs accept some of the same hadiths used by Sunnis as part of the sunnah to argue their case. In addition, they consider the sayings of Ahl al-Bayt that are not attributed directly to the Prophet as hadiths. Some Sunni-accepted hadith are less favored by Shī‘īs; one example is that because of 'A'ishah's opposition to ‘Alī, hadith narrated by ‘A'ishah are not given the same authority as those by other companions.


Mainstream Sunnism has been said to be "about" Sharia, sacred law. In contrast, the Shī‘ah also follow Islamic law with great "vigilance", but their belief is not defined by law but emphasises "rituals, passion and drama."

Shī‘ism and Sufism

Shī‘ism and Sunni Sufism are said to share a number of hallmarks: Belief in an inner meaning to the Qu'ran; special status for some mortals (saints for Sufi, Imams for Shī‘īs); belief in intermediaries between man and God, veneration of ‘Alī and the Prophet's family.


Many distinctions can be made between Sunnis and Shī‘īs through observation alone:


When prostrating during ritual prayer (Salah), Shī‘īs place their forehead onto a piece of naturally-occurring material, often a clay tablet (mohr), soil (turbah) or at times sand from Karbala, the place where Imam Hussein was martyred, instead of directly onto a prayer mat. There is precedence for this in Sunni thought, as it is recommended not to prostrate on a non-natural surface.
The Shī‘ah perform prayers back to back, sometimes worshipping two times consecutively (1+2+2), thus praying at three separate times during the day instead of five as required by Sunni schools of law.

Shī‘īs and the followers of the Sunni Maliki school hold their hands at their sides during prayer; Sunnis of other schools cross their arms (right over left) and clasp their hands, although it is commonly held by Sunni scholars that either is acceptable.


The Shī‘ah permit mutah — fixed-term temporary marriage — which is not acceptable within the Sunni community. Mutah is not the same as Misyar marriage, which has no date of expiration and is permitted by some Sunnis. A Misyar marriage differs from a conventional Islamic marriage in that the man does not have financial responsibility over the woman by her own free will, and women are given more rights than in Mutah marriage.

Hijab and dress

Devout women of the Shī‘ah traditionally wear black as do male religious leaders. Mainstream Shī‘ī and Sunni women wear the hijab differently. Mainstream Sunni women cover around the perimeter of the face but only to below their chin, thus the protuberance of the chin shows. Shī‘īs believe that the hijab must cover around the perimeter of the face and up to the chin. Some Shī‘ī women, such as those in Iran and Iraq, use the black chador to cover half of their face or chin by their hands when in public.

Given names

Shī‘īs are often recognizable by their names which are often derived from the proper names or title of saints. Shī‘īs who trace their ancestry back to ‘Alī and Fātimah carry the title Sayyid.


Abbasid era

The Umayyads were overthrown in 750(CE) by a new dynasty, the Abbasids. The first Abbasid caliph, as-Saffah, recruited Shī‘ī support in his campaign against the Umayyads by emphasizing his blood relationship to the Prophet's household through descent from his uncle, Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. The Shī‘ah also believe that he promised them that the Caliphate, or at least religious authority, would be vested in the Shī‘ī Imam. As-Saffah assumed both the temporal and religious mantle of Caliph himself. He continued the Umayyad dynastic practice of succession, and his brother al-Mansur succeeded him in 754.

The sixth Shi'i Imam died during al-Mansur's reign, and there were claims that he was murdered on the orders of the caliph.

However, Abbasid persecution of Islamic lawyers was not restricted to the Shia. Even the Sunni scholar and founder of the biggest Sunni school of law, Abu Hanifah, was imprisoned by al-Mansur and tortured. Al-Mansur also had ibn-Hanbal, another one of the four major schools of Sunni law, flogged.

Shī‘ī sources further claim that by the orders of the tenth Abassid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, the tomb of the third Imam, Husayn ibn Ali in Karbala, was completely demolished, and Shī‘īs were sometimes beheaded in groups, buried alive, or even placed alive within the walls of government buildings still under construction.

The Shī‘ah believe that their community continued to live for the most part in hiding and followed their religious life secretly without external manifestations.

Post-Abbasid era

Attacks on Shī‘ism grew even sharper after the Mongol sack of Baghdad and the destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258. Vali Nasr also credits the influential Sunni jurist Ibn Taymiyyah with being instrumental in developing the theological foundation for the belief that Shī‘ism is a heresy, and for generally "setting the tone for much of the sectarian conflict" between the two groups.

Shī‘ī-Sunni in Iraq

Many Shī‘ī Iranians migrated to what is now Iraq in the sixteenth century. "It is said that when modern Iraq was formed, 75% of the population of Karbala was Iranian". In time, these immigrants adopted the Arabic language and Arab identity, but their origin has been used to "unfairly cast them as lackeys of Iran. Other Iraqi Shī‘īs are ethnic Arabs with roots in Iraq as deep as those of their Sunni counterparts.

Shī‘ī-Sunni in Persia

Main article: Islam in Iran

Sunnism was the dominant form of Islam in most of Iran until rise of the Safavid Empire, although a significant undercurrent of Ismailism and a very small minority of Twelvers were present in the north. Many scholars and scientists who lived before the Safavid era, such as Avicenna, Geber, Alhacen, Al-Farabi and Nasir ad-Din al-Tusi, were Shī‘ī Muslims of both the Ismaili and Twelver traditions (some indistinguishably so, such as al-Tūsī), as was most of Iran's elite. There were many Sunni scientists and scholars as well, such as Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.

Nizamiyyas were the medieval institutions of Islamic higher education established by Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk in the eleventh century. Nizamiyyah institutes were the first well-organized universities in the Muslim world. The most famous and celebrated of all the nizamiyyah schools was Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad (established 1065), where Nizam al-Mulk appointed the distinguished philosopher and theologian, al-Ghazali, as a professor. Other Nizamiyyah schools were located in Nishapur, Balkh, Herat and Isfahan.

The Sunni hegemony did not undercut the Shī‘ī presence in Iran. The writers of the Shi'i Four Books were Iranian, as were many other great scholars. According to Mortaza Motahhari: "The majority of Iranians turned to Shi'ism from the Safawid period onwards. Of course, it cannot be denied that Iran's environment was more favourable to the flourishing of the Shi'ism as compared to all other parts of the Muslim world. Shi'ism did not penetrate any land to the extent that it gradually could in Iran. With the passage of time, Iranians' readiness to practise Shi'ism grew day by day. Had Shi`ism not been deeply rooted in the Iranian spirit, the Safawids (907-1145/ 1501-1732) would not have succeeded in converting Iranians to the Shi'a creed and making them follow the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt sheerly by capturing political power."

The Shī‘ah in Iran before the Safavids

The domination of the Sunni creed during the first nine Islamic centuries characterizes the religious history of Iran during this period. There were however some exceptions to this general domination which emerged in the form of the Zaydis of Tabaristan, the Buwayhid, the rule of Sultan Muhammad Khudabandah (r. 1304-1316 CE) and the Sarbedaran.

Nevertheless, apart from this domination there existed, firstly, throughout these nine centuries, Shī‘ī inclinations among many Sunnis of this land and, secondly, Twelver and Zaydī Shī‘ism had prevalence in some parts of Iran. During this period, the Shī‘ah in Iran were nourished from Kufah, Baghdad and later from Najaf and Hillah. Shī‘ī were dominant in Tabaristan, Qom, Kashan, Avaj and Sabzevar. In many other areas the population of Shī‘īs and Sunni was mixed.

The first Zaydī state was established in Daylaman and Tabaristan (northern Iran) in 864 C.E. by the Alavids; it lasted until the death of its leader at the hand of the Samanids in 928 CE. Roughly forty years later the state was revived in Gilan (north-western Iran) and survived under Hasanid leaders until 1126 CE. After which from the 12th-13th centuries, the Zaidis of Daylaman, Gilan and Tabaristan then acknowledge the Zaidi Imams of Yemen or rival Zaidi Imams within Iran.

The Buyids, who were Zaydī and had a significant influence not only in the provinces of Persia but also in the capital of the caliphate in Baghdad, and even upon the caliph himself, provided a unique opportunity for the spread and diffusion of Shī‘ī thought. This spread of Shī‘ism to the inner circles of the government enabled the Shī‘ah to withstand those who opposed them by relying upon the power of the Caliphate.

Twelvers came to Iran from Arab regions in the course of four stages. First, through the Asharis tribe at the end of the seventh(CE) and during the eighth century. Second through the pupils of Sabzevar, and especially those of Shaykh Mufid, who were from Ray and Sabzawar and resided in those cities. Third, through the school of Hillah under the leadership of Allama Hilli and his son Fakhr al-Muhaqqiqin. Fourth, through the scholars of Jabal Amel residing in that region, or in Iraq, during the 16th and 17th centuries who later migrated to Iran.

On the other hand, the Ismaili da 'wah ("missionary institution") sent missionaries (du‘āt, sg. dā‘ī) during the Fatimid Caliphate to Persia. When the Ismailis divided into two sects, Nizaris established their base in northern Persia. Hassan-i Sabbah conquered fortresses and captured Alamut in 1090 CE. Nizaris used this fortress until the Mongols finally seized and destroyed it in 1256 CE.

After the Mongols and the fall of the Abbasids, the Sunni ulema suffered greatly. In addition to the destruction of the caliphate there was no official Sunni school of Law. Many libraries and madrasahs were destroyed and Sunni scholars migrated to other Islamic areas such as Anatolia and Egypt. In contrast, most Shī‘ah were largely unaffected as their center was not in Iran at this time. For the first time, the Shī‘ah could openly convert other Muslims to their movement.

Several local Shī‘ī dynasties like Sarbadars were established during this time. The kings of the Aq Qöyünlü and Qara Qöyünlü dynasties ruled in Tabriz with a domain extending to Fars and Kerman. In Egypt, the Fatimid government ruled (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib al-siyar of Khwand Mir).

Shah Muhammad Khudabandah, the famous builder of Soltaniyeh, was among the first of the Mongols to convert to Shī‘ism, and his descendants ruled for many years in Persia and were instrumental in spreading Shī‘ī thought.

Sufism played a major role in spread of Shī‘ism in this time. After the Mongol invasion Shiims and Sufism once again formed a close association in many ways. Some of the Ismailis whose power had broken by the Mongols, went underground and appeared later within Sufi orders or as new branches of already existing orders. In Twelve-Imam Shiism also from thirteenth(CE) to the sixteenth(CE) century Sufism began to grow within official Shiite circles.

The extremist sects of the Hurufis and Shasha'a grew directly out of a background that is both Shiite and Sufi. More important in the long run than these sects were the Sufi orders which spread in Persia at this time and aided in the preparing the ground for the Shiite movement of Safavids. Two of these orders are of particular significance in this question of the relation of Shiism and Sufism:The Nimatullahi order and Nurbakhshi order.

Shī‘ism in Persia after Safavđids

Ismail I initiated a religious policy to recognize Shī‘ism as the official religion of the Safavid Empire, and the fact that modern Iran remains an officially Shī‘ī state is a direct result of Ismail's actions.

Unfortunately for Ismail, most of his subjects were Sunni. He thus had to enforce official Shī‘ism violently, putting to death those who opposed him. Under this pressure, Safavid subjects either converted or pretended to convert, but it is safe to say that the majority of the population was probably genuinely Shī‘ī by the end of the Safavid period in the 18th century, and most Iranians today are Shī‘ī, although there is still a Sunni minority.

Immediately following the establishment of Safavid power the migration of scholars began and they were invited to Iran ... By the side of the immigration of scholars, Shi'i works and writings were also brought to Iran from Arabic-speaking lands, and they performed an important role in the religious development of Iran ... In fact, since the time of the leadership of Shaykh Mufid and Shaykh Tusi, Iraq had a central academic position for Shi'ism. This central position was transferred to Iran during the Safavid era for two-and-a-half centuries, after which it partly returned to Najaf. ... Before the Safavid era Shi'i manuscripts were mainly written in Iraq, with the establishment of the Safavid rule these manuscripts were transferred to Iran.

This led to a wide gap between Iran and its Sunni neighbors until the 20th century. During the early days of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini endeavored to bridge the gap between Shiites and Sunnis by declaring it permissible for Twelvers to pray behind Sunni imams and by forbidding criticizing the Caliphs who preceded ‘Alī — an issue that had caused much animosity between the two groups.

Shī‘ī-Sunni in Levant

Shī‘īs claim that despite these advances, many Shī‘īs in Syria continued to be killed during this period for their faith. One of these was Muhammad Ibn Makki, called Shahid-i Awwal (the First Martyr), one of the great figures in Shī‘ī jurisprudence, who was killed in Damascus in 1384 CE (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib al-siyar of Khwand Mir).

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi was another eminent scholar, killed in Aleppo on charges of cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib as-Siyar of Khwand Mir).

Modern Sunni-Shī‘ī relations

Currently an estimated 85% of Muslims are Sunni, 13% Shī‘ī, and 2% members of other groups. In addition to Iran, Iraq has emerged as a major Shī‘ī government when the Twelvers achieved political dominance in 2005 under American occupation.

The two communities have often remained separate, mingling regularly only during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In some countries like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain, communities have mingled and intermarried. Shias have been treated harshly in some countries dominated by Sunnis, especially in Saudi Arabia. Some Sunnis have complained of mistreatment in the Twelver-dominated states of Iraq and Iran.


At least one scholar sees the period from collapse of the Ottoman Empire through the decline of Arab nationalism as time of relative unity and harmony between traditionalist Sunni and Shī‘ī Muslims - unity brought on by a feeling of being under siege from a common threat, secularism, first of the European colonial variety and then Arab nationalist.

A remarkable example of Sunni-Shī‘ī cooperation was the Khilafat Movement which swept the subcontinent of India following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the seat of the Caliphate, in World War I. Shia ulama (scholars) "came to the caliphate's defence" attended the 1931 Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem. This was despite the fact they were theologically opposed to the idea that non-Imams could be Caliphs or successors to Muhammad, and that the Caliphate was "the flagship institution" of Sunni, not Shī‘ī, authority. This has been described as unity of traditionalists in the face of the twin threats of "secularism and colonialism."

Another example of unity was a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar's rector, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, recognizing Shia Islamic Law as the fifth school of Islamic law. In 1959, al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most influential center of Sunni learning, "authorized the teaching of courses of Shia jurisprudence as part of its curriculum."


Following this period, Sunni-Shī‘ī strife has seen a major uptick, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most common explanation for the bloodshed is conspiracies by outsiders - "the forces of hegemony and Zionism which aim to weaken [Islam]" (Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, unspecified "enemies" (Iran president Ahmadinejad), or American neo-liberals who wish to provoke "a debilitating Islamic civil war." (Dilip Hiro).

Another scholar lays the blame at entirely different source, the unintended effects of the Islamic Revival. According to Vali Nasr, as the Muslim world was decolonialised and Arab nationalism lost its appeal, fundamentalism blossomed and reasserted the differences and conflicts between the two movements, particularly in the strict teachings of Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. The Iranian Islamic Revolution, changed the Shī‘ī-Sunni power equation in Muslim countries "from Lebanon to India" arousing the traditionally subservient Shī‘ah to the alarm of traditionally dominant and very non-revolutionary Sunni. "Where Iranian revolutionaries saw Islamic revolutionary stirrings, Sunnis saw mostly Shia mischief and a threat to Sunni predominance."

Although the Iranian revolution's leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was very much in favor of Shī‘ī-Sunni unity, he also challenged Saudi Arabia, in his view an "unpopular and corrupt dictatorship" and an "American lackey" ripe for revolution. In part because Saudi Arabia was the world's major international funder of Islamic schools, scholarships, fellowships, etc., this angered not only Saudi Arabia but its many fundamentalist allies and benefactors throughout the Sunni world.


Shī‘ī-Sunni discord in Iraq starts with disagreement over the relative population of the two groups. According to most sources, including The CIA World Factbook, the majority of Iraqis are Shī‘ī Arab Muslims (around 65%), and Sunnis represent about 32% of the population. However, Sunni are split ethnically between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Many Sunnis hotly dispute their minority status, including ex-Iraqi Ambassador Faruq Ziada, and many believe Shia majority is "a myth spread by America". One Sunni belief shared by Jordan's King Abdullah as well as his then Defense Minister Shaalan is that Shia numbers in Iraq were inflated by Iranian Shias crossing the border. Shia scholar Vali Nasr believes the election turnout in summer and December 2005 confirmed a strong Shia majority in Iraq.

The governing regimes of Iraq were made mainly of Sunnis for nearly a century until the 2003 Iraq War. The British, having put down a Shia rebellion against their rule in the 1920s, "confirmed their reliance on a corps of Sunni ex-officers of the collapsed Ottoman Empire". The British colonial rule ended after the Sunni and Shia united against it.

The Shia suffered indirect and direct persecution under post-colonial Iraqi governments since 1932, especially that of Saddam Hussein. Under Saddam public Shia festivals such as Ashoura were banned. It is said that every Shia clerical family of note in Iraq had tales of torture and murder to recount. In 1969 the son of Iraq's highest Shia Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim was arrested and allegedly tortured. From 1979-1983 Saddam's regime executed 48 major Shia clerics in Iraq. They included Shia leader Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr and his sister. Tens of thousands of Iranians and Arabs of Iranian origin were expelled in 1979 and 1980 and a further 75,000 in 1989. Shia opposition to the government following the first Gulf War was reportedly suppressed.

Iraq War

Some of the worst Shia-Sunni sectarian strife ever has occurred after the American invasion of Iraq, steadily building up to present. While thousands have been killed by American and allied military collateral damage, this has become overshadowed by the cycle of Sunni-Shia revenge killing -- Sunni often using suicide bombing, Shia favoring death squads. According to one estimate, as of early 2008, 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq. Sunni suicide bombers have targeted not only thousands of civilians, but mosques, shrines, wedding and funeral processions, markets, hospitals, offices, and streets. Sunni insurgent organizations include Ansar al-Islam. Radical groups include Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, Jeish Muhammad, and Black Banner Organization.

Takfir (unbeliever) motivation for many of these killings may come from Sunni insurgent leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Before his death Zarqawi was wont to quote Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, especially his infamous statement urging followers to kill the Shi'a of Iraq, and calling the Shias "snakes". An al-Qaeda-affiliated website posted a call for "a full-scale war on Shiites all over Iraq, whenever and wherever they are found."Wahabi suicide bombers continue to attack Iraqi Shia civilians, and the Shia ulema have in response declared suicide bombing as haram (that which is forbidden to Muslims): "Even those who kill people with suicide bombing, these shall meet the flames of hell."

Some believe the war has strengthened the takfir thinking and may spread Sunni-Shia strife elsewhere.

On the Shia side, in early February 2006 militia-dominated government death squads were reportedly "torturing to death or summarily executing hundreds of Sunnis every month in Baghdad alone, many arrested at random. According to the British television Channel 4, from 2005 through early 2006, commandos of the Ministry of the Interior which is controlled by the Badr Organization, and who are almost exclusively Shia Muslims - have been implicated in rounding up and killing thousands of ordinary Sunni civilians.

The violence shows little sign of getting opposite sides to back down. Iran's Shia leaders, some of whom have strong ties with Iraqi Shia, are said to become "more determined" the more violent the anti-Shia attacks in Iraq become. One Shia Grand Ayatollah, Yousef Sanei, who has been described as a moderate, reacted to the 2005 suicide bombings of Shia targets in Iraq by saying the bombers were `wolves without pity and that `sooner rather than later, Iran will have to put them down`.


Although the country of Jordan is 95% Sunni and has seen little Shia-Sunni fighting within, it has played a part in the recent Shia Shunni strife. It is the home country of anti-Shia insurgent but of Raed Mansour al-Banna, who died perpetrating one of Iraq's worst suicide bombings in the city of Al Hillah. Al-Banna killed 125 Shia and wounding another 150 in the February 28 vehicle bombing of a police recruiting station and adjacent open air market. In March 2005 Salt, al-Banna's home town, saw a three-day wake for al-Banna who Jordanian newspapers and celebrants proclaimed a martyr to Islam, which by definition made the Shia victims "infidels whose murder was justified." Following the wake Shia mobs in Iraq attacked the Jordanian embassy on March 20, 2005. Ambassadors were withdrawn from both countries.

All this resulted despite the strong filial bonds, ties of commerce, and traditional friendship between the two neighboring countries. Jordan, for example, had refused to ally itself against Iraq during the first Gulf War despite its alliance with America and the economic hardship that resulted.


Main article: Sectarian violence in Pakistan

Pakistan, the country with the second largest Muslim population in the world, has seen serious Shia-Sunni discord. Almost 77% of Pakistan's population is Sunni, with 20% being Shia, but this Shia minority forms the second largest Shia population of any country, larger than the Shia majority in Iraq. Other than the last few decades, historically shia - sunni relations have been very cordial, its worthwhile to note that majority of member of both sects allied together in the struggle for creation of Pakistan in 1940s. Shia Muslims have played an important part in Pakistan's history. The founder of Pakistan Muhammed Ali Jinnah and the Bhutto family are Shia Muslims, as is Asif Ali Zardari and several top Pakistani Generals such as General Yahya Khan and General Musa Khan. Pakistan is also the only muslim country with a sunni majority where shias have been elected for top offices in the country.

In the last two decades, "as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan", "300 in 2006." Amongst the culprits blamed for the killing are Al Qaeda working "with local sectarian groups" to kill what they perceive as Shi'a apostates, and "foreign powers ... trying to sow discord."


Some see a precursor of Pakistani Shia-Sunni strife in the April 1979 execution of deposed President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on questionable charges by Islamic fundamentalist General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Ali Bhutto was Shia, Zia ul-Haq a Sunni. The "Islamization" of General Zia ul-Haq that followed was resisted by Shia who saw it as "Sunnification" as the laws and regulations were based on Sunni fiqh. In July 1980, 25,000 Shia protested the Islamization laws in the capital Islamabad. Further exacerbating the situation was the dislike between Shia leader Khomeini and General ul-Haq.

Shia formed student associations and a Shia party, Sunni began to form sectarian militias recruited from Deobandi and Ahl-i Hadith madrasahs. Preaching against the Shia in Pakistan was radical cleric Israr Ahmed. Muhammad Manzour Numani, a senior Indian cleric with close ties to Saudi Arabia published a book entitled "Iranian Revolution: Imam Khmeini and Shiism". The book, which "became the gospel of Deobandi militants" in the 1980s, attacked Khomeini and argued the excesses of the Islamic revolution were proof that Shiism was not the doctrine of misguided brothers, but beyond the Islamic pale.

Anti-Shia groups in Pakistan include the Lashkar i Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, offshoots of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The groups demand the expulsion of all Shias from Pakistan and have killed hundreds of Pakistani Shias between 1996 and 1999. As in Iraq they "targeted Shia in their holy places and mosques, especially during times of communal prayer." From January to May 1997, Sunni terror groups assassinated 75 Shia community leaders "in a systematic attempt to remove Shias from positions of authority." Lashkar i Jhangvi has declared Shia to be `American agents` and the `near enemy` in global jihad.

An example of an early Shia-Sunni fitna shootout occurred in Kurram, one of the tribal agencies of the Northwest Pakistan, where the Pushtun population was split between Sunnis and Shia. In September 1996 more than 200 people were killed when a gun battle between teenage Shia and Sunni escalated into a communal war that lasted five days. Woman and children were kidnapped and gunmen even executed out-of-towners who were staying at a local hotel.


Shia-Sunni strife in Pakistan is strongly intertwined with that in Afghanistan. Though now deposed, the anti-Shia Afghan Taliban regime helped anti-Shia Pakistani groups and vice versa. Lashkar i Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, have sent thousands of volunteers to fight with the extreme Deobandi Taliban regime and "in return the Taliban gave sanctuary to their leaders in the Afghan capital of Kabul."

"Over 80,000 Pakistani Islamic militants have trained and fought with Taliban since 1994. They form a hardcore of Islamic activists, ever ready to carry out a similar Taliban-style Islamic revolution in Pakistan." According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. Shia-Sunni strife inside of Afghanistan has mainly been a function of the puritanical Sunni Taliban's clashes with Shia Afghans, primarily the Hazara ethnic group.

In 1998 more than 8,000 noncombatants were killed when the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan where many Hazaras live. Some of the slaughter was indiscriminate, but many were Shia targeted by the Taliban. Taliban commander and governor Mullah Niazi banned prayer at Shia mosques and expressed takfir of the Shia in a declaration from Mazar's central mosque:

"Last year you rebelled against us and killed us. From all your homes you shot at us. Now we are here to deal with you. The Hazaras are not Muslims and now have to kill Hazaras. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair."

Assisting the Taliban in the murder of Iranian diplomatic and intelligence officials at the Iranian Consulate in Mazar were "several Pakistani militants of the anti-Shia, Sipah-e-Sahaba party."

Iran & Shia Statehood

In this letter purporting to be from the International Islamic University Malaysia, the university is denying employment to a person based on what it claims to be government policy "against employing staff from a particular denomination, Shiite".

Iran is unique in the Muslim world because its population is overwhelmingly more Shia than Sunni (Shia constitute approximately 90% of the population) and because its constitution is theocratic based on rule by a Shia jurist.

Sunnis there have complained of discrimination, particularly in important government positions. In a joint appearance with former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani calling for Shia-Suni unity, Sunni Shiekh Yusuf al-Qaradawi complained that no ministers in Iran have been Sunni for a long time, that Sunni officials are scarce even in the regions with majority of Sunni population (such as Kurdistan, or Balochistan). Sunnis cite the lack of a Sunni mosque in Tehran, Iran's capital and largest city, despite the presence of over 1 million Sunnis there, and despite the presence of Christian churches, as a prominent example of this discrimination.

Although reformist President Mohammad Khatami promised during his election campaign to build a Sunni mosque in Tehran, none was built during his eight years in office. The president explained the situation by saying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would not agreed to the proposal. As in other parts of the Muslim world, other issues may play a part in the conflict, since most Sunnis in Iran are also ethnic minorities.

Soon after the 1979 revolution Sunni leaders from Kurdistan, Balouchistan, and Khorassan, set up a new party known as Shams, which is short for Shora-ye Markaz-e al Sunaat, to unite Sunnis and lobby for their rights. But six months after that, they were closed down, bank accounts suspended, and had their leaders arrested by the government on charges that they were backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

A UN human rights report states that: ...information indicates Sunnis, along with other religious minorities, are denied by law or practice access to such government positions as cabinet minister, ambassador, provincial governor, mayor and the like, Sunni schools and mosques have been destroyed, and Sunni leaders have been imprisoned, executed and assassinated. The report notes that while some of the information received may be difficult to corroborate there is a clear impression that the right of freedom of religion is not being respected with regard to the Sunni minority.

Members of the 'Balochistan Peoples Front' claim that Sunnis are systematically discriminated against educationally by denial of places at universities, politically by not allowing Sunnis to be army generals, ambassadors, ministers, prime minister, or president, religiously insulting Sunnis the media, economic discrimination by not giving import or export licenses for Sunni businesses while the majority of Sunnis are left unemployed.

There has been a low level resistance in mainly Sunni Iranian Balochistan against the regime for several years. Official media refers to the fighting as armed clashes between the police and "bandits," "drug-smugglers," and "thugs," to disguise what many believe is essentially a political-religious conflict. Revolutionary Guards have stationed several brigades in Balouchi cities, and have allegedly tracked down and assassinated Sunni leaders both inside Iran and in neighboring Pakistan. In 1996 a leading Sunni, Abdulmalek Mollahzadeh, was gunned down by hitmen allegedly hired by Tehran as he was leaving his house in Karachi.

Members of Sunni groups in Iran however have been active in what the authorities describe as terrorist activities. Balochi Sunni AbdulMalek Rigi continue to declare the Shia as Kafir (non-Muslim, rejecter) and Mushrik (polytheists, idolaters). These Sunni groups have been involved in violent activities in Iran, and have waged terrorist attacks against civilian centers, including an attack next to a girl's school according to government sources. The "shadowy Sunni militant group Jundallah" has reportedly been receiving weaponry from the United States for these attacks according to the semi-official Fars news agency. The United Nations and several countries worldwide have condemned the bombings. (See 2007 Zahedan bombings for more information).

Non-Sunni Iranian opposition parties, and Shia like Ayatollah Jalal Gange’i have criticised the regimes treatment of Sunnis and confirmed many Sunni complaints.

Following the 2005 elections, much of the leadership of Iran has been described as more "staunchly committed to core Shia values" and lacking Ayatollah Khomeini's commitment to Shia-Sunni unity. Polemics critical of Sunnis were reportedly being produced in Arabic for dissemination in the Arab Muslim world by Hojjatieh-aligned elements in the Iranian regime.


Syria is approximately three quarters Sunni, but its government is predominately Alawi, a Shia sect that makes up less than 15% of the population. Under Hafez al-Assad, Alawi dominated the Baath Arab Socialist Party, a secular Arab nationalist party which has ruled Syria under a state of emergency since 1963 and does not tolerate opposition. Alawi are often considered a form of Shia Islam that differs somewhat from the larger Twelver Shia sect.

A very serious 20th century conflict in Syria with sectarian religious overtones was that between the Alawi-dominated al-Assad regime and the Islamist Sunni Muslim Brotherhood culminating with the 1982 Hama Massacre, where an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 were killed by the Syrian military following a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. Prior to the uprising Muslim Brotherhood attacks against military cadets at an artillery school in Aleppo, car bomb attacks in Damascus, and bomb attacks against the government and its officials had killed several hundred.

How much of the conflict was sparked by Sunni v. Shia divisions and how much by Islamism v. secular-Arab-nationalism, is in question, but according to scholar Vali Nasr the failure of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran to support the Muslim Brotherhood against the Baathists "earned [Khomeini] the Brotherhood's lasting contempt." It proved to the satisfaction of the Brotherhood that sectarian loyalty trumped Islamist solidarity for Khomeini and eliminated whatever appeal Khomeini might have had to the MB movement as a pan-Islamic leader.


Muslims in Yemen including Shaf'i (Sunni) majority and Zaydi (Shi'a) minority. Zaidi are sometimes called "Fiver Shi'a" instead of Twelver Shi'a because they recognize the first four of the Twleve Imams but accept Zayd ibn Ali as their "Fifth Imām" rather than his brother Muhammad al-Baqir.

Both Shi'a and Sunni dissidents in Yemen have similar complaints about the government -- cooperation with the American government and an alleged failure to following Sharia law -- but it's the Shia who have allegedly been singled out for government crackdown.

During and after the US-led invasion of Iraq, members of the Zaidi-Shia community protested after Friday prayers every week outside mosques, particularly the Grand Mosque in Sana’a, during which they shouted anti-US and anti-Israeli slogans, and criticised the government's close ties to America. These protests were led by ex-parliament member and Imam, Bader Eddine al-Houthi. In response the Yemeni government has implemented a campaign to crush "the Zaidi-Shia rebellion," and harass journalists. These latest measures come as the government faces a Sunni rebellion with a similar motivation to the Zaydi discontent.


The small Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni Al-Khalifa family as a constutitional monarchy, with Sunni dominating the ruling class and military and disproportionately represented in the business and landownership. Al Wifaq, the largest Shi'a political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shi'a discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence.

Bahrain has many disaffected unemployed Shia youths and many Shia have protested Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah's efforts to create a parliament as merely a `cooptation of the effendis`, i.e. traditional elders and notables. Bahrain's 2002 election was widely boycotted by Shia. Mass demonstrations by Shia have been held in favor of full fledged democracy in March and June 2005, against an alleged insult to Ayatollah Khamenei in July 2005.


An example of governments working "to drive wedges between Sunnism and Shiism" was found in Nigeria in 1998 when the Nigerian government of General Sani Abacha accused Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zak Zaki of being a Shia. This despite the fact that ther are few if any Shia among Nigerias Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni organization.

Saudi Arabia & Salafis

Shia and the Saudi state

While Shia make up only between 8-15% of Saudi Arabia's population, they form the majority of the residents of the eastern province of Hasa where much of the petroleum industry is based, and make up the majority of the work force there. Between 500,000 and a million Shia live there, concentrated especially around the oases of Qatif and Al Ahsa. Majority of Saudi Shia belong to the sect of the Twelvers.

Saudi Arabia being an absolute monarchy generally recognizes no rights by law or plurality to any political participation outside the ruling family and its supporters. And being an absolute monarchy, the ruling elite have tried to portray a homogenous society in culture and religion. Since the religion of the rulers is Wahhabi, they have tried to create a uniform wahabi society thus leaving out Shi'as, Sufis and other Sunnis from the homogenous mainstream.

Relations between the Shia and the Wahhabi Sunnis are inherently strained because the Wahhabis consider the rituals of the Shia to be the epitome of shirk, or polytheism. In the late 1920s, the Ikhwan (Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud's fighting force of converted Wahhabi beduin Muslims) were particularly hostile to the Shia and demanded that Abd al Aziz forcibly convert them. In response, Abd al Aziz sent Wahhabi missionaries to the Eastern Province, but he did not carry through with attempts at forced conversion. In recent decades the late leading Saudi cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz, issued fatwa denouncing Shia as apostates, and according to Shia scholar Vali Nasr "Abdul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama, even sanctioned the killing of Shias, a call that was reiterated by Wahhabi religious literature as late as 2002."

Government policy has been to allow Shia their own mosques and to exempt Shia from Hanbali inheritance practices. Nevertheless, Shia have been forbidden all but the most modest displays on their principal festivals, which are often occasions of sectarian strife in the gulf region, with its mixed Sunni-Shia populations.

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch:

"Shia Muslims, who constitute about eight percent of the Saudi population, faced discrimination in employment as well as limitations on religious practices. Shia jurisprudence books were banned, the traditional annual Shia mourning procession of Ashura was discouraged, and operating independent Islamic religious establishments remained illegal. At least seven Shi'a religious leaders: Abd al-Latif Muhammad Ali, Habib al-Hamid, Abd al-Latif al-Samin, Abdallah Ramadan, Sa'id al-Bahaar, Muhammad Abd al-Khidair, and Habib Hamdah Sayid Hashim al-Sadah, reportedly remained in prison for violating these restrictions."

And Amnesty International adds:

"Members of the Shi‘a Muslim community (estimated at between 7 and 10 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population of about 19 million) suffer systematic political, social, cultural as well as religious discrimination."

As of 2006 four of the 150 members of Saudi Arabia's "handpicked" parliament were Shia, but no city had a Shia mayor or police chief, and none of the 300 girls schools for Shia in the Eastern Province had a Shia principal. Saudi textbooks "characterize Shiism as a form of heresy ... worse than Christianity and Judaism."

Forced into exile in the 1970s, Saudi Shia leader Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar is said to have been "powerfully influenced" by the works of Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e Islami and by their call for Islamic revolution and an Islamic state.

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Shia in Hasa ignored the ban on mourning ceremonies commemorating Ashura. When police broke them up three days of rampage ensued -- burned cars, attacked banks, looted shops -- centered around Qatif. At least 17 Shia were killed. In Feb. 1980 disturbances were "less spontaneous" and even bloodier. Meanwhile broadcasts from Iran in the name of the Islamic Revolutionary Organization attacked the monarchy, telling listeners, `Kings despoil a country when they enter it and make the noblest of its people its meanest ... This is the nature of monarchy, which is rejected by Islam.`

By 1993, Saudi Shia had abandoned uncompromising demands and some of al-Saffar's followers met with King Fahd with promised made for reform. In 2005 the new King Abdullah also relaxed some restrictions on the Shia. However Shia continue to be arrested for commemorating Ashura as of 2006. In December 2006, amidst escalating tensions in Iraq, 38 high ranking Saudi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the world to "mobilise against Shiites". In return, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi in 2007 responded:

The Wahhabis ignore the occupation of Islam's first Qiblah by Israel, and instead focus on declaring Takfiring fatwas against Shias.

Saudi Sunni

A large fraction of the foreign Sunni extremists who have entered Iraq to fight against Shia and the American occupation are thought to be Saudis. According to one estimate, of the approximately 1200 foreign fighters captured in Syria between summer 2003 and summer 2005, 85% were Saudis.

Another reflection of grassroots Wahhabi or Saudi antipathy to Shia was statement by Saudi cleric Nasir al-Umar, who accused Iraqi Shias of close times to the United States and argued that both were enemies of Muslims everywhere.

Al Qaeda

Some Wahabi groups, often labeled as takfiri and sometimes linked to Al Qaeda, have even advocated the persecution of the Shi'a as heretics. Such groups have been allegedly responsible for violent attacks and suicide bombings at Shi'a gatherings at mosques and shrines, most notably in Iraq during the Ashura mourning ceremonies where hundreds of Shias were killed in coordinated suicide bombings, but also in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However Al-Qaida deputy Dr. Ayman al-Zwahiri in a video message directed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of Al-Qaida in Iraq, not to attack civilian targets but to focus on the occupation troops. His call seems to have been ignored, or swept away in the increasing tensions of Iraq under occupation.

Efforts to foster Sunni-Shia unity

In a special interview broadcast on Al Jazeera on February 14, 2007, former Iranian president and chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and highly influential Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, "stressed the impermissibility of the fighting between the Sunnis and the Shi’is" and the need to "be aware of the conspiracies of the forces of hegemony and Zionism which aim to weaken [Islam] and tear it apart in Iraq."

Even on this occasion there were differences, with Rafsanjani openly asking "more than once who started" the inter-Muslim killing in Iraq, and Al-Qaradawi denying claims by Rasanjani that he knew where "those arriving to Iraq to blow Shi’i shrines up are coming from”.

International Islamic Unity Conference

Saudi-Iran Summit

In a milestone for the two countries' relations, on March 3 2007 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held an extraordinary summit meeting. They displayed mutual warmth with hugs and smiles for cameras and promised "a thaw in relations between the two regional powers but stopped short of agreeing on any concrete plans to tackle the escalating sectarian and political crises throughout the Middle East."

On his return to Tehran Ahmadinejad declared that: "Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies' conspiracies. We decided to take measures to confront such plots. Hopefully, this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressure by the imperialist front."

Saudi officials had no comment about Ahmadinejad's statements, but the Saudi official government news agency did say:

"The two leaders affirmed that the greatest danger presently threatening the Islamic nation is the attempt to fuel the fire of strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and that efforts must concentrate on countering these attempts and closing ranks," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said. He added: "The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region."

It speaks to the unbelievable insanity of this religion (as with most others...), when one is forced to realize that the only ones in the world interested in killing Muslims... are in fact other Muslims. And in the process, they are quite happy to kill anyone who stands in their way. And yet there are those who will have the unmitigated gall to stand and declare that the Muslim faith, is one based on peace and acceptance. There may be an isolated few who actually believe this and aspire to live their lives accordingly, but the very history of the Muslim people tends to contradict this belief, again and again.

This is only a personal opinion of course, but the ongoing rise and spread of Islamic Fundamentalism throughout the world, is probably the most compelling reason of all for the West to, a) rethink it's immigration policies and; b) to maintain a respectable arsenal of nuclear warheads, ever at the ready.
Oh sure... employ 'diplomacy' at first by any means. Just remember that diplomacy is the art of saying: "Nice doggie...", while searching for a big fucking rock.