Results 1 to 20 of 26

Thread: Sunni and Shi'a Terrorism: Differences That Matter

Hybrid View

Previous Post Previous Post   Next Post Next Post
  1. #1
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005

    Default Sunni and Shi'a Terrorism: Differences That Matter

    CTC, 29 Dec 08: Sunni and Shi'a Terrorism: Differences That Matter
    Key Findings

    • Over the twenty‐five year period from 1981‐2006, Sunni terrorism in noncombat zones evolved in four overlapping waves. Conducted by hundreds of ideologically similar groups, Sunni terrorism has featured continuous, mid‐to‐high intensity operations viewing war against infidels and apostates as a perpetual condition.

    • Terrorism by Shi’a groups in non‐combat zones over the same period has been conducted in five discrete campaigns and by two main actors: Iranian state agents from special national paramilitary and intelligence services, and Hezbollah operatives. The rationale for terrorism by Shi’a groups over that time frame was tethered tightly to Iranian state and Hezbollah organizational objectives, especially that of state/group survival.

    • The six significant differences between Sunni extremist terrorism and Shi’a terrorism over twenty‐five years of practice in non‐combat zones have major policy implications for the United States and its western allies in the event of overt hostilities with Iran over Tehran’s advancing nuclear program.

    • The intense correlation between survival aims of Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand, and the instigation of terrorism against western overseas interests on the other, suggests that there is a high likelihood that a mid-to‐high intensity terrorist campaign by Shi’a groups—along the lines of three campaigns carried out by Hezbollah and Iranian agents during the 1980s—would be initiated in response to any U.S. or Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear sites or wider regime targets.

    • Any new campaign of terrorism by Shi’a actors of this type could have a profound, unsettling impact on overseas American diplomats, businessmen, educators and commercial agents who would likely become the focused targets of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations.

    • Such a terror campaign would likely circumvent much of what the United States is presently doing to combat terrorism overseas, and greatly challenge America’s hostage negotiation and crisis management capability.

    • U.S. political leaders should carefully consider the differences in Shi’a terrorism and Sunni terrorism in non‐combat zone as part of a comprehensive assessment of all the costs involved in a crossing of military thresholds that would likely trigger an Iranian‐backed campaign of Shi’a terrorism in the first place.
    Complete 75-page paper at the link.

  2. #2
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2007


    Several thoughts on this interesting monograph:

    Importantly, this study does not argue or imply that violence perpetrated by Sunni or Shi’a extremist groups is carried out for reasons that are inherent to one or the other tradition of Islam. There is no evidence sought or identified in this work contending that historical patterns of terrorist attacks by organizations identifying themselves as Shi’a, for example, are pre‐determined by Shi’a theology or philosophy. What this study does suggest, however, is that those Shi’a organizations that have conducted terrorism in non‐combat zones display several preferred operational patterns that contrast markedly from their Sunni counterparts.
    Indeed, most of the Shi'ite cases relate to Iran, Hizbullah, or both. Given this, and the conclusion above, I wonder whether its really useful to speak of a mode of "Shi'ite terrorism" at all, given that the events data is largely driven by two (rather rational) actors.

    Related to this is the issue of how terrorist "incidents" are coded:

    • Only terrorism in "non-combat zones" is counted. From an Iranian point of view, however, the GCC states certainly would have been considered a combat zone in the 1980s, given active and extensive Gulf financing of the Iraqi war effort.
    • Similarly, by any definition Lebanon was an active combat zone in the 1980s, given the Israeli occupation—although it is not listed as one. It is not clear to me whether Amal violence against civilians during the War of the Camps (1985-87) is counted.
    • I'm equally unclear why some combat zones are excluded in analysis of waves of Sunni terrorism—if I read Table 2 correctly, Chechnya doesn't count, but Algeria does. On the other hand, Map 3 shows only 168 terror attacks in North Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Given that this was the monthly (or even weekly) toll at the height of the Algerian civil war, I can only assume that Algeria is excluded (although it is not shown as such).

    I'm always wary about data drawn from large-N data quantitative sets without a very full description of what is coded, how, and what the collection biases might be.

  3. #3
    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    South of Mason Dixon Line

    Default Shiia's, as well as Sunnis, driven by lineage of Abraham argument


    I am enlightened by you two younger focused experts regarding Sunni and Shiia terrorism comparisons.

    Let me suggest a theological/historical simplified fact which does in fact drive both groups from a religious perspective, in my humble view.


    The core issue is and always will be religions or theological. Who was God's chosen among the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael, first born of Hagar, or Isaac, born 13 years later of Abraham's wife Sarah.

    Among my moderate Muslim friends here in the US are of the Agha Khan sect of Shiia Islam. They are more willing to sit down over coffee or tea (or a Coke, my preference) and tell me that the issue, over and over, to the total Muslim world is Jerusalem; Israel's occupation (their view, not mine) of Palestine/Arab home lands, etc.

    Look forward to more from you two, Rex, and you guys are the modern front who can stimulate and document very well.
    Last edited by George L. Singleton; 02-18-2009 at 09:38 PM.

  4. #4
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2007


    Quote Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
    It depends on which group we are talking about.

    For Palestinians, the issue is as much nationalist and religious, as evidenced by similarity in views held by Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Of course, the rise of Hamas may reflect a shift here.

    In Lebanon, I don't really think Sunnis and Shiites see the issue much differently, and I doubt they do in Iraq either.

    For Arabs more broadly, the issue can be both religious and ethnic.

    Outside the Arab world, the salience of the Palestinian issue drops substantially. Opinion polls show, for example, that while Pakistanis think its a relatively important issue, Iranians and Indonesians think it is much less so. I'm speaking here, of course, of public opinion at large—not necessarily the views of radical Islamists.

    Sorry this is a short reply—I'm rushed of my feet preparing for some travel.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.

  5. #5
    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    South of Mason Dixon Line

    Default Two questions here

    Rex and JEDBURGH

    I see due to Rex's interim answer two questions here of which one was being discussed by me, Sunni and Shiia origins to both have the same starting point, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. Hence the lineage (the Bible gives us) of both sons of Abraham by two different women, Hagar and Sarah, being blessed of God, but Judiasm and Christianity being of one line and today's Islam believing they are (paramountly) of the other line.

    Thus, apart from future private dialogue I hope to have with Rex, I'd like to lay out some questions here for others to join in discussing, understanding that I am an old coot and want to the extent possible to keep the two lines or threads viewed, at least by me, as the Muslims v. Jews/Christians belief system that drives terrorism and violence (my view) today, separate and apart from the fact of prior to 1947 the coexistance of Muslims, Christians, and a few Jews living together in what used to be old Palestine/Samaria.

    Here are some items for others to think about, research, and then comment on, which I would enjoy seeing others views on:

    1. As Muhammed was first a Christian in a primitive church in what is today Saudi Arabia, then "withdrew" from membership having his own vision,

    2. And since history reports that Muhammed was illiterate, could not read nor write, and since Muhammed went into a cave and came out (we are told by Islam) with their Holy Quaran, who wrote the book and how?

    3. I understand that since 1995 Bethlehem which formerly was majority Palestinian Christian is today about 95% Palestinian Muslim majority. Some alledge the Palestinian Christians fled fighting with Israel, others say the Palestinian Muslims drove them out. What say you?

    4. I will admit that my local Post Office Clerk, who is a Greek American, is married to a Palestinian Christian, and his Mother in Law, who is native Palestinian Christian, "hates" Israel and all Jews. So, some one and on validation that at least "some" Palestinian Christians resent Israels existance.

    5. I note on Internet sources that in 2005 Palestinian Muslims rioted and burned a Palestinian Christian village to the ground, killing many Palestinian Christians over a Palestinian Christian dating a Palestinian Muslim, which the article alledges is verboten. Comments and views?

    6. Finally, as I tend to think from here with friendship here who are from and return "over there" yearly, we have good friends who are Syrian Catholics here. Wife is an MD, husband owns a string of self-founded restaurants. They tell me that inside Syrian the Christians in general try to stay/live in the mountains to be more removed and safe from the majority of Syrian Muslims. Others views and comments here.

    Summarized, the theme of this thread was and I hope in the main will remain what is going on by/about Sunnis and Shiias in today's trouble world. I understand Rex's interest in delineating that all Sunnis and all Shiias are not terrorists, but today's world based on opinion polls over there suggests that most all Muslims, be they Sunni or Shiia, have a negative opinion of Christians, Jews, and of course the West in general.

  6. #6
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008


    Personally, I think everyone can set their Qurans down and instead pick up some histories of western engagement in the Middle East and North Africa; and particularly those that focus on the Cold War era.

    The issues driving violence in Iran, Lebannon, and linked to Palestine are largely Nationalist driven. Iran is largely Shia and feels (reasonably) that they are being deined opportunity to achieve their full potential as a Nation.

    The Sunni populaces are largely in states that have goverments that were either established, sustained, or at least widely supported, by Western influences during the Cold War. The issues driving violence out of these populaces are not Nationalist in nature, but are instead largely populace driven; as populaces seek the opportunity provided by the end of the Cold War (catalyst), fueled by globalization (the great wild card and accelerant of change) to emerge from under Western influence and seek self-determination.

    This has very little to do with religion, and a whole lot to do with the governmental situation in the states these populaces reside.

    A quick look at the break down of where the foreign fighters in Iraq come from bears this out. First, they are a tiny minority of the fighers; and second they largely are Sunni's who come from states allied with the West. If you believe that Phase one to a successful insurgency at home is to break the support of the US/West to your home governance, you go to where the US is to try to motivate them to withdraw. Thus the shift of Foreign fighters back to Afghanistan as the US shifts there as well. Iraq is not the issue for them, wearing out the U.S. is.

    Similarly, if you are, say Saudi Arabia, and not particularly wanting a Shia dominated democracy (strike one and two in their eyes) on your Northern border, it is reasonable that they might not try too hard to stop the flow of their own insurgent populace from leaving town to take their show on the road to Iraq. That same Saudi government is also very interested in keeping Iran in check. That seems to explain a lot about why they do so little to help resolve the Palestinian issue...if that issue continues to fester, Iran stays plugged in, and the US stays focused on Iran as the bad guy. Looked at in this light the instability between Isreal and Pasetine and Lebannon is very good for the Saudi Royals as it helps them keep the Iranians in check.

    When it comes to intrigue, Americans are WAY out of their league compared to the masters of intrigue that run Middle Eastern governments. Not everything is what it seems.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 02-19-2009 at 07:12 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

Similar Threads

  1. Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq
    By SWJED in forum US Policy, Interest, and Endgame
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 12-21-2007, 03:58 PM
  2. Iraqis: life is getting better
    By Culpeper in forum The Information War
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 03-20-2007, 04:32 AM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts