Ghost in the alleged Iranian spy plot

One of the complaints your GetReligionistas hear the most is that we spend too much time complaining about the same old things. Why can't we just understand that the stupid and/or enlightened members of our mainstream media are never going to do W or X or stop doing Y and Z and just move on? To me, this is something like saying people in Kansas should stop worrying about tornadoes (not a perfect image, but the Texas Panhandle kid in me likes it) or that legal scholars and judges should stop trying to improve what happens in our courts for the simple reason that the legal system will always be flawed and unbalanced.

With that overture, let me once again say that I think it would be a good thing if mainstream journalists were willing to explain some of the differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and why these differences contribute to (as opposed to being the sole cause of) conflicts in places like Iraq, Iran, etc. Yes, I think it would be great of members of Congress knew some of this information, as well. That's another, and perhaps related, issue.

This brings us to the spy story that caused so much buzz inside the Washington, D.C., beltway the other day. This particular Washington Post headline will do: "For Iran and Saudi Arabia, simmering feud is rooted in history."

Yes, it's rooted in history. But it's a particular kind of history, one that centers on differences of doctrine and tradition. In other words, there's religion in there somewhere.

Instead, we read in this sidebar:

The allegations of a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington are the latest and perhaps most audacious eruption in the simmering feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers that have long waged proxy battles for influence in the Muslim world.

The two countries have been locked in a cold war for decades, especially since the 1979 Iranian revolution established a theocracy in Tehran that has openly challenged the legitimacy of the royal House of Saud. The rivalry has been fueled by sectarian tensions -- Iran has a predominantly Shiite Muslim population, while Saudi Arabia is mostly Sunni -- but also centers on their respective ambitions to exercise political and economic power throughout the Middle East.

The conflict has waxed and waned over the years but flared up with renewed intensity during the Arab Spring, which ignited popular uprisings that have toppled or threatened to unseat longtime allies of both countries.

For those paying attention, that passage includes an accurate and appropriate use of the term "sectarian."

Later on in the story, there is more on this bloody divide:

Iran’s ruling clerics see the Saudi royals as corrupt custodians of Islam’s holiest shrines. In turn, Saudi Arabia is convinced that Iran harbors unchecked ambitions to dominate the region, a fear manifested in suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Wait, this might have something to do with Mecca? This might have something to do with actual issues of Islam and the practice of the faith?

The assumption in the story is either (a) that American readers already know everything they know about the bitter issues that divide Sunnis from Shiites or (b) that these old, old religious issues actually have little or nothing to do with these conflicts (even as terms such as theocracy are tossed about).

Instead, it's clear that Muslims are Muslims and politics is politics and power is power. What's religion got to do with anything? Journalists seem to be saying: Let's only write about the true issues. Let's assume that these conflicts are rooted in real things, which clearly -- in places such as Iraq, Syria and Iran -- has nothing to do with beliefs, traditions, doctrines, worship and other unreal stuff.

Sorry. I just had to say this again. Will mainstream reporters every attempt to explain the schism between these two forms of Islam and explain its impact in this region and the world?

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