Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Is there any region of the world more confounding and irritating, no matter what your worldview, than the Middle East -- ground zero for some of the world's nastiest, religion-steeped political conflicts?

Well, yeah. There's also Washington, D.C.

But let's put that latter mess aside for a moment -- though political decisions made there undoubtedly impact capitals from North Africa to the Persian/Arab Gulf, and beyond.

We should never minimize the tragic and ongoing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and now even Iran following the successful ISIS attack there. They're a terrible indictment of humanity's penchant for cruelty and the pain that unfortunate folks are forced to endure by others.

For now, however, let's focus on Qatar, the natural gas-rich Gulf monarchy that until recent days managed to steer a middle -- if duplicitous -- course between the United States and its Sunni Arab quasi-allies on the one-hand, and Shiite Muslim Iran and its proxy militias, such as the Palestinian terror group cum Gaza government Hamas.

(Let's not forget that Qatar is also a major international media player, thanks to its financial backing of Al-Jazeera.)

You're probably aware that Qatar burst anew into the American political conscious when several of its Sunni Arab neighbors cut diplomatic ties and closed their borders with Qatar in retribution for its ties to Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters.

The situation escalated when President Donald Trump -- there's the D.C. connection -- took credit for the action and piled additional opprobrium on Qatar, which is situated on a thumb-shaped peninsula protruding into the Gulf directly opposite Iran. This, despite efforts by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson -- no doubt mindful that Qatar hosts America's largest Middle East military base -- to lessen the diplomatic confrontation.

Pushed into a corner, Qatar, has turned to Iran for needed food shipments. It's also verbally double-downed on its support for Hamas, calling it a Palestinian liberation group and not a terrorist organization.

Reports out of Israel have also noted that Hamas is turning, again, toward Iran for greater support, should the squeeze on Qatar crimp its capacity to keep up its financial aid to Hamas. (Iran and Hamas have a complicated relationship that runs hot and cold.)

I can't imagine that the Trump administration views this as optimum -- but, hey,  who knew fixing the Middle East could be even more difficult than health care? (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

Many GetReligion readers are undoubtedly familiar with the historical political and religious rivalries behind this dangerous dynamic. In case you're a bit fuzzy on this score, however, here's what's pertinent.

This piece from The Globalist -- to my mind a centrist, solid analytical source on international issues -- answers that question. It does so from a largely political perspective, but one fully cognitive of the crucial Sunni-Shiite religious conflict. (We'll get to the deeper religious explanation next.)

The essay notes that outside agents, including the U.S., ultimately can do little to shape the outcome of the current struggle for regional hegemony in the Muslim Middle East. Why is that?

Because whatever the eventual outcome to the struggle between the Saudi-led Arab Sunni bloc and the non-Arabic Iran-led Shiite bloc, which includes some anti-Saudi Sunni nations, such as Qatar and Turkey, it's sure to be deeply rooted in the region's historical cultural context, meaning Islam.

Whatever regional order emerges, it will have to be described in terms that come from Islamic, Sunni and Arab history.
Islam is a political religion that has clear conceptions of the proper world order and the way public and private matters should be ruled and arranged.
Whatever regional order emerges, whoever the hegemon, it will be rooted in Islam as the cultural language of the region.
The idea of the caliphate isn’t going away. It is merely the historical Islamic form of Arab and Muslim unity—a fundamental political organizing principle.
Even if the current organization that goes by the name of the Islamic State is defeated, the idea of an Islamic state will continue to hold sway as the organizing principle of the Sunni Arab world and the Muslim world more broadly.

Finally, I've been throwing around the terms Sunni and Shiite on the assumption that regular GR readers -- unlike, I'm sure, Americans in general -- have a working familiarity with the important differences between Islam's two major branches.

In case I'm mistaken, here's the pertinent info on this score.

This piece posted by the BBC provides a relatively concise, journalistic rather than academic overview. Note that the Sunni-Shia rivalry is as much political, if not more so, than it is doctrinal.

If the BBC piece, as concise as it may be, given the breadth of history it covers, still feels like too much information, try this five-point presentation from The Wall Street Journal.

Of course if the Journal's paywall gets in your way, it clearly means you're meant to read the BBC tutorial.

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