A very interesting discussion on the Shia-Sunni divide and its implications in the modern world at the Jaipur Literature Festival

The Shia Axis: Barnett Rubin, Barnaby Rogerson, Michael Axworthy, Robert Brenton moderated by Reza Aslan at the Jaipur Literature Festival

With his characteristic wit and tongue in cheek humour, Reza Aslan, a religious scholar whose most recent work is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, played host to this very interesting discussion on the Shia-Sunni divide and its implications in the modern world. Starting with the Iranian revolution, now more well known since the film Argo, the discussion followed the accession of the Shia Crescent in 1979 to its revival in the Middle East post 9/11.

British travel author and publisher Barnaby Rogerson, who has also written biographies of the Prophet Muhammad and his heirs, was the most optimistic of the lot, in spite of sharing a birthday with Ayatollah Khomeini.

Barnett Rubin, a political scientist and leading expert on Afghanistan said no Middle Eastern policy could be discussed excluding the Sectarian divide. While the Sunni are Islamic fundamentalists, the Shia are perceived as the more ambivalent, moderate group.

Robert Brenton, author of the Shia-Sunni Divide spoke of the impending shift in power in the international oil race with the discovery of oil reserves in the Mediterranean. The panel predicted a change in American Policy toward Saudi Arabia with Reza comparing the United States and Saudi Arabia relationship to a friend who has a kickass TV, you really can’t stand him but the big football game’s tonight.

The Shia Sunni Divide was discussed in parallel to the Catholic Protestant divide. The Muslim divide was found to have wider political repercussions, more prone to external influences simply because of its geopolitical boundaries. Oil can easily be converted into money and money is easily misconstrued for power.

And while such serious matters were being discussed, only Reza could’ve gotten away with referring to the Pope as “the whore of Babylon”!

By Shivangi Rajendran @ The Jaipur Literature Festival

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