I wrote about this back in 1990. From Chapter 13 of Jumper:
“One of the problems with American public policy on terrorism is that our government insists on blurring the line between armed insurgence against military forces and installations and attacks on uninvolved civilians. Now, obviously attacking unarmed civilians who have no involvement with a particular political issue is terrorism. But an attack on an armed military force occupying one’s homeland? That’s not terrorism. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that if you call that terrorism then the U.S. is also involved in financing terrorists in Afghanistan and Central America. See what I mean?”
“Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the proportion of American dead from terrorism is way out of proportion to the response it generates. We did nothing to stop the Iraq-Iran war because we perceived it in our interests that damage be done to both of those countries. Personally I think that’s inexcusable, but I’m not in the position to make government policy. Certainly both leaders were crazy with a long-standing personal grudge, but their people paid a horrible price.”
“I wasn’t aware that there was a personal grudge.”
“Hell, yes. In nineteen seventy-five; when Hussein settled the dispute over the eastern bank of Shatt-al-Arab with the Shah of Iran, one of the unwritten conditions was that Hussein get Khomeini to stop his political activity.”
“How could he expect Hussein to do that?”
Perston-Smythe looked at me like I was an idiot. “Khomeini was in Iraq. When he was exiled from Iran he went to the Shiite holy city of An Najaf. Anyway, Hussein told Khomeini to stop and Khomeini refused, so Hussein bounced him out of the country to Kuwait which promptly bounced him out of the country to France. Over a fifteen-year period, seven hundred thousand Shiites were thrown out of Iraq. There’s a lot of bad feeling there. More now of course, since the war.”
I blinked. “I know you’re trying to give me the big picture, but what about these particular terrorists?”
“We’re getting there. It’s a roundabout way, but all the better for the journey. What do you know about Sunni versus Shiite beliefs?”
I’d been doing some reading, evenings, after working on the cliff dwelling at El Solitario. “Sunnis make up about ninety percent of Muslims. They believe that the succession of caliphs was proper after Mohammed died. The Shiites believe that the rightful successors descended from Ali, Mohammed’s cousin, not his best friend, Abu Bakr. They believe that the rightful descendants have been assassinated and discriminated against ever since.
“Sunnis tend to be more conservative and they don’t believe in a clergy or a liturgy. The only countries with Shiite majorities are Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.”
“That’s right,” said Perston-Smythe. He seemed surprised at my knowledge after my earlier ignorance. “Even among Shiites, terrorism is abhorrent. One of Mohammed’s strictures calls for the protection of women, children, and the aged. One of the ninety-nine names of Allah is ‘The All Merciful.’ “
Click to embiggen.
al-Qaeda : Sunni
Like everything, this is a gross simplification. Iran has a Sunni minority (under 10%) and, apparently, a great many countries that are listed as completely “Sunni” have a small fraction of Shia population. But, there is still no excuse for confusing the two.
Are we clear on that now?