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Required Reading (for Americans, at least)

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Though the article, What Every American Should Know About the Middle East (Daniel Miessler), has already done a decent job of summarizing Arabs, Islam and the Middle East[1], there’s still probably too much text[2], so here’s a summary of the summary[3].

  1. Arabs are an ethnic group.[4]
  2. Iraqis are mostly Arab.
  3. Iranians are mostly Persian (another ethnic group).
  4. Afghans are Pashtun, Hazira, Uzbek or Tajik (also ethnic groups).[5]
  5. Afghani is the unit of currency in Afghanistan.
  6. They speak Arabic[6] in Iraq.
  7. They speak Farsi[7] in Iran.[8]
  8. They speak Pashto and Farsi in Afghanistan.
  9. Semitic[9] refers to a set of languages.
  10. Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages.
  11. Arabs can be any religion.
  12. Islam is a religion.
  13. Muslims are people of Islamic faith.
  14. Islam has two major sects, Shia and Sunni.[10]
  15. Sunnis make up 90% of all Muslims.[11]
  16. Muhammad is a prophet of Islam.[12]


[1] Assuming, of course, that it can be done at all in so little text.
[2] I’m being entirely facetious and unfair to my American compatriots. Except where I’m not. You know who you are. In hindsight, it would have been fun to do this one as an April Fool’s gag, since most of you would have had no idea one way or the other. On the other hand, Fox News pretty much has the market on Arab misinformation cornered and has taken all the chuckles out of that.
[3] With footnotes for the adventurous, of course.
[4] Ethnic groups (Wikipedia) are religion-independent cultural classifications. See Arabs (Wikipedia) for more information.
[5] From Afghanistan (Answers.com): “About two-fifths of the people belong to the Pashtun ethnic group”.
[6] Arabic is spoken in large parts of Africa as well as the Middle East.
[7] Also called Persian.
[8] From Iran (Answers.com): “The principal language of the country is Persian (Farsi), which is written with the Arabic alphabet and spoken by about 60% of the people. Other groups speak Turkic dialects (25%), Kurdish, (10%), and Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic. Among the educated classes, English and French are spoken.”
[9] From Semitic languages (Wikipedia): “The term “Semitic” for these languages, after Shem, the son of Noah in the Bible, is etymologically a misnomer in some ways (see Semitic), but is nonetheless standard.” Palestinians are a Semitic people and are ill-equipped to be anti-Semitic, as they are so often accused of being.
[10] The Shia/Sunni schism is as old as Islam itself. Sunnis believe the line of power runs through the caliphate whereas Shias believe it runs through the family of Muhammad. Normally, Shia and Sunnis are perfectly capable of living in peace (often intermarrying) without further trouble; in Iraq, the US expended quite a lot of effort to foment a civil war. Compare Protestants and Catholics in the US to those in Ireland in the final quarter of the 20th century; same religions, but differing levels of violence, largely due to politics instead of religion.
[11] Iran is almost exclusively Shia; Iraq is 60% Shia and 20% Sunni; Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf States are almost exclusively Sunni.
[12] The Saudi Arabian flag features Arabic text, which reads: “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, a central tenet of Islam.