Friday, July 17, 2009

In Our Time - The Sunni-Shia Split

This IOT Program starts slowly ...
BBC - Radio 4 In Our Time - The Sunni-Shia Split
... In 680, near Karbala in Iraq, a man was killed in the desert. His name was Husayn, and he was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. His death was a crucial episode in the growing split between two groups of Muslims - who would come to be known as the Sunni and the Shia...
... but it picks up speed after the first ten minutes or so when Melvyn Bragg takes control. I knew only the broadest outlines of the story, and the details are amazing. For an outsider it does add some context to the relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The early (and later) days of the Catholic papacy were pretty rough, but the assassinations and wars of early Islam are right up there. It reminds me also of the assassination eras of the American presidency. The conflicts occur on so many dizzying levels -- personal, family, tribe, relation to the Prophet, and proto-nation (but not, interestingly, theological except in the sense of who rules a theocracy).

The real mystery, which this one programme can't address, is how these squabbling tribes seized and held a vast empire -- before it became a vast and coherent civilization.

It's well worth a listen for anyone with an interest or stake in the Middle East. I do hope Obama gets some moments with IOT.

This is the third from last episode of what must be at least the sixth season (it's curiously hard to find out from the site how many seasons there have been.) Melvyn says he'll be back next year. It's been a great season as always, but listening to this episode I recognize that the past season has felt relatively sluggish.

In retrospect I think Melvyn has mellowed too much. He needs to get a bit tougher on his academics, who are prone to wander and miss the fundamentals. It's a fine road to travel -- some of them are rather nervous and might break down under harder handling, but the show works best when he's riding herd with the occasional flick of the whip.

Writing this post I noticed something new. There's a blog called "After Our Time". Unfortunately it appears to have expired in October 2007. It would be nice to see a revival of that.

No comments: