It’s not really about religion, it’s about the power of nations

So far it has felt like a Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but people are fearful it might soon turn into an open conflict. The Independent reports how the greatest threat to world peace coming from the Middle East is not terrorism but the wider Sunni-Shia religious conflict.

‘This is not really about religion, any more than the wars of religion of the 17th century, or the conflict in Northern Ireland, or the bloodshed in Bosnia. In almost all great so-called religious conflicts, what lies behind the shouting of the clerics is a contest between the power of nations. This one is, in reality, a contest for dominance in the Middle East between Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Tehran (Iran).’


The Guardian also reports on the mounting tension in Lebanon, due to the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

‘Now, more than at any point in modern history, Iran and Saudi Arabia are squared off against each other as a race to consolidate influence nears a climax from Sana’a (in the Yemen) to Beirut (in Lebanon).’

Massacre in Burma or is it Myanmar?

A group of people, the Rohingya (Muslim), have been fleeing their homes in their thousands this week and sharing stories with refugee, government and new agencies about their mistreatment in Burma/ Myanmar (majority Buddhist).  More than 160,000 of Burma/ Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

Ethnic cleansing – the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another.

FCO 303 - Bangladesh Travel Advice [WEB]

The leader in Burma/ Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who said in 1991: “Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.” There is a petition that she is stripped of her Nobel Prize for not stopping and condemning the attacks on the Rohingya.

News agencies are being cautious with their language when reporting the story as there have also been reports of Rohingya terrorists attacking and killing Buddhists and Hindus. So when they report on a massacre against the Rohingya they use language like the Guardian cannot independently corroborate the villagers’ accounts to protect themselves if the stories do turn out not to be true.


Why we need to know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims for a GCSE

A few weeks back you heard the President of the USA criticise Iran for supporting terrorism, whilst he was standing in Saudi Arabia.

Then this week after a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic State killed 17 innocent civilians in Iran, President Trump’s sent both his condolences: “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” and these additional comments: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” You can imagine how Iran felt about this latter comment.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted: “Repugnant WH (White House) statement … as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients.”

This is where what we learn in GCSE Religious Studies comes in handy in making sense of all this. It is so important that when you read about world politics you are aware of the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam.  The Sunni jihadis of Isis (Islamic State) consider Shia Iran to be apostates (a defection or revolt against the true Islam), and Iran is deeply involved in fighting the group in both Syria and Iraq. To make things trickier for Iran they have a sizeable Sunni population along their restive borders with Iraq and Pakistan, and it is from here that Isis is hoping to recruit. Understanding the Syrian Civil War also needs you to know about Sunni and Shia Muslims, as Newsround tried to explain.

sunni and shia

Cairo Coptic Cathedral bombed

This weekend a Coptic Cathedral in the Egyptian city of Cairo suffered a bombing which killed at least 25 and injured scores more. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 90 million, faced persecution (hostility, ill-treatment and harassment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs) and discrimination during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011. In fact on New Year’s Day in 2011, shortly before the beginning of the uprising against Mubarak, a suicide bomber killed 21 worshippers outside a church in the coastal city of Alexandria. Meanwhile they have faced further attacks at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2013.

Egypt’s Copts make up the largest Christian community in the Middle East. The church is said to have been established by St Mark in approximately AD42 and survived the rise of Islam in the region from the seventh century.


Denominations in Islam

The news that an explosion at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan has killed 52 people and injured a 100 more is another sad story of ISIS terrorism. It is an attack by extreme fundamentalist Muslims against other Muslims which is something that people worrying about ISIS violence often forget. It isn’t just against the West but against people who don’t agree with their specific brand of Islam.

The worshippers were performing dhamal – a trance-like dance – when the bomb hit. Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan but is opposed by extremists. In Year 8 students learn the basics about the denominations of Islam in their Flipped Classroom half-term of learning about What is means to be a Muslim. This means that for one half-term students get homework every week to prepare for the forthcoming lesson. They are supposed to have the facts and knowledge about the lesson’s topic before they walk into the classroom, and once they are in there they will have the chance to debate, discuss and use their knowledge to make and produce things.

TrueTube have a good video explaining the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the BBC has a page explaining Sufism.

Charlie Hebdo in the news again


You may have heard of Charlie Hebdo which is a satirical magazine with cartoons which mock politics, news and religion. In January 2015 it suffered a terrorist attack on its Paris offices in response to its publication of cartoons showing the prophet Muhammad.

It is in the news again today for a cartoon it published after the recent Italian earthquake. Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoon, titled “earthquake Italian style”, showed a bloody man described as penne tomato sauce, an injured woman as penne gratinee, and bodies stacked between layers of rubble as lasagne. Do you think the cartoon is acceptable or a step too far and offensive?

Well Amatrice, an Italian village which was flattened by the August earthquake has decided to sue the magazine with a local government officially saying the cartoons are “a macabre, senseless and absurd insult to the victims”.



9/11 Anniversary Brings New Stories

With the 9/11 Anniversary just a day away there will be numerous stories and memories in the media over the upcoming days.

Today we read about the F-16 pilot who was told to intercept Flight 93 as it was heading seemingly straight to Washington. With no missiles on board the only way she would be able to bring down that flight, on its suicide mission, was to fly straight into it. The only reason she is here alive today is that the passengers of Flight 93 brought down the plane in Pennslyvania to stop more severe carnage.

“The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves,” Penney the F-16 pilot says. “I was just an accidental witness to history.”

There is a film about Flight 93 which even though you’ll know the storyline still has enough depth to make it an interesting watch. Another interesting perspective of 9/11 comes from a retired New York policeman who writes about what he saw on that day and how he fears another attack.