In This Review

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future
The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future
By Vali Nasr
Norton, 2006, 304 pp.

Have those seeking to make sense of Middle Eastern politics by concentrating on radical Islam neglected the long-lived intra-Islamic confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites? If so, this book offers compelling corrective reading. Nasr provides a succinct summary of Shiite religious precepts and practices and of how Sunnism differs from Shiism, theologically and sociologically. He identifies and locates the different Shiite communities and then, with a good mix of broad-brush interpretative history and anecdotal detail, sketches the history of Sunni-Shiite confrontation from Lebanon to South Asia, making a strong case for the depth of this divide. At the same time, he does not suggest some sort of incipient Shiite International -- the important differences among Shiite communities and the limits of transnational Shiite political loyalties are clear. Still, the thrust of this broad-ranging and detailed, but still eminently readable, account is that the recent political gains of the Shiites may be ushering in a major, perhaps even tectonic, shift in the larger Middle Eastern political landscape.