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Roots of the Sunni-Shi’ite War
Re your March 12 cover story: As a Sunni Muslim in the U.S., I am often asked to explain the differences and disagreements between the Islamic sects. Your superb analysis has made my job so much easier. It is the most balanced, finely nuanced examination of the sectarian divide I have ever read in the mainstream media. Unlike many other non-Muslim commentators, Bobby Ghosh correctly realizes that the root of the fighting in Iraq (and in other parts of the Islamic world) is not religion but politics. The warring parties cloak themselves in religious garb and quote suras from the Koran to suit their agendas, but at the end of the day their objective is not religious legitimacy but political supremacy. It is amazing how many Western writers miss that point—and all the more to Ghosh’s credit that he grasps it.
Akbar Rehman,
Los Angeles

Your Iraq coverage has always been superb, and your cover story raises the bar even higher. I don’t think I had fully grasped the social and political aspects of the rivalry between Sunnis and Shi’ites until I read your story. Now I can’t escape the conclusion that the solution to Iraq’s problems cannot be military. Shi’ites and Sunnis have to sort this one out themselves, and the most the U.S. can do is try to be an honest broker between them.
George Julius Xavier,
New York City

Your historical perspective on the differences between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites was quite enlightening. These groups have a great deal of historical baggage to unload if they are to find peace instead of an unending civil war. But you destroyed a perfectly clear historical perspective by claiming that “There could be no more bitter legacy of the Bush Administration’s fateful decision to go to war in Iraq” than an intramural death match between the two groups. This conflict has been going on for centuries. To blame it on the Bush Administration instead of those responsible—the self-righteous mullahs and alleged holy men such as Muqtada al-Sadr—is to allow your political bias to creep into your reporting.
Dale R. Enck,
Buena Vista, Colorado, U.S.

Since President George W. Bush is such a devout Christian, he should have known not to invade Iraq. A walk through the Old Testament provides vivid evidence of perpetual hatred between tribes. The invasion catapulted Iraq into its civil war.
Robert E. Bee,
Hudson, Florida, U.S.

The sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’ites would be comparable to a civil war in the U.S. between Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. If Iraqis cannot tolerate slight differences in practice of the same religion, how can they embrace democracy? One of the foundations of our democracy is the acceptance of different ideologies, including religion. It’s time for Sunnis and Shi’ites to get over their mutual 1,300-year-old grudge. If Americans can accept a multitude of religious creeds among their compatriots, then surely the Iraqis can accept differences in the same religion.
Ronn Ohl,
Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.

Conservatives’ Cheshire Grin?
I was offended by William Kristol’s viewpoint “Why U.S. Republicans Are Smiling” [March 12]. He rejoiced in Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s deft political outmaneuvering of the Democrats over a terrible war that Kristol himself helped sell. The callousness he displayed about the suffering of thousands of Americans and millions of Iraqis is outrageous. Maybe he should stop smiling, for decency’s sake.
Avi Brand,
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.

The 2006 election was not about democrats or Republicans. It was about overturning the status quo: gridlock in Congress, a war that cannot be won or lost, mixed signals on the economy, no consensus on immigration, soaring deficits and scandals to boot. If partisans want to cheer for more of the same, so be it. Meanwhile, the general public will support the party that demonstrates a commitment to leading this country back to being a beacon of freedom, justice and prosperity.
James C. Sylvan,

There is only one reason republicans are smiling: The war in Iraq has become the Democrats’ problem. Now that the Republicans have ceded control of Congress, they can do what they do best: claim to have the answers to everything without actually doing anything. After six years in power, Republicans have given us a massive deficit, a broken military, a loss of civil liberties and two disastrous wars. Of course they’re smiling—they’re con men with nothing to sell.
David M. Caballero,
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.

Juiced for WebTV
The coming Joost revolution, led by Skype veterans Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, may move TV to the Internet, but that is no reason to call Microsoft’s popular WebTV service, which does the opposite, a dud [March 12]. Of Joost, Jeremy Caplan said, “Simplicity is the magic,” but nothing is simpler than WebTV. Sure, Microsoft dropped the ball by discontinuing WebTV. But we old-timers—I am almost 83—love it.
Lloyd Saletan,
New York City

Thinking Outside the Box
In his report on the Jesus tomb controversy [March 12], David Van Biema wrote that James Tabor’s book The Jesus Dynasty “enmeshes a plausible story of early church strife in speculative material suggesting that Jesus had a human father.” What is speculative about Jesus’ having a human father? I find it much more speculative to suggest that a divine being impregnated a virgin girl. Perhaps the time will finally arrive when Christians accept the Bible for what it is: a series of allegories that aren’t meant to be taken literally.
Fred Green,

The argument over producer James Cameron’s The Lost Tomb of Jesus is irrelevant. Christ may or may not have ascended bodily to his father in heaven, but whoever he was and whatever his family life may have been like, his presence in the world changed history and countless lives from the 1st century to the present.
Margaret Millea,
Carlsbad, California, U.S.

Making a Timely Exit
In “The Fine Art of Dying Well” [March 12], Charles Krauthammer observed that timing is everything, even when it comes to death. This reminded me of three deaths that occurred on Nov. 22, 1963. Many Americans recall it as the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but few remember that two prominent British men of letters died on that day as well. Talk about being overshadowed. One of them was C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist and writer of children’s stories; the other was Aldous Huxley, the novelist and essayist, member of the famous Huxley family and author of the dystopian Brave New World. Bad timing indeed.
Thomas G. Isham,
Marshall, Michigan, U.S.

Krauthammer made a common error. God doesn’t act to kill anyone through disease, natural disaster or any other cause. If he does, we’re praying to the wrong One!
Philip S. Reinheimer,
Penn Valley, California, U.S.

Mutual Understanding
I was shocked to read Peter Beinart’s Viewpoint “The Devil We Know” [March 5]. The strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship has been a success, but Beinart made no reference to Saudi Arabia’s positive contributions. Over the past several decades, our countries’ partnership has stabilized the world economy by securing oil supplies, contained communist regimes, defeated Saddam Hussein and fought terrorism. Saudi Arabia is a balancing power against radical forces that are driving the region back to the Dark Ages.
Khalid Al-Saeed,

Universal Space Travel?
One of the silliest prophecies I’ve ever read was in “The Space Cowboys” [March 5]. Aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan said, “Fifteen years from now, every kid will know he can go to orbit in his lifetime.” Even the kids in Ghana portrayed in the March 12 issue? And where is the fuel to come from? Surely there are better uses for the world’s dwindling energy resources.
Lars Sollin,
Lund, Sweden

Europe Tightens Its Belt
Re “Is the Good Life Out of Reach?” [Mar. 5], about the effect of a common currency on the cost of living in the European Union: Peter Gumbel made no mention of Britain, an E.U. country that has spurned the euro and kept its pound sterling. Wouldn’t a comparison of economic conditions in Britain and those in other E.U. nations tell us something about whether the common currency is to blame for some of the ills mentioned?
Alan Campbell,
Cape Town, South Africa

Your story noted that statistician Enrico Giovannini is upset that people question official European inflation statistics; he claims that people have some “terrible problems of perception.” Is it possible he has lost touch with reality? He is welcome to stay in my house for a month and do some accounting. Products such as cars, refrigerators and new television sets are out of our reach—we are only hoping that our old ones will last 10 more years. We go to a restaurant once in three months, and this year we have decided to do without a summer holiday in nearby Corsica. We just can’t afford it anymore. And compared with one-income families, we are quite well off. Is it so difficult to understand that the tremendous price increase of everyday items along with a yearlong stagnation in payrolls leads to empty wallets?
Bettina Klein,Pisa, Italy

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