Now I gave Trent Lott a hard time for saying that he didn’t understand the sectarian rivalries in Iraq.  “How do they tell the difference?  They all look the same to me,” he said.  Indeed.  Well, apparently, Lott has a lot of company in Washington among people who couldn’t tell the Twelfth Imam from the closed doors of ijtihad.  They wouldn’t even get the references I just made.  (For the uninitiated, the “closing of the doors of ijtihad” is a metaphor for the end of Qur’anic interpretation among the Sunni; the Twelfth Imam, as we all know, returned on August 22 of this year in a blinding flash of light and now rules the world in glory with Jesus…oh, wait, that’s Bernard Lewis’ line!)  Here is some of the report from The New York Times:

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” [bold mine-DL]

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.” [bold mine-DL]

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

It suddenly makes a lot more sense to me that Mr. Bush would be completely at a loss that these sects existed.  “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims,” he declared in his befuddlement at the prospect of two different Islamic sects existing in the same country.  Apparently, that is about as much as the responsible committee chairs in Congress knew about Iraq and the differences between the different groups.  I now understand how the idiotic tactic of lumping all Islamic fundamentalists, regardless of sect, and secular Baathists together in one big “Islamofascist” blob can work and can take hold with our political class.  For a time, I thought these people just had to be willfully perverse in their ideological need to distort the realities of the Near East and draw connections and alliances between mortal enemies.  That dubious honour belongs to the likes of Ledeen and Hanson alone; the politicians truly are clueless.  I am beginning to understand that these people are horrifyingly ignorant to a degree I didn’t believe was possible.  A word of advice: whenever someone says, “The government knows more than you do,” it’s time to start looking for the exits, because people in government by and large almost certainly do not know more than a reasonably well-informed citizen.  Apparently not when it comes to history, culture or the religion of our avowed enemy.  No wonder the buffoons could keep going on about the “religion of peace” for years without any sense that they were being had by CAIR and the renegade apologists for Islam.  Granted, these people are politicians, and in their line of work actually knowing something can be a real drawback, but come on!  A genuine moron who takes a basic world religions class in college will end up knowing more about Islam than these people.  Unfortunately, it isn’t limited to ignorant Congressmen:

It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.