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The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future

August 1, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations


The conflict in Lebanon, escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq, and growing tensions between Iran and the United States have all drawn attention to the growing importance of the divide between Shias and Sunnis in shaping Middle East politics. In The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future, Council Adjunct Senior Fellow Vali Nasr offers an in-depth analysis of the various causes and forces that have contributed to this long-born political struggle for the soul of Islam and sheds light on historic moments of Shia-Sunni competition.

With the war in Iraq and a Shia majority rule there, Nasr argues that the subsequent demand for fair representation in an often Sunni-dominated Muslim world is not a localized phenomenon. However, Nasr cautions that the Shia, as a result of their recent ascendancy, are in grave danger of inciting Sunni extremism.

The Shia Revival effectively demonstrates the political and historical counterpoints to modern Iraq, asking Westerners to reconsider their assumptions about the Shia and recognize the delicate balance that must be maintained with the Sunnis. Throughout the Middle East, the presence of Sunni extremists retaliating against the Shia revival will pose the gravest danger to the United States.

Nasr voices an uncomfortable point: Westerners have too often conceived of the Middle East through a rarefied Sunni perspective. In these changing times, the Western world must learn to understand the history, motivations, and philosophy of the Shia, and how the differences between Shias and Sunnis will help shape the future of the region.


The Shia Revival is a treasure trove of information and analysis…. A ‘must read’ for anyone interested in American foreign policy today.”

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Sultan of Oman Professor, Harvard University and author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

 “Brilliant, clear, and erudite. This is indispensable reading for anybody who is trying to make sense of the tragic conflict in the Middle East.”

Karen Armstrong, author of Islam, A Short History

“The best book by far on Shiism and Shia-Suni conflicts…. An extraordinarily insightful analysis, engaging and accessible to policymakers, scholars, students, and nonspecialists alike.”

John L. Esposito, University Professor of Religion and International Affairs, Georgetown University and author of Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam

“As enlightening as it is thought-provoking, The Shia Revival is important to both the expert and the layperson…. It is lively, engaging, provocative, and should not be missed.”

Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution and author of The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America

“ Smart, clear and timely.”

Warren Bass, Washington Post

“So enlightening and perspective altering that no one concerned about the Middle East should miss reading it.”

Ray Olson , Booklist

“ Historically incisive, geographically broad-reaching, and brimming with illuminating anecdotes.”

Max Rodenbeck, New YorkReview of Books


Published by W.W. Norton & Company; 287 pages, $25.95

ISBN10: 0-393-06211-2

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