Well, do you know the answer? If you don’t, it probably isn’t all that consequential…unless you are involved in the intelligence business.
Jeff Stein, a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly, popped the question to Silvestre Reyes, the five term Democrat from Texas, the new incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who now sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.
We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.
To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?
The dialogue went like this:
Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?
“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.
Just so you won’t make that same mistake if you’re asked, here is a concise summary of the differences.
A nod to Andrew Sullivan for tipping me off to the Reyes exchange.