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.

Jesus wept.
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.


  1. oops…

    To his credit, Reyes, a kindly, thoughtful man who also sits on the Armed Service Committee, does see the undertows drawing the region into chaos.
    For example, he knows that the 1,400- year-old split in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites not only fuels the militias and death squads in Iraq, it drives the competition for supremacy across the Middle East between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
    That’s more than two key Republicans on the Intelligence Committee knew when I interviewed them last summer. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Terry Everett, R-Ala., both back for another term, were flummoxed by such basic questions, as were several top counterterrorism officials at the FBI.

    Hi Paul–
    It’s even more pitiful.  I don’t have a vast understanding of how members of congress get assigned to the various committees, but I think they have a choice.  How could someone choose to be on the Intelligence Committee and not have a clue as to the driving force behind the sectarian violence destroying the country our troops are supposed to be protecting?   I wonder if the members of the other committees are as clueless.

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