Why the Sunni-Shia Split?

Why the Sunni-Shia Split?

January 3, 2016 by George G. Coe

Sunni-Shia_map-1

 

Saudi Arabia just executed 47 prisoners, including a renowned Shi’a cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who was a fervent critic of the Saudi royal family. Iran, a Shia country, condemned the execution and Iranians overran the Saudi embassy and set it on fire. According to the Washington Post, “Shiites around the world expressed outrage, potentially complicating a surge of U.S. diplomacy aimed at bringing peace to the region.” This might be a good time to review with students the differences between Sunnis and Shias.

 

Two branches of Islam developed after the death of the prophet Muhammad.  Shias, who represent the smallest group of Muslims, believe that the successor to the Prophet had to be related to Muhammad. According to this excellent BBC story, “the Shia claimed the right of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his descendants to lead the Islamic community.”

 

The Sunnis, the largest group of Muslims, do not agree. As NPR notes in this excellent story about the origins of the split, “Sunnis believed that leadership should fall to the person who was deemed by the elite of the community to be best able to lead the community.” Sunnis represent the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.  According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Iran is the largest Shia country but Iraq and Bahrain also have a Shiite majority.

Muslim-distirbution

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/worldreligions/2016/01/why-the-sunni-shia-split.html

Highways Destroyed America’s Cities feedly

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Highways Destroyed America’s Cities
// The Atlantic

[http://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/mt/2015/11/7760099784_eb903a1d27_o-2/lead_large.jpg] No Papers No Fear/Flickr

America loves its freeways. After the 1956 Federal Highway Bill created the pathway for a 41,000 mile interstate highway system, states and cities jockeyed for the funding to build ever-more extensive networks of pavement that could carry Americans quickly between cities. Sometimes, they built these highways right in the middle of cities, displacing communities and razing old buildings and homes.

“This was a program which the twenty-first century will almost certainly judge to have had more influence on the shape and development of American cities, the distribution of population within metropolitan areas and across the nation as a whole, the location of industry and various kinds of employment opportunities,” Daniel Moynihan wrote in 1970 about the federal program that built these thousands of miles of highways.

But highways also created problems, some of which have become much worse in the years since. Urban freeways displaced communities and created air and noise pollution in downtown areas. They made it easier for suburban commuters to “zip to their suburban homes at the end of the work day, encouraging those with means to abandon the urban core,” Ted Shelton and Amanda Gann of the University of Tennessee wrote in a paper about urban freeways. They also encouraged a reliance on cars that has led to the traffic problems and commuting woes that are motivating a return to city cores.

“Where urban highway construction did occur, in urban design terms, it was highly detrimental to the urban fabric; creating physical and psychological rifts that are extremely difficult to bridge and introducing a substantial source of noise and air pollution,” Shelton and Gann wrote. “Cities across the country continue to struggle with this legacy.”

[https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/2015/11/AP_070725022548/2bdd4ce98.jpg] The Central Artery in Boston, top photo, was torn down to make the Rose Kennedy Greenway and other parks in Boston, below photo (Michael Dwyer/AP).

As some of the highways reach the end of their useful life, cities and counties are debating the idea of tearing down urban freeways and replacing them with boulevards, streets, and new neighborhoods. Though it might sound like a headache, tearing down freeways in city centers can reduce air pollution and create parks and public spaces that bring cities together, according to Shelton.

“The removal of urban interstates is a growing trend in the U.S.,” Shelton and Gann wrote. This trend, if carried to its logical extreme, can yield sites of intervention that hold the promise of remaking the American city.”

In Birmingham, for example planners want to see sections of I-20/59 replaced (though the state’s Dept of Transportation has different ideas). Many people in Buffalo, NY want to see the city’s Skyway torn down, and the Austin, Texas, city government has supported a resolution to submerge parts of I-35 and reconnect portions of city. Other urban highways potentially on the chopping block: the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford, Connecticut; Route 29 in Trenton, New Jersey; and Nashville’s downtown loop.

Some cities have already completed freeway teardowns. Boston, for instance, got rid of sections of I-93 as part of the Big Dig, putting parts of the freeway underground and creating more than 45 parks and public plazas. Voters rejected a plan to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco in 1986, but then the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the highway, leading to its teardown anyway, a construction project that made the San Francisco waterfront more pedestrian-friendly. Milwaukee demolished the Park East freeway in 1999 and urban development has blossomed in the neighborhoods created by the highway’s removal. Manpower Corporation moved its headquarters to the area, and the average assessed land value there grew 45 percent.

It’s an important lesson for some of the nation’s most economically depressed cities, which are considering urban freeway removal projects as a means of economic development. New Haven, for instance, is in the midst of a project called Downtown Crossing, which has removed parts of Route 34 and is putting up new buildings in an area of town bisected by the freeway. The photos below show models of what the area looks like now, and what it will look like when the project is completed.

[https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/2015/11/Screen_Shot_2015_11_25_at_1.34.32_PM/e0496e226.jpg] Downtown Crossing in New Haven, present day and planned. (City Plan Dept/ New Haven)

When the city put in Route 34 in the 1950s, it relocated 881 households and 350 businesses. It’s now hoping to bring businesses and residents back to the area. Already, the city is erecting a 425,000 square foot lab and office building, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals is in the process of building its new headquarters in the middle of this space, which will bring 1,000 jobs to the area.

“The goal of urban vitality and economic viability can be approached by utilizing portions of the right-of-way, from removing a major physical and visual barrier, to create development sites for mixed-use opportunities that will potentially improve the economy, increase tax revenues, and create new jobs,” the city wrote in its application for a federal grant.

Syracuse, New York, which has the highest concentration of black and Hispanic poverty in the country, is also debating a highway teardown. The highway I-81 bisected the city when it was completed in the 1960s, but has reached the end of its useful life, according to state Department of Transportation. The region is considering a number of options. Suburban residents and business owners want to see the elevated portions of the highway expanded or rebuilt. New Urbanists want the highway torn down and a boulevard constructed in a way that could encourage the development of pedestrian-friendly businesses and parks.

And the people that live near the highway? They just want to make sure that even if whatever happens next leads to large-scale changes in the city, they won’t be displaced like those who were their neighbors long ago.

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A Deadly Landslide in Myanmar

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A Deadly Landslide in Myanmar
// The Atlantic

[http://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/mt/2015/11/RTR3FE6B/lead_large.jpg] Hand-pickers walk as they search for jade through rubble dumped by mining companies in Hpakant in 2013. Minzayar Minzayar / Reuters

At least 90 people were killed in a landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar in the early hours of Saturday.

The victims were reportedly searching through a pile of waste material in Hpakant, looking for pieces of jade to sell, when it collapsed, burying them, the BBC reported. Nearly 100 remain missing, and volunteers, police, and others searched for more victims in the rubble on Sunday.

The mountain of soil, discarded by a mining company, was about 200 feet tall, according to The Global New Light Of Myanmar, an English-language newspaper in the country. The landslide buried 70 huts, in which miners were sleeping.

Local resident Seng Mai told The Wall Street Journal that he watched as rescue teams dug bodies from the heap and transported them to the town’s morgue.

“Local people are helping to pull the bodies out and also to bring the villagers away from the landslide area,” he said. “There has been a huge number of deaths.”

Hpakant is located in the state of Kachin, which is home to some of the highest-quality jade in the world, according to Global Witness, an advocacy group. The region produced $31 billion worth of jade in 2014—the equivalent of almost half the GDP of Myanmar—“but hardly any of the money is reaching ordinary people or state coffers,” and is managed by the country’s elites and companies, the group said in a report released last month.

The Associated Press’s Esther Htusan describes how the jade mining industry has changed Hpakant in particular:

After Myanmar’s former military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government five years ago, resulting in the lifting of many Western sanctions, the already rapid pace of mining turned frenetic. No scrap of ground, no part of daily life in Hpakant is left untouched by the fleets of giant yellow trucks and backhoes that have sliced apart mountains and denuded once-plush landscape.

In the last year, dozens of small-scale miners have been maimed or lost their lives picking through tailing dumps.

Myanmar’s jade industry is poorly regulated, and in Kachin, often complicated by the government’s decades-old battle against the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel force that seeks independence for the Christian minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.