On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, George Bush, famously or infamously, had to be instructed on the existence of and differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He had no idea--despite centuries of warfare between the two sects--that there was a difference.
Sadly, that cultural ignorance of most Americans is still being played and preyed upon when fostering fear of Islam here, especially in regards to the Cordoba House. As has been previously reported, the Cordoba House is being built by Sufi Muslims, a mystical sub-sect of the Shia Muslims and considered apostates of Wahabbist Sunni sub-sect of al Qaeda.
Fareed Zakaria highlights further proof of the al Qaeda hatred of the Sufis with the July attack on a Lahore, Pakistan Sufi shrine during prayers, which killed 41 and injured 175 more. What gets lost in the amped-up "fear of the Other" rhetoric of Gingrich and Palin and driven by media like Fox News, is that this is not a battle of Islam vs. the US.
Why would al Qaeda attack a holy place at a time of prayer? Because it is a Sufi shrine, part of a sect that al Qaeda despises and regards as a deadly foe in the real battle it is fighting, the battle within Islam.
The Sufis are a sector of Islam originating in South Asia. They're all about mysticism, love, brotherhood and devotion, with very little attention to dogma. They believe in saints, shrines, music, dance, and follow a very liberal interpretation of the Koran.
Sufi poets routinely extol the virtues of wine and song, both forbidden in the purer versions of Islam. Sufism has always believed in tolerance towards other people and religion, and in peace. You can see why al Qaeda views it as its mortal enemy. The more Muslims accept some version of Sufi Islam, the more dangerous for al Qaeda and its extreme jihadist philosophy.
It can't be said enough, with all the misinformation out there: Islam doesn't hate us. This is a battle between al Qaeda and everyone else that doesn't follow their own narrow vision of Islam, which includes other Muslims. The opposition to the Cordoba House is exactly what al Qaeda wants to see.
And how sad is it that George W. Bush eventually came around to understanding this divide and was more moderate in his statements about the Muslim world than the current crop of Republican leaders?