To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Saturday, January 24, 2015

As Per Yemen’s Houthi Rebels, Where Would We All Be Without The BBC?

Houthis rebels on the move in Yemen
Completely in the dark, at least on the role that this group of rebels is playing in Yemen’s current political chaos. This week saw the ouster of Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels swept down from the mountainous north of the country late last year and gained control of the capital city of Sanaa. The instability has created a worrying power vacuum in Yemen, where the US maintains a significant drone program and American special forces are training Yemeni counter-terrorism units. Most authorities regard the Houthis themselves as a relatively insignificant force in terms of the wider War on Terror, though there are some indications the Houthis have Iranian backing and their anti Israel, anti Semitic rhetoric, however stock, isn't heartening to hear.  But many fear that the turmoil could lead to gains for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 

At any rate, Friday morning’s BBC Newshour carried an interview between presenter Owen Bennett Jones and Middle East expert Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute (also known as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.)  

Among other things, the segment examined Yemen’s complicated political and tribal dynamics, which are made even more tangled by crosscutting religious sectarianism. 

At one point (37 minutes, 20 seconds into the hour) Bennett-Jones asked Henderson what percentage of the population are Houthis.  It was a small fraction, Henderson answered in clipped King’s English, adding somewhat wryly: 

Houthais are Zaidis who are almost Shias... but not all Zaidis are Houthis.

Still groggy, just sipping my first cup, Henderson's almost self-parodying precision made me chuckle. Well then, right…. Glad we got that one cleared up… I had been so confused.  

Sectarian differences in that part of the world can get pretty fine-grained. But you could almost hear some of the more exasperated---and bloodyminded---soldiers in the War on Terror screaming: "Bomb 'em all and let God sort 'em out!" Americans in particular don't have a taste for the nuance and complexity that an accurate assessment of a situation like Yemen demands. Recall Bush 43 had to have someone explain the difference between Shia and Sunni. 

Owen Bennett-Jones of the BBC

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