After watching this video for the fifth time it stops being funny and starts becoming very worrying …

Of course, we shouldn’t be too worried, though — it’s not like beauty-pageant contestants run the most powerful country on the face of the planet (even if they can’t quite place themselves on a map). Surely American presidents congressmen know a bit more about the region where they are waging war. Right?

The chairman of the United States House intelligence committee (which is charged with oversight of the intelligence community) must surely understand all of this complicated geography, history and religious stuff. Well, luckily for us, Jeff Stein decided to interview Congressman Reyes just before he became chairman:

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 Shi’ite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al-Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shi’ite showed up at an al-Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball …

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah …”

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Poquito,” I said — a little.

“Poquito?!” He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh …”

I apologised for putting him “on the spot a little”. But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on US soil and in the Middle East have been front-page news for a long time now …

“Yeah,” Reyes said, rightly observing, “but … it’s not like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s a heck of a lot more complex.

“And I agree with you — we ought to expend some effort into understanding them. But speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”

Alrighty. Well I guess it’s time to start praying that the good folks at the Pentagon have a better sense of the world and don’t mistake Boksburg for Baghdad …


Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay is the Head of New Media at the AlJazeera Network based in Doha, Qatar. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 and...

12 replies on “It’s Boksburg, not Baghdad …”