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PolitiFact: Iran, al-Qaida don't agree on religion

Iran, al-Qaida don't agree on religion

The statement

It's "common knowledge" that al-Qaida is receiving training from Iran.

John McCain, Tuesday in Amman, Jordan

The ruling

We're not trying to pile on to McCain over his misstatement on the link between Iran and al-Qaida. Maybe he was confused just for a moment. He did correct himself quickly. Still, it's worth exploring why McCain's statement is wrong. Most experts do not believe Iran is helping al-Qaida because their respective religious affiliations are at odds with each other. Both sides are Muslim, but the Iranian government is Shiite while al-Qaida is Sunni. And al-Qaida adheres to a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam that considers Shiites to be apostate. It's not likely that the two groups would work together, certainly not "common knowledge." In Iraq, both al-Qaida and Shiite extremists are commonly believed to be committing acts of violence. But it was al-Qaida that was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, not Shiite extremists. The difference between Sunnis and Shiites goes back 1,400 years, to the founding of the Islamic religion. After the death of the prophet Mohammed, his followers split over who should be the next leader: a relative of the prophet or a non-related successor chosen on merit. Those who wanted a relative became Shiites, while those who chose the non-relative eventually became Sunnis. Today, Shiites represent about 15 percent of 1.3-billion Muslims worldwide. Iran is predominantly Shiite, while Iraq has a slight Shiite majority.

Angie Drobnic Holan, Times staff writer

Costumes, yes, but not Halloween

The statement

The Jewish holiday Purim is "their version of Halloween here."

John McCain, Wednesday in a news conference in Israel

The ruling

McCain was making a somber point about the strain of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel when he dropped in a bit of a cultural gaffe, likening the Jewish holiday of Purim to Halloween. When Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, had a chance to speak, he took the fall, saying he told McCain that Purim "is the Israeli version of Halloween." Purim is a minor Jewish holiday whose roots come from a story in the Book of Esther in the Bible. "It is a story that teaches about standing up for who you are and standing up for one's community," said Rabbi Michael Torop of Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg and president of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. During Purim, Jewish people often hold a costume parade and re-enact the story, Torop said. And friends often exchange a plate or basket of sweets. "The only way in which Purim is like Halloween is in the wearing of costumes," said Torop. "At that point, the similarities end." Torop said he doesn't find McCain's comment offensive, but says it shows "this is one person who doesn't get it. He doesn't really understand (Purim's) meaning and its message." Which would be fine, Torop said, but when someone decides to make a public comment about someone else's faith or religion, they ought to understand a bit about it. On a Political Gaffe scale of 1 to 10, we'd rate McCain's as maybe a 2. But still, it's false. Robert Farley, Times staff writer

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PolitiFact: Iran, al-Qaida don't agree on religion 03/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 1:12pm]
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