Jeff Stein wrote an interesting article for the October 17th NY Times OP-ED page . Stein has been conducting interviews of counterterrorism officials in Washington and asking them if they can explain the difference between a Sunni Muslim and a Shiite Muslim?
Stein reported that most of the officials he has asked 'don’t have a clue.' He quotes Willie Hulon, head of the FBI counterterrorism division:
'Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,” he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are… The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following… And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.'
Stein: 'which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite?’ After a pause Stein asks, ‘Iran and Hezbollah… which are they'
Hulon: 'Al Qaeda? 'Sunni.'
Stein went on to discuss several other officials in key intelligence positions who were equally challenged by these questions.
Congressman Terry Everett, Republican vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence on the difference between a Shiite Muslim and a Sunni Muslim:
'One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.'
And Congressman woman Jo Ann Davis, a Republican subcommittee chair of a House committee that oversees CIA recruitment of Islamic spies. Stein writes about her reply to the question:
"'Do I?' she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. 'You know, I should.' She took a stab at it: 'It's a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.'
"Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?
"'Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,' she replied. 'I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.'"
Stein's experience reminds me of my own jarring introduction to the professional world of psychology. When I went out on my pre-doc internship at a major university counseling center, I had a supervisor who described his theoretical orientation as 'existential humanistic.' He was quite disdainful of other theoretical orientations, especially psychoanalytic theory.
There was just one problem. I soon learned that he could not articulate a single idea or principle having to do with existential or humanistic theoretical orientations. Nor could he explain anything about those other theoretical orientations for which he had great disdain. Worst of all, he was not the only supervisor and staff member at my internship who was theoretically vacant.
Over the years, I've been witness to this kind of indifference to professional responsibility among many colleagues and acquaintances. In my opinion these intellectually indifferent psychotherapists represent a danger to patients and they undermine their colleagues who are more serious about the work and more interested and curious about psychology itself, both as an academic and professional discipline.
What can be done about this kind of professional indifference? In this case, I'm the one without a clue. This is not the kind of thing one can report to a professional board. If a licensing or oversight board intervenes, it generally only occurs after some damage has been done. I should also mention that my own supervisor, who couldn't describe his own theoretical orientation beyond the label 'existential/humanistic,' was on the state ethics board that oversees professional misconduct and incompetence.