Sunni-Shiite Bloodletting: What's in a Name?

| Wed Sep. 6, 2006 1:23 PM EDT

From today's New York Times:

The country's Sunni-Shiite bloodletting is driving many Iraqis to bury the very essence of their identity: their names.

To have to hide one's name is considered deeply shameful. But with sectarian violence surging, Iraqis fear that the name on an identification card, passport or other document could become an instant death sentence if seen by the wrong people.

That is because some first names and tribal names indicate whether a person is Sunni or Shiite. A first name of Omar is popular among Sunnis, for example, as is Ali among Shiites.

We heard the same thing from some Iraqi bloggers we interviewed recently. And one, a 14-year-old girl from Mosul going by the nom de blog "Sunshine," added this:

Personally, I didn't know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis until three years ago. My best friend is Shiite; we have been friends since we were 6 years old. Neither of us supports what is happening now. My grandparent's neighbors are Shiite; the mother has been my grandma's friend for over 35 years. We like their family very much, and we both feel very angry about this ridiculous segregation. You see Shiites and Sunnis married and living in the same house—many relatives of mine are married to Shiite men or women, and they won't get divorced because of this silly segregation. They are Muslims before they are Shiites or Sunni, and in the end we are all Iraqis, no matter what our religion or denomination.

Read the full interview here.