Check out my new piece co-authored with Phillip Smyth at Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel: " The Vocabulary of Sectarianism"

As the conflict in Syria continues to spread throughout the Levant and adopt a broader sectarian tone — Sunni Salafis on one side and Iranian-backed, ideologically influenced Shiite Islamists on the other — it is important to know how the main actors have cast one another. Unlike the rhetoric during the Iraq War (2003), sectarian language on both sides is regularly finding its way into common discourse. Fighting between Sunnis and Shiites has picked back up in Iraq, is slowly escalating in Lebanon, and there have been incidents in AustraliaAzerbaijanBritain, and Egypt.
The utilization of these words in militant and clerical lingo reflects a broader and far more portentous shift: A developing sectarian war and strategy of dehumanization. This is not simply a representation of petty tribal hatreds or a simple reflection on Syria’s war, but a grander regional and religious issue. If language serves as a guide to how a conflict will develop and how participants view it, a number of key terms must be understood.
Sunni Islamists, particularly Salafis, have used six main terms to describe those that support, are on the side of, or are fighting with the Assad regime: Nusayri, rafidha, majus, Safawi, Hizb al-Lat, and Hizb al-Shaytan. Their Shiite Islamist foes have also adopted their own titles for their Sunni opponents, some of the main terms include: Nasabi, Takfiri, Ummayad, and Wahhabi. For both sides, these terms serve to paint their enemies as nothing more than infidels bent on destroying Islam. Consequently, there can only be one punishment: Death.
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