If you want proof that NPR is a rare outpost of real news outlet on broadcast radio, check out the series running this week on the split between the Shias and the Sunnis.

The five-part “Partisans of Ali,” airing on “Morning Edition,” which airs here on WUWM-FM (89.7) from 5 to 9 a.m., offers a primer on the confusing conflict that’s crucial to understanding Iraq, Iran and the wider clash between Islam and the West.

Correspondent Mike Shuster lays out the history of the schism in Islam and the historical role of the two competing branches of the faith. The first two parts go on more than 8 minutes each, an astounding running time for a news story in modern broadcast journalism that doesn’t focus on Anna Nicole Smith or a diaper-wearing astronaut.

And the series deals with history, and its meaning in the current conflict of cultures, both within the Islamic world and without. In most American journalism, “history” is something stretching back only a couple years.

Today’s installment looks at the Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon two years later. Thursday’s tells the story of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and its impact on the divide in Islam.

Shuster, NPR’s diplomatic correspondent, narrates the story in a straightforward style, letting those who’ve studied the intricacies of the topic explain it. It’s not commentary; it’s simple reporting, using history to guide listeners through the current situation by tracing it back to its roots in the 7th century.

If you can’t listen to “The Partisans of Ali” in the traditional way, the previously aired segments are available at, along with a wealth of supporting material.


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