MPs don’t know Sunnis from Shias

When you are chairman of your party’s international office and its human rights commission and a member of the all-party parliamentary Friends of Islam group, it might be advisable to swot up on what is happening in the Middle East. However, constituents of Gary Streeter, the Tory MP for South West Devon, must hope that he knows more about Dartmoor than he does about the Muslim world.

Streeter confessed last week he did not know the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’ite. He was one of 30 Middle East “experts” from the world of politics put on the rack over Iraq, Iran and other countries in the region by The Sunday Times. Streeter, once private secretary to John Major, the former prime minister, also failed to identify Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran.

He was not alone. Many of those quizzed did not know their Hamas from their Hezbollah. Both Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, and Sally Keeble, Labour member for Northampton North, thought Hezbollah was an organisation based in Palestine.

Anne Milton, the Tory MP for Guildford, wears the dunce’s cap after getting 13 out of 14 questions wrong. It even slipped her mind that she was a member of the Friends of Islam group. “Ooh, am I?” she said. “Oh yes, I suppose so. I forgot. I don’t think I’ve sat on it yet.”

Sunday Times, 7 January 2007