According to Al Jazeera, the Islamic State recently claimed in an online statement that it carried out a deadly suicide bomb attack at a mosque in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province of Qatif (see story here). The eastern part of Saudi Arabia is largely Shia and tensions between the Sunni monarchy and its Shia residents have been present for decades. This attack was on the heels of a similar one carried out in Yemen in March (see article here).
Now the animosity between Shia and Sunni dates back to the early days of Islam and there are many excellent books that cover this (I highly recommend the classic text “An Introduction to Shi’i Islam” by Moojan Momen). But why do groups like IS target Shia so vehemently? And the Taliban and Al Qaeda and its affiliates and…..?
To put it simply, to an Al Qaeda-inspired extremist, the only good Shiite is a dead Shiite. The number of attacks is far too large to list. Not that the Shia are the only ones on the extremists’ hit lists, but they do rank at the top. Many extremists have called for attacks in communities: the fervor with which the late Abu Musab Al Zarqawi targeted the Shia in Iraq led to an admonishment from AQ HQ (Zarqawi’s men were too brutal even for AQ!).
But why has this hatred become so common amongst extremist groups? As noted, the two have not gotten along for nigh on 1400 years, but the level of atrocity has really picked up over the past few decades.
A lot of this stems from Wahhabi doctrine. Wahhabi Islam dates back to the mid 18th century when the eponymous founder (Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab) teamed up with local political partners to spread a very conservative, intolerant and hateful brand of the faith throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Al Wahhab particularly abhorred the Shia, whom he viewed as apostates. Tens of thousands of Shia were slaughtered in eastern Arabia and Iraq because of Al Wahhab’s views.
Al Qaeda and likeminded groups are not necessarily “Wahhabi” but their ideology owes a great deal to the 18th century scholar. These groups regularly spew hatred towards the Shia in their on line postings and videos. Bin Laden, after all, was a Saudi and a Wahhabi, and this version of Islam has spread worldwide since the late 1970s and beyond.
Of course, the current tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional hegemony complicates matters a bit. But we will see more and more extremist attacks on Shia places of worship and communities as the terrorists seeks to obliterate what they see as vermin.
Killing vermin. Hmm, sound familiar?