Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam, known as “Wahhabism,” is facing calls for global elimination by Iranian political leaders.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — the same man who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal — referred to Wahhabism as a “death cult” and accused Saudi Arabia of purposefully inspiring a bevy of terrorist groups, ranging from ISIS to the Nusra Front, in an op-ed for the New York Times Tuesday. Zarif also accused the Saudis of a laundry-list of conspiracies, including attempting to revive the “regional status quo” of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
“This is, in Twitter parlance, ‘epic trolling’,” Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department and current vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That the New York Times allowed [Zarif] to use their opinion page for an essay of this nature is truly embarrassing.”
Zarif claimed that Saudi Arabia is engaging in a “public relations” campaign to improve the West’s view of terrorist organizations in Syria, particularly the Nusra front. Iran is currently supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in his fight against Nusra and other rebel groups.
Zarif then accused the Saudis of using “tens of billions” of dollars to spread Wahhabism across the globe.
“Of course Wahhabism is a scourge,” said Schanzer. “But the Khomeinist ideology is no less deleterious to international security. A good argument can be made that is has more so in recent years.”
The ideology Schanzer referred to is the radical Shia Islamic revolutionary philosophy pushed by the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The ideology continues today in the form of Iranian state sponsorship of various terrorist groups across the Middle East. Zarif does not address his country’s support of terrorism in his op-ed.
Wahhabism, in contrast, is a fundamentalist, ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam that dates back to the 18th century, when the al-Saud family and the sect’s founder began their relationship, which continues to this day.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that “there is no credible evidence” that the Saudi government actively funds ISIS, despite Zarif’s claim. Indeed, ISIS has engaged in several terrorist attacks within Saudi borders. That said, private donors within Saudi Arabia have been suspected of donating to terrorist causes.
Will McCants of the Brookings Institution referred to the the Saudis as “both the arsonists and the firefighters” when it comes to terrorism. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia promoted a “very toxic form of Islam” while on the other, they partner with the U.S. in counter-terrorism operations. Iran has not followed suit.
“Indeed, Saudi Arabia appears to be trying to get a handle on its problems. Iran has engaged in no such thinking,” said Schanzer.
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