Salafists and Sectarianism: Twitter and Communal Conflict in the Middle East | Geneive Abdo
Although actors on both sides are driving this conflict, it is today’s Salafists who are proving to be the dominant standard-bearers of anti-Shi‘a discourse—not taking into account the violent jihadists, whose popular appeal and staying power have yet to be demonstrated despite some spectacular and headline-grabbing territorial gains and terrorist acts. The Salafist movement has shown itself adroit at exploiting opportunities to advance its rhetorical and theological positions amid the religious re-examination and outright contestation among religious subgroups sparked by the recent Arab uprisings and their successful challenge to existing institutions of power in the region.
In her new paper “Salafists and Sectarianism: Twitter and Communal Conflict in the Middle East,” Geneive Abdo shows that chief among the central threads of Salafist discourse in Arabic is an abiding belief that the Shi‘a are not real Muslims, and are out to extinguish Sunni believers who, in the Salafist view, are the only true Muslims. This paper will also suggest ways in which events on the ground, whether major battles in the Syrian war or the mere arrest of a Sunni leader, provide fodder for religious intolerance in the Twitter sphere, which then can exacerbate religious strife on the ground. Any doubts about the power of social media, including Twitter and YouTube, to engage and mobilize forces for religious struggle should have been dispelled by the recent recruitment and propaganda successes of the militant Sunnis of the Islamic State.