Rather than erupting spontaneously, violence between the Islamic sects have often been driven by political leaders and clergies. In this era, extremist groups fostered by the states are the chief source of sectarian violence today. The Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda are two primary extremist groups of Shias and Sunnis respectively, who have favored anti-American, anti- Imperialist and anti-Zionist frameworks to connote their jihad.
Hezbollah has developed a political wing that competes in elections and is a part of the Lebanese government. Al-Qaeda, however, chooses to operate via a discreet network. Both groups have made use of suicide bombers, and their attacks shifted from a focus on the West and Israel to other Muslims, such as Al-Qaeda’s killing of Shia civilians in Iraq and Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war.Conflict and chaos have played a role in the reversion to basic sectarian identity. In Iraq, for instance, remnants of Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, as well as militants whose organization would eventually become the self-proclaimed Islamic State, employed Sunni rhetoric to mount a resistance to the rise of Shia power. Sunni fundamentalists, many inspired by Al-Qaeda’s call to fight Americans, flocked to Iraq from Muslim-majority countries, attacking coalition forces and many Shia civilians. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq, evoked ancient anti-Shia fatwas, or religious rulings, to spark a civil war in hopes that the Shia majority would eventually capitulate in the face of Sunni extremist violence. Iraq’s foremost Shia religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a voice for sectarian restraint in Iraq, and the country’s Shia community absorbed thousands of deaths before fighting back with their own militias.
But, during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and, more recently, offensives against the Islamic State, Shia paramilitaries have been accused of possible war crimes.Tens of thousands of Syrian Sunnis joined rebel groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, the Islamic Front, and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front. All of these groups operate with an anti-Shia rhetoric. Sunni fighters from Arab and Western countries initially joined the Syrian rebels before turning against them as a means to establish their envisaged caliphate.
Simultaneously, Hezbollah and a few Iraqi Shia militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah, supported the Assad Regime. ISIS or Islamic State Of Iraq and Syria, was formed after the Al-Qaeda, which had been decimated after the death of Zarqawi in a US airstrike, started exploiting the receding resources of Syrian State. The group expanded its grip on Sunni provinces in Iraq and eastern regions in Syria, seizing Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in June 2014. The documented and public executions of ISIS’s Western hostages caused a campaign of air strikes by the United States and its allies inthe region- Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.Extremist groups have come to rely on satellite television and high-speed Internet over the past two decades to spread propaganda and attract recruits. Fundamentalist Sunni clerics, many sponsored by wealthy Sunnis from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, have popularized anti-Shia slurs.
Social media has revolutionized recruitment opportunities for primarily the Sunni Extremists. Fundamentalists can now disseminate their call to jihad on the social platforms and wait for their potential recruits to contact them. Shia groups can count on state support from the Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian governments to recruit militants for their sectarian jihad.