A series of recent moves indicates that Iran's fundamentalist Shiite hierarchy is increasingly wary of extremist Sunni beliefs and the militant practitioners bringing them into the Islamic Republic from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Iraq. As part of an effort to halt the spread of radicalism, Iranian authorities are denouncing those tenets and deporting non-nationals who ascribe to them, while combating Sunni terrorists at home. Having been a state sponsor of terrorism for many years, the regime in Tehran and Qom has now begun experiencing a measure of the fear they have previously inflicted on others.
In a November meeting with Sunni leaders from the southeastern city of Zahedan, Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi blamed "insecurity in the world" on "the radical teachings of Wahhabism."
"You [who are] followers of the Sunni sect protest against such teachings," he said. "But in neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, it is creating anarchy. So, alas, Westerners know Muslims for beheadings [carried out by Sunni militants]." His words reflect the sentiments of many Iranians who fear their own society could be ripped apart by religious violence. In a sign of mounting sectarian tensions, rumors are rife that Sunnis are "vandalizing Shiite shrines" in the border provinces of Iran.