In September 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei inserted an unexpected warning in a speech about Iran's “enemies.” Along with the usual suspects, such as the United States and Israel, Khamenei also mentioned one that many had never heard of: Shiite satellite channels based in the West. Referring to them as a “bunch of mercenaries who add more fuel to the fire” of Sunni-Shiite conflicts, Khamenei said emphatically, “They are given a mass media reach. And where are they based? The United States. London. The Shiism that is being broadcast to the world from London and the US is not good for Shiites.”
Iran has recently intensified its media campaign against these “Shiite extremists.” There is now a regularly updated news website specifically aimed at exposing the “British Shiites” or “MI6 Shiites,” as they are also known. In February, the holy city of Qom hosted the event “Assessment of the Extremist Shiite and Sunni Currents,” for which the keynote speaker was Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, secretary-general of the World Forum for Proximity of the Islamic Schools of Thought, a government-run ecumenist institution. He attacked the “Londoner Shiites” for their practice of “qamezani” or “tatbir,” in which mourners strike themselves on the head with a sword, causing blood to flow in remembrance of the blood that Imam Hussein shed in the famed Battle of Karbala. Araki said the organizers of such ceremonies are funded by Western intelligence agencies bent on bringing Shiism into disrepute. He went on to equate them with the Islamic State.