In recent weeks, especially in the Western press, numerous stories have appeared about the emergence of armed “Jihadists” – Islamic groups who adopt an extremist school of thought, some of who are affiliated to al-Qaeda – in the Syrian revolution, which has now taken on a military form.
This is the same age old story that we heard from the very onset of the Syrian people’s uprising in search of freedom and justice, a story that the regime sought to promote widely in a global scaremongering campaign, claiming that foreign-funded armed terrorist groups were behind all the unrest in Syria. This is despite the fact that the Syrian revolution remained peaceful for several months, restricted to mere protests and demonstrations on the streets, but this was met with bullets and savage repression from the security forces. It was only natural then for the protestors and rebels to begin carrying weapons, albeit modest compared to the huge military machine they face on the other side.
Bringing those who call themselves “Jihadists” – together with their black flags – into the equation of the Syrian revolution is part of a media war running in parallel with the other bloody conflict being waged on the streets every day. We have recently seen images of people waving black flags at a border crossing with Turkey, a crossing that was once controlled by the opposition before these armed militants suddenly emerged from nowhere, and then promptly disappeared after they had achieved a sufficient media impact.
Recent reports, most notably in the New York Times, also allude to the presence of these armed Islamist insurgents, who have received the better funding, in the province of Idlib for example, than other opposition groups although their numbers are smaller. Likewise, two Western journalists, who were freed by the Free Syrian Army a few days ago, spoke of the English-speaking Islamist militants who held them captive for several days.
Here it is ironic that the authority in possession of the most intelligence information and the capacity to establish the facts – the US Department of Defense – has played down concerns about al-Qaeda in the past week, believing its influence over what is happening in Syria to be weak. This sounds logical because the philosophy of currents affiliated to al-Qaeda and other radical “Jihadist” groups is not conducive to popular uprisings or demands for freedom and justice. However, earlier experiences tell us that such extremist currents can exploit a state of chaos in a bid to gain a foothold and fulfill their own agendas.
For its part, the Syrian opposition has screamed itself hoarse to emphasize that what is happening in Syrian has nothing to do with sectarianism or extremism, and that the revolution’s demands are clear and political first and foremost. They center mainly on regime change, following the blood that has been shed as a result of al-Assad’s security option. Furthermore, there are those who point out that the camps of militants who were said to have flocked to Syria from across the globe – and were then illegally smuggled into Iraq when bombings and terrorism there were at their peak – were present on Syrian soil under the auspices of the al-Assad regime that used them in its regional battles.
In summary, there could be some extremists or foreign militants involved in the events in Syria, yet it is hard to believe that they are any more than small disparate groups that have emerged for reasons we do not know, nor do we know who stands behind them.
If there really is cause for concern about these armed “Jihadist” groups, then this should prompt the international community to offer sufficient support to the recognized opposition in order to mount all sorts of pressure and reach a political solution that can ensure the transfer of power. Everyone is aware that the regime has exceeded the point of no-return and that prolonging the struggle will only mean more bloodshed and destruction. In fact, introducing reform, burying grudges, and resisting revenge will only be more difficult in the future.