Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Assad and the jihadists are all extremists | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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File photo shows a fighter from Jabhat al-Nusra in front of a burning vehicle at their base in Raqqa. (REUTERS/Hamid Khatib/File)

Only a few people in the world would not concede that the regime of Bashar Al-Assad is an extremist one. In fact, those people give justifications not devoid of lies and allegations in order to deny the reality of the regime’s extremist policies and stances. Among these justifications are claims that Assad is facing a foreign conspiracy, or gangs, or extremists and power-seekers, and that he is seeking to preserve the country’s unity and independence. But the developments over the past three years have proven the falsity and untruth of these claims.

Indications of the regime’s extremism are too many to count. Perhaps the most prominent of these indications is the nature of the regime. The Assad regime is an authoritarian and extremist one that monopolizes power. It is based on a system of governance represented by the individual ruler, who enjoys almost absolute powers. Linked to the leader is a limited circle that includes family members from brothers to paternal and maternal cousins. The political and security framework of the system is represented by the ruling party and a limited number of top military and security officials. Even if they are in control of the organs of the regime, these officials do not make decisions; rather, they are mere tools.

The regime’s connections with extremist governments and groups are another indication of its extremist ideology. The most prominent of these governments are the Russian regime, the mullah’s regime in Iran, and Nuri Al-Maliki’s in Iraq. On the level of extremist groups, the Syrian government has strong ties with Lebanese Hezbollah and the Abu Al-Fadl Abbas Brigade, among others. Assad has been drumming up support of these extremist groups and governments in a bid to maintain his presence and subjugate Syrians.

The regime’s extremism became clear when it carried out acts of violence against the revolution of the Syrians who demanded freedom and dignity, refusing to hold any dialogue or deal politically with the crisis. Assad’s military-security machine has killed, wounded and arrested more than 2 million people and displaced about 12 million, of which 5 million became refugees in other countries. Assad’s government widely destroyed villages and cities either partly or completely, including houses, private and public institutes and health and education infrastructures. Not even mosques and churches were spared from destruction.

The regime’s extremist practices formed the basis for a parallel extremism to emerge in the Syrian society: jihadism. Not isolated from foreign support, this nascent jihadism exploited the religious sentiments among the public who were hurt, frustrated and desperate, turning them into a hotbed of extremist jihadism. Immigrant Jihadists who came from Arab Muslim countries and other Muslim communities could establish extremist factions, the most prominent of which is the Al-Nusra Front, which was founded before the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and both groups have announced they belong to Al-Qaeda.

The extremist ideology of Al-Qaeda and its sister groups, such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, is too obvious to stress. Al-Qaeda wants to establish an Islamic system that is extremely radical and adopts a black-and-white vision that views people as either Muslims or infidels. Al-Qaeda seeks to establish an authoritarian regime that communicates with the world around it only selectively, depending on how much advances made in the fields of law, science and technology match their reclusive worldview.

The threat extremist jihadism poses is not only limited to its theoretical aspects, but it also includes its violent practices in the rebel-held areas. Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, ISIS and like-minded factions emerged in these areas, giving free rein to their brutality by pursuing a policy of coercion against Syrians, most of whom are victims of the regime. Al-Qaeda-linked groups forced Syrians to alter their lifestyles so much so that they tried to alter their beliefs and acts of worship. They also murdered, kidnaped, arrested and displaced civilians, including opponents of the regime, members of the Free Syrian Army, journalists, civil society activists and intellectuals. Moreover, they destroyed and seized private and public property and provoked a state of polarization, fueling national, religious, sectarian and tribal divisions the regime had created. These jihadist groups made Syrians’ lives hell in the areas they control, which is added to the hell the Assad regime created through oppression and violence.

Syrians are now caught between two fires: the extremist Assad regime and extremist jihadists. While the Assad regime exploits pan-Arabist ideology while neglecting all of its positive points, jihadists sought to disguise themselves in Islam, which is known for its leniency, tolerance and moderation when it comes to life. Both the regime and the jihadists are similar in terms of their destruction of life. Both are extremist in terms of their ideas, tools and practices, putting them on an equal level. Unified efforts are required to get rid of them both.