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The Nusra Front Delusion | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra group wave flags as they march during an anti-regime demonstration on February 8, 2013 (AFP PHOTO/AAMIR QURESHI)

On the subject of the Syrian revolution, the bloody ruling regime in Damascus has been raising the scarecrow of the “terrible alternative” for the country’s minorities-as well as the international community in general-should Bashar al-Assad leave power.

This “terrible alternative” is no longer a “delusion” or a “mythical beast” or “fairy tale”, rather this is something that is present on the ground in Syria. I am, of course, talking about the Nusra Front. This is the extremist group that follows jihadist ideology similar to that of the terrorist Al-Qaeda organization. This group is now the talk of the west, which had previously been enthusiastically supporting the Syrian revolution and revolutionaries to get rid of the Assad regime. Following the appearance of this scarecrow, the Syrian regime-along with Russia and its other allies-have taken the opportunity to exploit the situation, promoting the frightening idea that the survival of the Assad regime is better than the Nusra Front and the like coming to power.

Of course, this is complete nonsense, particularly when you take into account the size of the Nusra Front in comparison to the Syrian revolution as a whole. It is clear that this is just a tiny group, although it is an inevitable source of concern and anxiety due to the presence of followers of such jihadist Takfirist ideology, which is something that has wrought much harm across the Islamic world.

I find myself comparing the differences between Islamist groups in our region. While it is clear that jihadist ideology is ugly and naïve, particularly in terms of issues like indiscriminate killing and a superficial approach that incites terror, there are also other groups, such as Hezbollah that are more sophisticated and professional. Despite this, such groups ultimately aim to achieve the same objectives in terms of takfirism, and marginalizing and isolating others, albeit using a more skillful or accurate approach. This is akin to the difference between teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona and those playing soccer in the street. Yes, they are playing the same game, but there is a huge difference in terms of the level. Of course, it is those playing soccer in the streets, and their simple approach to the game, that are subject to criticism and accusation of backwardness.

The jihadist ideology followed by groups like the Nusra Front, among others, is a cancer on the Islamic world. Such ideology is the archenemy of the Islamic world. Our society’s inability to get rid of this ideology completely exposes the lack of a counter-ideology and the inability of more tolerant and moderate ideologies to confront this in the required manner. This is an issue that has appeared along with the Arab Spring. This revolutionary wave was brought about by grand slogans calling for equality, freedom, justice, and dignity. However extremist groups have rushed to hijack this beautiful spontaneous movement in order replace it with violent and repulsive views that divide the people and limit freedoms, dubbing anybody who does not agree with this an apostate. These groups promoted extremism and fundamentalism in a frightening manner, only recognizing their own views and raising suspicions about anybody who has a different opinion regardless of the merit of their argument. These groups viewed the Arab Spring as a “golden opportunity” to officially legitimize their presence on the scene, changing their previous position on revolutions, democracy, political parties, and elections. However such changes are only temporary, allowing them to reach power; following this they will label all those who oppose them as “apostates” and “agents of the west”, as well as “secularists” and “liberals”, who cannot be trusted because they “oppose God’s law”. This was planned in advance, and these groups have mobilized the street to support them. This is something that we are clearly seeing today in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia; while we may witness this tomorrow in Syria.

There should be no place for the Nusra Front in Syria. More importantly, however, there should also be no place for those who threaten this group coming to power. All of this is in order to support the devil, Bashar al-Assad, remaining in power, according to the famous proverb: Better the devil you know.

The Assad regime is skillfully playing on our fears of the jihadists. This is something that it did numerous times during the Lebanese Civil war via parties affiliated to it in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Palestinian refugee camps, for example regarding the Jund al-Sham or Abu Adas. We also saw the same practice in Iraq with the jihadist groups there, which were mobilized against the US forces in a systematic manner. The same thing is happening today, with fears being raised about the jihadist groups on the ground in Syria in order to make political gains for Assad and his supports. However, in reality this game has been completely exposed.

The Syrian people are well aware that the Nusra Front is a cancerous blight on Syria; however this is just one group that has no historic roots in the country, while the Syrian people will not allow them to remain present on the ground. This is something that the world at large must be aware of.