Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: No difference between ISIS and Al-Nusra Front | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters march through the streets of the Syrian town of Tell Abyad on January 2, 2014. (Reuters/Yaser Al-Khodor)

The story of the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS does not cease to shock.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front is affiliated to the ideology and plan of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. It entered the conflict in Syria as a largely unknown quantity following the build-up of the Assad killing machine and the siege of the civilian revolution at a point when all looked lost.

Lately, however, it has tried to suggest that it is leaving its religious fundamentalism and its original plan for Syria behind and is working to achieve victory for the vulnerable people of Syria, whom the entire world has let down. In reality, however, it is still working towards a Greater Syria, a first step towards Al-Qaeda’s grand plan for the Sham region. The Free Syrian Army, as well as national and local civilian groups, have all turned a blind eye to this. Naturally, the Assad government is very pleased with this new development, as now they can stand before the developed world as the sole force standing against the barbarity of terrorism.

We once viewed the Al-Nusra Front as the pinnacle of fundamental extremism, but that was before the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged on the scene. It went far beyond the Al-Nusra Front in its savagery, its murderousness, its slaughtering and its taking of hostages. It set up its oppressive emirate in every place it went and sought to garner supporter from around the world.

It speaks to the old, deep, sick feelings in the hearts of some misguided Muslim youth. Ultimately, this is the major—and most disturbing—reason for the rapid expansion of ISIS in such a short time, and has nothing to do with the conspiracies that claim the intelligence services are behind the group. This is not to totally rule out the role of Iran and others who are intent on undermining the Syrian revolution—everyone is acting according to their own agenda.

What is truly disturbing is that people are desperately trying to stop ISIS getting a foothold in Syria while pretending that the Al-Nusra Front and its leader, Mohammed Al-Golani, are working according to an inclusive civilian plan.

The only difference between the two groups is a clash over who has the right to lead the “Syria project,” as the Saudi cleric Yusuf Al-Ahmed calls it. He confronted ISIS and challenged them to submit to an Islamic Shari’a Court that would adjudicate between the jihadists. Many other clerics have made similar suggestions, including Jordanian clerics Abu Mohamed Al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada.

We must look also at what Golani said in a statement broadcast by the group’s media wing while discussing the death of his comrade Abu Khalid Al-Souri. After cursing ISIS, which is accused of killing Souri, he agreed with them on the principle of takfir, in his own way. He accused the FSA and the Syrian National Coalition of being infidels because they supported the establishment of a secular state and the suppression of a righteous Islamic project. He called on ISIS to put aside their differences with “respected scholars” including Maqdisi, Abu Qatada, and Saudi cleric Suleiman Al-Alwan.

Therefore the only difference between the two groups is over who has the right of “walaya” [religious leadership or guardianship] —everything else is just details.