Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Will there be a “jihad” in Syria? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The British Foreign Secretary was right to compare the current situation in Syria to that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where a catastrophic war raged from 1992 to 1995. The two scenarios share elements of civil and sectarian fighting, as well as the demarcation of new borders between communities and even villages, amidst the horrific bloodshed.

The Balkans crisis is still worthy of interpretation and contemplation: why did the Serbs suddenly crack down on their Bosnian Muslim neighbors, despite the fact that they had been neighbors for hundreds of years? At the time of the war, Bosnia – a country that is far from the Levant, at least in terms of distance – was an alluring stage for all Jihadists in the Muslim world.

What happened in Bosnia is similar to what is happening now in Syria. I recently read an article in the New York Times reporting on the Alawite sect’s current concerns now that a war has erupted between the Sunnis and the Alawites. The al-Assad regime seems to be adopting this war as a final solution or as a Samson Option to drag the Alawite sect – whether it likes it or not – into an existential battle.

Even though there are moderate Alawites, and those who resist or criticize the regime, a positive outcome is not guaranteed for the pro-revolution majority, especially the Sunnis, following the rivers of blood that are being shed and the massacres that are being committed by the Alawite pro-regime Shabiha militia, who we now see chanting “Shabiha forever”.

Weapons have finally entered the Syrian revolution, albeit late, after the uprising remained peaceful for 18 months despite the al-Assad forces brutal suppression, and despite the helplessness of the international community and the Arab League. For the Syrian people, carrying weapons is a matter of necessity for self-defense. In reality, the opposition’s small arms are still completely overwhelmed by missiles, tanks and jets used by al-Assad, his security apparatus, and the Shabiha barbarians.

However, for more than a year rational people warned that if the international and regional community failed to embrace the Syrian opposition and deal with it in the same welcoming manner that it dealt with the revolutions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen, then the revolutionaries would be forced to carry weapons and resort to guerrilla warfare. This was said clearly on more than one occasion, but such rationalism seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

It is therefore ironic that everyone is expressing false amazement at the possibility of a civil war erupting in Syria, and this war transforming into a complex civil struggle extending across the entire Middle East region, in the words of joint UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, as well as other politicians from across the world.

Al-Assad’s army, his security apparatus and the Shabiha, overtly backed by his Russian and Iranian allies, alongside Iran’s followers in Lebanon led by Hassan Nasrallah, are preying on the meat of local residents in the north and south without any form of deterrence. We have only seen initiatives and observer missions that have added further fuel to the fire; such as Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi’s “catastrophic” team, and Norwegian General Robert Mood’s subsequent mission.

Are the Syrian people simply expected to accept these killings, rapes and bombardment until Obama and Putin become convinced of a solution?

Apart from being a humanitarian disgrace, this is also political stupidity.

If the international community opened its eyes and saw the real situation on the ground, it would seize the initiative and lead the Syrian opposition, unifying and protecting it from the infiltration of religious extremists by blocking out any sectarian interpretation of the Syrian crisis, something that it has so far failed to do. Aside from this failure, the international community seems astonished that the Syrian victims are now protecting themselves and carrying weapons.

The latest example of this immoral political approach came from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that he wants to prevent the eruption of a civil and sectarian war in Syria, and also explicitly criticized Saudi Arabia for backing the Syrian opposition for sectarian reasons. Yet here Lavrov seems to have forgotten that he, alongside President Putin and Iran, are providing al-Assad with all kinds of arms as well as other forms of intelligence and political support.

Can you believe his audacity?

To summarize, this incompetent international handling of the Syrian file has been compounded by the fact that everybody – from Washington to London, as well as Moscow – say they want to prevent Syria sliding towards chaos and a civil war; meaning a war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Yet, their actions are actually leading to this outcome!

Perhaps what I will say now will upset the Free Syrian Army [FSA], the Syrian opposition and whoever champions them, but nevertheless…

Last week, FSA leader Riad al-Asaad dismissed an incorrect news item reporting that Kuwaiti nationals are now fighting alongside the FSA on Syrian soil. The Kuwaiti “al-Qabas” newspaper reported – in its Sunday issue – the news that Kuwaitis had entered Syrian territory to join the FSA in its fight against government troops. Yet according to the Kuwaiti al-Watan newspaper, Colonel al-Asaad stressed that reports of other Arab nationalities fighting with the FSA were incorrect. He said “the Syrian regime is seeking to spread this news in order to mislead the world.”

Personally, I understand the logic of Riad al-Asaad, whose aim is to react to Bashar al-Assad media propaganda and its trumpets, which is highly adept at telling lies and providing camouflage. This is all well and good; however this is one thing whereas I mean to comment on something else.

I think now that the massacres which the al-Assad regime is committing against Sunni civilians and non-Sunni revolutionaries have escalated – as was evident in the town of Salmiya – the Syrian arena has become an alluring one for anybody seeking to carry out “jihad” against the “tyrannical” ruler in Damascus.

Bashar al-Assad has made himself an ideal target for the Jihadists, for he meets all the conditions and criteria of pure evil in their eyes: he is bloodthirsty to the extreme, hostile to the Sunnis, and serves as an agent of Iran. These all are ideal characteristics that could prompt impressionable youths, or those who see the world only as a war between Muslims and non-Muslims and who are eager to fight.

Everyone knows that Bashar al-Assad and his apparatus has previously tried to benefit from such wild Jihadist energy in Iraq and Lebanon. He exploited the Fatah al-Islam group in Lebanon, and then used some Jihadist sheikhs to recruit Arab youths and send them to Iraq, where they engaged with the US troops there. Five years after Saddam Hussein was toppled, Syria was transformed into a rear operating base for [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and others in Iraq.

Now, al-Assad may have a taste of his own medicine.

In February 2011, Ayman al-Zawahri, the current leader of Al Qaeda, was reported to have issued his second call for Jihad in Syria against the al-Assad regime, urging Jihadists to fight “in the Levant to create state that can protect Islam”. He also encouraged resilience and perseverance “against the sectarian secular regime [in Syria].”

The crux of the matter, as I mentioned previously on several occasions, is that the revolution in Syria started out as a free and patriotic movement, away from any sectarian tendencies. Indeed, one of the revolution’s most popular early slogan’s was “the Syrian people are one.” The FSA’s battalions were named after patriotic Syrian symbols such as Sultan al-Atrash and Saleh al-Ali – the former belonging to the Druze sect and the latter being an Alawite. However, as al-Assad’s excessive killings and international weakness – or rather conspiracies – continued, the people found their backs against the wall and had no choice but to defend themselves using all means available, including waging war in the name of religion.

This is the result of the international and Arab community’s catastrophic administration of a revolution that was once seen as one of the most sublime and noble Arab revolutions, in terms of its courage and civil discourse.

We still hope that it is not too late.