No, Syria’s Rebels Do Not Sympathise With Da’esh

The Centre on Religion and Geopolitics recently published a report in which it claimed that 60% of anti-regime fighters in Syria sympathise with Da’esh.

The report claimed that 15 militias (containing 65,000 fighters) would “fill the gap” if the Assad regime was toppled, many of them being “sympathetic” to Da’esh as extremist views are “common among Syrian fighters of all stripes”.

“If Isis is defeated, there are at least 65,000 fighters belonging to other Salafi-jihadi groups ready to take its place”, added the centre after publishing the report.

The solution, it claimed, was not to leave groups like al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and conservative Islamic Ahrar al-Sham movement “unchallenged”, and to fight Salafism (conservative Islam with an “intellectual and theological defeat of the pernicious ideology that drives it.”

The claim is both ridiculous and slanderous. In claiming that most Syrian revolutionary fighters sympathise with Da’esh, the report uses a deliberately misleading equation – having Salafist/conservative Muslim beliefs means that one has an affinity for Da’esh and its ideals.

The report significantly mentioned Ahrar al-Sham as such a group – forgetting that Ahrar al-Sham’s fighters loathe Da’esh and consider them to be Khawarij; fanatical extremists who the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) said should be fought and defeated as they are the “worst of all creation”.

In January 2014 when the Syrian revolutionaries decided they had finally had enough of Da’esh murdering their commanders, engaging in overt dalliances with the regime and seizing liberated towns, Ahrar al-Sham was one of the first units to fight Da’esh.

Ahrar was even joined by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also mentioned by the report). Although the Nusra front was slower to throw its lot in against Da’esh, and contains extremist elements, ultimately both groups joined forces with the Free Syrian Army to drive Da’esh out of Idlib, Aleppo, Hasakah and Deir Ezzor.

The pretence that being a conservative Muslim makes one inherently vulnerable to extremism has been widely debunked; even Mi5 (no stranger to abuses against Muslims) came to the conclusion that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”. This stands up both in Britain and elsewhere (even if the findings have been ignored); every conservative Islamic group around the world, from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham wants nothing to do with them.

Claiming that conservative Islam means inherent sympathy for terrorism ignores obvious trends; “Islamic” terror supporters themselves have a history of being constantly unable to reach a happy medium in their lives; going from being extremely irreligious one minute to ferociously extreme the next. The Paris attackers drank alcohol and abused drugs as well as soliciting gay sex. The Toulouse shooter partied and never visited a mosque, and the Madrid bomber had a penchant for non-Muslim girlfriends with revealing clothing.

Even terrorist groups like al-Qaeda (which have also been compared to the Khwarij by contemporary Muslim scholars) have expressed disgust; in 2014 controversial Sheikh Abu Qatada was calling them the “dogs of hellfire” and Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri expelled them from his ranks for being too extreme for al-Qaeda. The irony wasn’t lost.

Having Islamic ideals, and seeing a future free Syria as being based around Islamic law, does not make one a supporter of Da’esh. If this was the case, how come thousands of Syrian anti-regime fighters (of which most are Islamic) have fought Da’esh with ferocity?

A graphic from a Syrian (salafist) rebel group debunking Da’esh’s “caliphate”.

This, of course, is based around the equation that “extremist views” are common among a variety of Syrian rebel groups. At this point, it is worth remembering the fact that “extremist” is a commonly-used byword used to slander practising Muslims. In the case of Syria, it’s often used to brand any group that isn’t ardently secular or copacetic to western governments.

Secular Free Syrian Army leader Jamal Maarouf was desperately sold by western media outlets as a “moderate”. One who was so “moderate” that his men extorted Syrians at checkpoints and stole money for anti-regime operations from desperate Syrians to enrich himself, refusing to launch offensives against the regime despite ample resources. Once he was driven out of Idlib, the city itself and Abu Duhur military base fell easily.

Now the remains of his “moderate” forces fight alongside the regime-affiliated PKK terror group (known in Syria as the “YPG”) against other Syrian revolutionaries as the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, attempting to stab them in the back as Da’esh and the regime advanced in Aleppo. The group is given full US air support. Needless to say, the YPG/PKK doesn’t appear on the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics’ radar.

Every Islamic group in Syria (including big names like Ahrar, al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islam) has constantly taken a stand, officially or otherwise, against the methods of Da’esh. Ahrar al-Sham propaganda frequently mentions Da’esh in strongly negative terms, Jaysh al-Islam published footage of the executions of several Da’esh fighters in Ghouta, and even al-Qaeda’s official Syrian wing al-Nusra published a video exposing the “criminals”, featuring speakers from several languages.

The claim that Da’esh-like fighters would take over Syria if Assad was toppled is yet another nauseating falsehood that has been perpetuated for years by everyone from Assad supporters to Islamophobes; the claim that Syria is a zero-sum game, a fight between an ardently “secular” regime and Islamic bogeymen, with the latter triumphing and turning Syria into a dystopia if the regime falls.

This narrative completely falls apart when the differences between Da’esh and Islamic groups are noticed; none of them try to force their ideals upon others, horrifically slaughter prisoners, do deals with the regime or support an apocalyptic world view based around death and destruction.

Al-Nusra doesn’t lock people in cars, drown them, and blow them up with rockets on camera. Da’esh does. Jaysh al-Islam doesn’t behead western journalists to deliberately provoke confrontations with the west that will kill thousands. Da’esh does. Ahrar al-Sham doesn’t do deals with the regime to destroy the FSA in an attempt to delegitimise the fight against Assad. Again, Da’esh does.

Ahmad Hassoun 2
Assad’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun called for the “total extermination” of opposition held areas of Aleppo. This extremism was ignored.

Last, but certainly not least, this distorted view of the Syrian conflict is based around the pervasive belief that conservative Islamic groups are somehow worse than the Assad regime, and would be much worse if they came to power.

That is, some people somehow genuinely believe that a regime that flies helicopters over civilian areas and drops explosive barrels full of shrapnel onto children, tortures tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands to death, unleashes sectarian militiamen to rape and murder thousands of women and children, and does deals with the very extremists it claims to stand against in order to undermine the region is somehow better than an Islamic group making hijab obligatory or stopping someone drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels.

In the west, everyone does what feels good, regardless of if it’s right or wrong. Islam is in inherent opposition to hedonism and nihilism; Muslims believe in restraining your desires in order to be truly free. The western hemisphere has no such restraint; it’s no wonder that the shari’ah of Islam somehow seems appalling to them.

Child soldiers 3
The “martyrdom poster” for a child soldier killed fighting for Assad: Zaid al-Abadeen Ali Othman.

If Islamic groups were to take over Syria, the ending of the genocide would be the result. Contrary to popular opinion, none of these groups believe in genociding Alawites, Christians or others. Jews and Christians are People of the Book in Islamic law, to be protected.

In comparison, the regime (supported by many because they consider it to be “secular”, in comparison to many rebel groups) has consistently recruited young men from minorities on a sectarian basis and made them into cannon fodder with complete disregard for their lives. It openly appeals to Alawite sectarianism, slaughters the population with a focus on the Sunni majority (that followers refer to as “Dirty Sunnis”) and enlists the help of Shiite terrorist organisations like Hezbollah to prop up the disintegrating army.

It’s laughable indeed that the Syrian opposition is exclusively lambasted for any extremist or sectarian elements that emerge from the anti-Assad camp, however loosely affiliated they are, yet the same level of condemnation has never been used against Assad. If dropping explosives onto civilians and importing thousands of Shiite fanatics to defend a collapsing government isn’t extremism, then as westerners we need to seriously re-evaluate our moral scruples.

Da'esh and Gaddafi
Dictators and their fanatical supporters have a history of using fanatics to either vilify opponents or terrorise enemies; in Da’esh-occupied areas of Libya, the flag of the late dictator Gaddafi is hosted alongside the flag of Da’esh. Gaddafi’s ex-soldiers have joined the group to seek revenge.

When you think the report can’t get any more despicable, you realise that it deliberately distorted and misrepresented the groups on the ground in Syria, while failing to divulge the methodology it used. The report claimed Da’esh and & al-Nusra were the same as Fastaqm Kama Umrat and Nour al-Din al-Zinki – Free Syrian Army linked groups.

Some of the groups it falsely labelled as “extreme” in making the claim that 60% of rebel forces are extreme haven’t even existed on the ground for six months or longer; Liwa al-Ummah, the Kurdish Islamic Front Durou al-Thawra, Liwa al-Tawhid and more.

The report literally claims that groups like al-Zinki, Ajnad al-Sham, Fastaqm, (some of which have roots in Sufism and the Zayidi school of thought) & Liwa al-Haqq are sympathetic to Da’esh.

Blair and Gaddafi, circa 2004.

The bias becomes less surprising when you notice that the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics is a front group for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation; the same Blair who destroyed Iraq then feigned sympathy, helped Gaddafi torture dissidents, and subsequently went out of his way to defend Hosni Mubarak as he beat and shot Egyptian protesters.

Blair likes to claim the problem of extremism in the Muslim world is Muslims themselves, not the result of non-Muslim nations constantly bombing, invading, looting and pillaging them (what he calls a “conspiracy” theory) and fuelling the anger that makes groups like Da’esh look appealing to the disenfranchised.

Blair’s methodology of helping to install rulers who screw progressive Muslim voices over, claiming they don’t exist, and the tyrants obliterating them are the solution has found its way into his “research” group; the implication throughout is that Assad is somehow better than men who simply practice their faith.

We all know what the statement that certain groups shouldn’t go “unchallenged” means. In Blairite doublespeak, it’s a call to bomb groups that oppose western interests in Syria.

Atmeh bombing victims
A child grievously injured by a US strike on the FSA in Atmeh.

It’s a policy which has steadily been put into effect. The US deliberately bombed a weapon factory owned by the FSA’s Jaysh al-Sunna group in Atmeh – where Da’esh is nowhere to be seen. The attack may have been due to the group’s membership of Jaysh al-Fateh, the Islamic coalition which is actively liberating territory in the north, threatening Obama’s desire to preserve the Assad regime. Several children were killed. An Ahrar al-Sham base was also hit, as was the Nusra Front.

Blair and cohorts refuse to let the facts get in the way of cheap Islamophobia under the guise of research. Ignoring this behaviour is not an option; the revolution against Assad has been damaged enough by slanderous statements. To let them become the norm would be a dishonour to all those who sacrificed their lives to life in dignity.