As long as Bashar al-Assad is carrying on with his crimes, Syria will remain a magnet for a new generation of Arab Jihadists. There is no single Arab security man who would want to face such a situation, of course, but he has to admit his failure in stopping the flow of Jihadists wishing to join the Jihadist wave in Syria. The question now is: What must be done?
Before answering this question, let us identify these new Jihadists. They are young men in their early twenties and sometimes even younger. They are still going to school and living with their parents and siblings. They come from different social classes. They are very normal and they are not necessarily very religious. Their behavior does not reflect their intentions and they, themselves, did not even expect to do one day what they have done. They have been living through rough times for the past two-and-a-half years, watching the atrocities committed in Syria against young men and women of their age and against respected women and men like their parents. These atrocities are broadcast on news channels, discussed in councils, and spread on social media networks. Then, they hear the statements of Arab and foreign officials denouncing these crimes without stopping them. They see conferences being held, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi releasing statements here and there and U.S. President Obama, refraining from sanctioning Bashar al-Assad at the last moment, even when the latter crossed all the limits set by the U.S. administration due to his use of chemical weapons and his killing of around 2,000 Syrians, many of whom are children of the age of their younger brothers and sisters. They also hear their grandmothers invoking curses upon Bashar, and the, they say to themselves: “We must act.”
They also remember what their mentors told them about the virtues of Jihad and they recall the Hadith: “He who dies without having gone or thought of going out for Jihad in the Cause of Allah, will die while being guilty of having one of the qualities of hypocrisy.” One of them uses his iPad, a recent gift from his mother, and searches the following phrase on Google: “I would like to join the Jihad in Syria.” He gets a page full of answers and spends hours reading reader’s comments; some advise him to donate money since they do not need more Jihadists, while others advise him to go to Turkey, then head towards one of the southern cities and look for Syrians who will guide him. He closes the Google page and logs into more specialized sites such as “the Tawhid and Jihad platform” to find deeper doctrinal research and further answers to questions he had in mind, most notably whether he is obliged to ask for his parents’ permission.
The presence of al-Qaeda in Syria has made governments reluctant about allowing their people to join military operations in SyriaJamal Kashoggi
A sheikh, unknown to him – called Sheikh Abu Mundhir Shanqeeti – answers him saying that he is not obliged to do so if the Jihad is a “compulsory Jihad.” But then, the boy asks himself what is “compulsory Jihad?” He finds no one but Google to ask, since all his family members are sleeping. He keeps “googling” the jurisprudence of Jihad and finds out that what is happening in Syria is called “Jihad al-Dafe” that is obligatory for all the Muslims capable of performing it. Our friend carries on his research on fatwas of Jihad because Jihad al-Dafe is a new term for him, and thus he learns all the types and conditions of Jihad. He deepens his debate on his parents’ permission, and thus he hears about Sheikhs, unknown to him, such as Tartusi, Nakib and al-Huwaini. He finds about fatwas of senior Saudi scholars such as Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan inciting and encouraging the Jihad but requiring the permission of the legal guardians or parents. These fatwas also stipulate that the Jihad must be performed under the auspices of a legitimate Imam. He finds others who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any of the legal guardians. The boy is then rescued from these conflicting ideas and fatwas by the call for Fajr prayer.
He turns off his device and closes his eyes while listening to the call to prayer and imagines battle scenes around him. Then, all of a sudden, he sees Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah preaching to his supporters that his forces and his men are staying in Syria. This was the last thing he saw on the news last night with his father. He gets angry, but keeps himself under control, leaves his bed to perform ablution and then goes to the mosque for Fajr prayers.
The last time he went to the mosque was in Ramadan. He sees his uncle at the mosque, smiles and greets him. On that same day, the uncle calls the boy’s father and tells him: “Hamad joined us for the Fajr Prayer today, he does not usually do that, so beware!”
What will he choose?
Our friend will surely find a way toward Jihad and he might even take the first step to his Jihad journey within his city. He might take risks and look for Jihad in Turkey or Jordan as well, but he will surely find it in the end. There is an underground network that is active on the Internet and through direct contacts, but all will lead to a single idea, which is “al-Qaeda.”
Perhaps the solution is to create another name for the Jihad, since it is true that the Jihad and the victory of the Syrian people are not a bad idea to aim towards. However, the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria has made the governments, which are willing to help the Syrian people, reluctant about allowing their people to join not only the military operations in Syria but also the voluntary work that can recruit a lot of enthusiastic young people. The experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s was a success, despite all the criticism unleashed against it now. I am confident about what I am writing based on my own experience and knowledge. The course of Jihad deviated there, only when Takfirist and Jihadist currents emerged, which did injustice to Salafists when they joined them. Those who participated in Jihad in that case, returned to their homeland safe and moderate and enjoyed a good reputation. These are true Jihadists, without abuse or extremism, respecting their governments and public order. They have become respectful elders, and they might have a role in such a project because they can contain young people and protect them from wrongdoing and falling into al-Qaeda’s traps. Perhaps, with the help of the scholars, they will be able to open dialogue with the moderate forces in al-Qaeda such as the al-Nusra Front. This party has also noticed the abuse of extremism prevalent in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s activities. This way, they can bring them back to a moderate position that can contain us all and launch another round in the war against terrorism based on rational confrontation that will help in dismantling the ideological structure of al-Qaeda.
Such a project does not require any promotion or funding as it is able to finance itself. It is enough to sponsor it from afar and turn a blind eye to it, similar to what we did in Afghanistan. Do not say that this is the “Afghanization” of Syria because the “Afghanization” has already started and has progressed significantly in Syria.
This is a crazy idea indeed, but isn’t everything that is happening in Syria crazy as it is?
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Nov. 23, 2013.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.