The mistake of supporting Islamic groups in Syria

The belief that there is an Islamic military group that is friendly and another that is evil is a pure myth

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The belief that there is an Islamic military group that is friendly and another that is evil is a pure myth. All Islamic organizations we see today, from Afghanistan to Algeria and Nigeria, are hostile and subscribe to a takfirist ideology (which involves accusing others of apostasy). They raise the banners of Islam and resemble the mobs of those who defected from the Muslim community during the dawn of Islam, those who were called the “Khawarij.” History is full of horrific accounts of their crimes. Caliphs Othman, Ali and Moawiya all fought against them.

The Syrian Islamic Front is an example of the mistake of trusting those groups which uphold religious banners. The Syrian Islamic Front was presented to the Syrians as a moderate organization that aims to confront the expansion of extremist organizations like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But with time, it has been revealed that the Islamic Front is just like ISIS. It rejects the notion of citizenship and believes in the religious bond. It also considers that its duty is to spread Islam among Syria’s Muslims as if they are “infidels.”

What is strange is that Arab and Western parties believed that inventing another Islamic organizations as an alternative to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS, Abu Mohammad al-Golani’s al-Nusra Front and other extremist organizations could rid the Syrian revolution of takfirists and terrorists.

The act of taking up arms and the willingness to sacrifice oneself is mostly linked to extremist religious thinking

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

These religious groups which claim to uphold centrism and moderation have not proven this to be true even once! What happens is that they use moderation to reach extremism. They sneak in, in the name of moderation, and turn the individual who believes in co-existence and civility of the state into a takfirist who rejects other citizens of different religions or sects or those who are not as extremist as he is!

I am not saying that there are no moderates. I am saying that there are no moderate military organizations. The act of taking up arms and the willingness to sacrifice oneself is mostly linked to extremist religious thinking. This is why the Syrian Islamic Front was a naïve, or even an evil idea. It succeeded at strengthening other takfirist groups like ISIS and weakened national civil parties like the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Those who marketed the idea of engaging Islamic groups in the war are the ones who destroyed the idea of change which was based on getting rid of a fascist security regime and replacing it with a civil government that is all-inclusive and ends the Syrian people’s suffering.

Repeating harmful mistakes

What previously happened in Afghanistan - the policy of resorting to jihadist groups to get rid of the communists - was repeated in Syria when the Islamic Front and the al-Nusra Front were formed. On the practical level, it resulted in a similar outcome, or a rather more dangerous and harmful one because it uses people’s faith and builds upon their history to establish a regime that rejects others. It is led by extremists whose aspiration is to rule. They shed blood, violate sanctities and accuse other Muslims of infidelity. These are the exact people that Islam warned of. Later on, dozens of fighters from Syrian brigades joined ISIS, admiring its success and ferocity.

The funds and efforts of those who invented and supported “moderate” Islamic groups were thus funneled in the opposite direction.

Someone told me that a group like the Syrian Islamic Front was invented to fight against ISIS. Hundreds of extremists were actually gotten rid of at the beginning of this year. But look at what happened later! ISIS, thanks to its successes and appalling actions, managed to attract tens of thousands of brainwashed youths. The result was that a few hundred ISIS members were eliminated and replaced by thousands of others!This takes us back to square one - to supporting the national opposition that represents all Syrians and to helping it form parties that represent all Syrians. There are thousands of defectors and former recruits outside Syria as well as thousands of youths who desire to end their country’s crisis. Without building an army that believes in the state and national values - which doesn’t at all contradict with religious values - Syria will remain a destroyed land and a hotbed for terrorists who don’t only consider the regime their enemy but who consider the entire society to be full of infidels who must be saved, purged or fought.

The Syrian fighter in the FSA may not resemble his rival, the suicide bomber and ferocious fighter from ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. However, this does not lessen his value or loyalty. He may reject blowing himself up in a car among the enemy’s ranks because he wants to live. After all, although the world’s armies fight bravely, they don’t necessarily fight mercilessly. The FSA can win through modern technology and can lessen the bloodshed by using the help of most Syrians, especially after they were terrorized by the hideous crimes of the regime, ISIS and similar takfirist groups.

Support the idea of a national army which represents all the Syrians and their aspirations, and work towards a state that is inclusive of all people.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 10, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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