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A war over who deserves to be called a ‘martyr’

It seems we've begun to grant titles of "martyrdom" while overlooking the biographies of these “martyrs.”

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Media outlets affiliated with the “Axis of Resistance” have described Lebanese militant Samir Qantar as a "martyr" after he was killed in Syria in a suspected Israeli attack earlier this month. Many in the Arab world are quick to label those killed by Israel as a “martyr.” But this description angered opponents of the Assad regime; how can someone who professed support to Assad’s criminal regime and fought alongside it be called a martyr, even if "the enemy" Israel killed him?

Many took to social media to voice their anger about this, pointing to Qantar’s “involvement in the killing of the Syrian people.”

But again, it was only few days later that media outlets who oppose the Assad regime described leader of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, Zahran Alloush, as a martyr when he was killed in a suspected Russian strike.

Alloush is the warlord whose name was associated with the kidnapping of many symbols of the Syrian revolution, such as Razan Zaitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim al-Hamadi. Alloush was also linked to the execution of a photojournalist and to the jailing of Alawite civilians in metal cages on rooftops a few weeks ago. This is in addition to the detentions and executions witnessed in areas under his control. Media outlets affiliated with the “Axis of Resistance” and who tried to avenge the murder of Qantar tried to rejoice in the murder of Alloush and ridiculed those who considered him a martyr.

It seems we've begun to grant titles of "martyrdom" while overlooking the biographies of these “martyrs”

Diana Moukalled

And so, the war of the martyrs began and arguments surfaced over who deserves to be called a "martyr," Qantar or Alloush. What made this even more surreal was how the people who opposed Qantar's role in Syria sided with those describing him as a "martyr" – just because it was Israel that killed him. The same applied to those who were criticizing Alloush and his practices; they decided to describe him as a "martyr" because Russian warplanes targeted what they viewed as a spearhead of the Syrian opposition.

In the space of two weeks, we have witnessed two extreme examples of political and moral schizophrenia. In both of the killings, the murderer's identity played a role in purging the victim of all his sins. It’s as if it has become essential to condemn a murder while declaring the victim as innocent of the crimes and violations they committed, simply because the identity of the murderer is the focus of our disputes.

Playing enemies against each other

What added to this was how the Russian air force played opposing parties against each other. On one hand, it was easy for Israel to assassinate Qantar, on the other, it was also easy for Russia to assassinate Alloush. It’s a tragedy that opposing sides can be played against each other so effortlessly. It seems we've begun to grant titles of "martyrdom" while overlooking the biographies of these “martyrs.” For some people, an Israeli airstrike is enough to purge Qantar of his sins for supporting a criminal regime, and for others, a Russian airstrike is enough for to elevate Allouch to martyrdom and to overlook all the kidnappings and murders he played a part in.

Those who were biased to Qantar refused to engage in a discussion on his previous practices. I am not just referring to his support of the Syrian regime but prior to that, since his military career began when he was a young man, participating in the Nahariya attack in Israel, in which the fatalities were a father and his daughter. The Israeli judiciary said Qantar killed them, but he denied this. Even if we assume he was telling the truth, Qantar still remained committed to using murder and kidnapping as acts of "resistance," and when he was released by Israel, he said he would continue what he'd begun as a young man. It's the same conviction which led him to defend the Syrian Baathist regime.

Zahran Alloush had also denied kidnapping one of the most noble group of people to come out of the Syrian revolution. I am referring to Razan Zaitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim al-Hamadi. He even ridiculed those searching for them despite evidence at the time linking him to their abduction. Wasn't it Alloush who justified putting civilian men and women in cages and used that as an excuse to prevent Assad's airstrikes?

Those rejoicing in the "martyrdom" of Qantar seemed oblivious when they decided that being killed by Israel exempts the victim from being held accountable and turns those suggesting to hold the person accountable into traitors and agents. Meanwhile those who hate Vladimir Putin and despise the evil protection he's offering his ally, Bashar al-Assad, simply decided that Alloush's death by Russian airstrike allowed them to chat about fake heroic acts by a figure who insulted the Syrian revolution and dealt its deathblow.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 28, 2015.

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Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.