Syrian Islamist fighters 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Tuesday the UN announced that it was seeking an unprecedented influx of cash
to facilitate aid operations in Syria and for Syrian refugees. More than 60
percent of the aid is to be spent on the burgeoning refugee camps of Syrian
civilians in Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. The refugees are currently suffering
through harsh winter conditions and unprecedented sums are needed to support
several million Syrians.
The tragedy of the refugees is underscored by
increasing failure of the Syrian rebels to make any gains against the regime.
Since the summer, and especially after Hezbollah fighters began to flow into
Latakia in northwest Syria, the regime has scored impressive victories against
the rebels and is increasingly inching forward in the battle for Aleppo. On
December 13 the BBC asked whether it was “time to rethink a future with Assad.”
Another BBC article noted, “Western hopes of helping construct a unified,
moderate, politically obedient rebel movement, sidelining Islamist hardliners
and leaving them to wither away, could hardly be further from
The rebel command in Syria is falling apart. This was
apparent to anyone who saw the graphic Al-Jazeera published several months ago
that claimed to show all rebel groups in Syria. Browsers could click on any
area, which would lead to dozens of dots appearing in each town showing the
various groups involved. From Kurdish nationalist groups to al-Qaida affiliates,
the gaggle of little groups supposedly fighting the regime were
Recently six of these groups formed a new alliance called the
“Islamic Front” which has sought to displace Free Syrian Army positions along
the Turkish border in order to control the supplies funneled to the rebels. This
Sunni Islamist alliance is anti-democracy and anti-secular, but is supposedly
made up of “non al-Qaida” affiliates. According to reports, even the al-Qaida
affiliated “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” is forced to fight with the
“Nusra Front” for the title of who is the “real” al-Qaida. This fracturing of
the opposition has resulted in western governments withdrawing aid from the FSA
When we look at the Syrian rebel experience what is clear is that the
increasing Islamisization has put the focus on Islamic purity as opposed to
actually fighting the government. Reports are not always accurate, but what is
clear is that there is a grotesque underside to these rebels. First there were
videos of them beheading and ethnically cleansing minorities. There were also
numerous kidnappings of journalists undertaken by them, journalists who were
usually there to show the rebels in a good light. One report claimed that
radical Islamists were recruiting innocent girls in Tunisia to wage a “sexual
jihad” by being mistresses of the “pure Islamic” fighters, who were evidently
spending more time raping Tunisian beauties than fighting.
In a recent
case Islamists kidnapped a rebel commander and filmed his beheading, only to
then issue an apology for having beheaded the wrong person. A more telling story
related the experiences of foreign, mostly European-born, jihadists who were
transferring through jihad-hostels on their way to loaf around in Syria. “We are
all al-Qaida... there are thousands of us, literally from every corner of the
world,” boasted the fighters. One former student from France claimed he served
with a brigade of 8,000 foreigners.
According to the FSA these foreign
jihadists are not very effective fighting Hezbollah or the regime, but are good
at sitting behind the lines and murdering FSA fighters.
claimed his unit was captured by members of the Islamic State of Iraq. “They
told us we were not true Muslims” he told a BBC reporter. “I saw how they beat
my friends with iron bars, smashed their faces with ammunition boxes and then
killed them.” The picture painted is of unknown numbers of French students,
disaffected British youth and former football hooligans from all over the EU are
taking part in the “glorious jihad” of slaughtering actual FSA fighters while
ostensibly fighting the Syrian regime.
The savage, blood-drenched story
now playing out in Syria, in which the rebel movement is cannibalizing itself,
has played itself out among many Islamic movements. It is the natural tendency
of radical movements to be outflanked by radicalism.
Wherever there is a
Hamas there is an Islamic Jihad and Salafi movements to the right of it. In
Egypt there are the Muslim Brothers, and then the “real” Muslims of the Salafi
Al-Nour party, which supported the military in its toppling of Mohammed
WHEN WE think of the life-cycle of the radical Islamic movement
and its tendency toward implosion, it bears clear resemblance to the failure of
the “popular front” in Spain’s Civil War. The war broke out in June when
Francisco Franco led an army revolt against the Popular Front government of
leftists running Spain in 1936.
Ostensibly united as “Republican Spain”
opposing “Fascist Franco,” the Spanish government was deeply divided between its
socialist leaders, and the communists, anarchists, social revolutionaries,
regional nationalists (Basques and Catalans), trade unionists, workers’
collectives, international brigades and Trotskyists (termed Workers Party of
Marxist Unification-POUM) that made up its supporters.
After a year of
fighting, the Republicans began to disintegrate. An uprising in Barcelona by
anarchists and POUM members was brutally suppressed by the Republican
government. A mark of worse to come, the POUM leader Andres Nin was arrested
along with other Trotskyite Spaniards, at the behest of the Communist party and
their Soviet supporters (the Soviets were supplying the Republic). Nin was
secretly tortured to death and “disappeared” by Soviet agents.
Republic weakened in 1938 and 1939 its leadership spent as much time on internal
“ideological purity” as they did fighting the fascism they claimed to oppose.
Franco didn’t win just because of his soldiers, whose best contingents were made
up of Moroccan Muslims he brought from Africa, but because the Republic crumbled
internally due to Communist zeal that sought ideological purity over the larger
The Syrian Civil War is similar: An ostensibly democratic fight
against a tyrannical regime is being undermined by ideological Islamist
extremism. Western governments are cutting off aid, as they did to Spain’s
Republic, and Syrian President Bashar Assad is drawing on foreign soldiers, as
Franco did. As in Spain, brigades of “international volunteers” are coming to
It is unfortunate, for those who thought Syria might emerge better
from this, that the rattlesnakes took over the war and are in the process of
killing themselves. It is most horrific for the refugees suffering through the
winter. They are being let down by extremists who are more interested in
beheading each other, beating each other with iron bars and accusing one another
of not being good Muslims.