A Libyan rebel speaks out on Jihadists in Syria

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A Libyan thuwar who was with the Tripoli Brigade left a very interesting comment to a recent blog post to The North Star, so interesting that Louis Proyect posted it to the Activists and scholars in the Marxist tradition list, where I first saw it, and now I am posting it here.

Since the beginning of the Syria Revolution, Bashar al-Assad has sought to portray the popular uprising against him as a foreign backed jhadist plot, and he has branded all who have taken up arms against him as terrorists. His years of cooperation with the Obama administration in the war against terrorism has made him very keen on the propaganda value of the claim of fighting terrorism.

His various supporters around the world, and also many who just think the world should stay out of it, have tried to portray the sectarian struggle as the main aspect of the Syrian conflict even while the Assad regime has been working hard to create that reality, including through the use of false-flag, or what might more aptly be called "black flag" operations.

These people also like to focus on the religious trappings of the struggle, and even where they wouldn't see them in the same light in another context, say the civil rights struggle of blacks in the US which was dominated by clerics, because this is a foreign religion with a lot of fear and prejudice associated with it in the west, they can mobilize Islamaphobia by playing up the threat of a jhadist takeover.

As I said in a comment on Monday:

It is a popular uprising against the regime.

That's what it largely is, an uprising that has turned into a civil war. That is the driving force. That's what makes it a part of the Arab Spring.

That is why the opposition has Christian, Shiite and Alawi members; it is mainly Sunni because Syria is.

Of course this popular uprising doesn't take place in a vacuum so there are many ethnic, religious forces tugging at it and many foreign forces looking to exploit it.

And those that want to defeat it emphasis these aspects and work hard to obscure the main thing, which is the popular demand that the Assad regime must go.

This Kossack may be engaged in wishful thinking by saying the civil war will continue after that main objective is obtained but there is little reason to believe his dire prediction will come true.

The Libyan civil war did not long out live Qaddafi.

And again in a comment on Tuesday:

This is an uprising against a dictatorship.

Yes, it has necessarily turned into a civil war because Assad used his military to suppress protests against his rule.

Remember the FSA is mainly made up of SAA soldiers who refuse orders to fire on civilians and dedicated themselves to protecting civilians while Assad has adopted the tactic of creating human carnage so as to get people to give up the fight against his rule.

That is the main thing that has been going on in Syria for two years.

Yes, the armed opposition has made mistakes. How could it be otherwise in the real world? Although I doubt your claim that they have killed hundreds of children whereas I have no doubt that Assad has killed thousands of children because close to 50k have been killed, Assad has the vast majority of the heavy weapons and he is the only one delivering cluster bombs to neighborhoods and other forms of "death from above."

And yes, there are many other factors and outside influences involved. How could it be difference in the real world?

But that should not allow us to ignore what the root of the problem is or pretend that there is the Assad regime on the one hand, and some equally evil FSA on the other, with innocent Syrians in the middle being victimize by both sides.

Although I still don't fathoms what it is about that two bad actors scenario that makes it okay for us to sit back and let the children be slaughtered, as you seem to insist we do.

But the bottom line is that simply is not the case!

I think the commentary below, from someone who has been there and done that, sheds a lot of light on the ground truth in Syria.

A comment from a veteran Libyan thuwar [revolutionary] about the jhadist in Syria:

Yet another accurate analysis of a topic mired in confusion and or misinformation. It is with no doubt that the strong appearance of the religious groups and the increasing religiosity among the Syrian people and the rebels was mainly due to the fact that they had no other choice. The first image in this article is enough to sum up the whole ordeal. The brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations early in the revolution and the continuous, unimaginable scale of the massacres by the criminal regime, coupled with the blatant disregard by world powers forced many chivalrous men around the Arab and Muslim world to leave everything behind and head straight to the harsh, bloody battlefields of the Syrian revolution. Among these people are a few dozen (up to a few hundred at most) of battle-hardened Islamist fighters with experience fighting the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets, Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. and experience fighting against some of the many totalitarian regimes in the region. Though these individuals remain a minority among foreign fighters in Syria, their strong ideology and extensive battlefield experience makes them the elite force of the Syrian revolution and the most painful for the regime.

The most prominent (and possibly the only) group encompassing mostly foreign Islamist fighters is indeed “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” meaning the “Victors’ Front” and “victors” is the closest English term I could think of which in this case means those who come to the aid those in need. What makes this group stand out despite its small size is the type of operations it carries out. Most of the group’s major operations are “martyrdom” or suicide operations involving a fighter driving a car laden with explosives into a regime military base or a checkpoint manned by “shabbiha” (regime thugs). These operations were used effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan against foreign military targets and the group is employing the same tactic resulting in great physical and mental devastation on regime forces. The group refuses to affiliate itself with the Free Syrian Army due to the FSA’s diverse spectrum of ideologies some of which do not concord with the group’s strict Islamist identity. This is a cause of concern for some Syrians and those who are looking toward a free, democratic nation. Being a Libyan rebel however and following the fate of similar groups in Libya I can say with confidence that once the revolution is over, the group will have to succumb to the will of the people. The Arab Spring changed the dynamic of the struggle in the region and has transformed the conflicts from being those of dictator/occupation vs. jihadi groups to those of massive popular uprisings sweeping away totalitarian regimes and quickly shunning away any forces seen as a threat to the ambitions of the people.

The other two major religious leaning groups in Syria are “Ahrar Sham” and “Liwa Al-Tawheed”. These two groups are many times larger and more active than “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” and comprise almost wholly of Syrian youth and with a negligible foreign presence. These groups are far more moderate than the Nusrah Front and have shown a great degree of tolerance toward other, non-religious leaning groups. Though not officially affiliated with the FSA, these groups have shown willingness to collaborate with the FSA and have carried out numerous joint operations with others. These two groups have made it clear through comments made by their leaders on numerous occasions that their job ends with the defeat of the regime and that they will accept any form of government chosen by the Syrian people.

In terms of sheer numbers however, the great majority of Syrian rebels belong to the Free Syrian Army. Almost every city in Syria has some kind of local FSA presence. This usually starts with defections of the sons of the city or town who then quickly grow to form a resistance force in the area. The FSA is made up of thousands of defected soldiers and thousands of ordinary Syrian men who have taken up arms to liberate their country. In addition to those, there are dozens of FSA groups representing a wide spectrum of ideologies some are religious leaning and some liberal. There are also mixed groups such as “Liwa Al-Ummah” which was started with a few dozen Libyan fighters of no dominant ideology and has now grown to several thousand members mostly Syrians. All of these groups consider themselves the military arm for the political opposition and are under the leadership of Colonel Riad Al-As’ad.

Despite the media uproar, the identities of the Syrian rebels are widely known to the Syrian people and to those who monitor the situation there. Vilifying some of the groups who have come to the Aid of the Syrian people when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to their plight will only further strengthen Syrians’ negative sentiment toward the West and may cause for future divisions among the opposition that would likely make the transitioning period much more difficult. As a Libyan who had witnessed the events of the 17 of Feb Revolution first hand, Syria is a similar recipe and despite the anticipated bumps along the road, I strongly believe that Syria is in good hands.

See also Salafis, Jihadis, and the Revolution in Syria which is the article that sparked this comment and by all means put The North Star on your blog roll.

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