Islam in Syria is in trouble

Islam in Syria is in trouble
The proliferation and spread of Islamist factions is a sign of the divisions plaguing the country.
4 min read
06 Dec, 2014
Aleppo's Umayad mosque lies in ruins [Getty]
Islamism in Syria doesn't seem to be doing well.

More than a year ago, the New York Times reported that the number of Syrian Islamist armed groups exceeded 1,200.

At the time, no one believed the number and most people considered it a gross exaggeration. However, the exact number is not entirely relevant - it draws our attention to the state of fragmentation and the random reproduction of organisations that have an Islamist identity.

At the time, a question was posed as to the reason why the factions fighting the regime had chosen names with an Islamist character.
Syrians cannot expect that 100-plus Islamist factions will unite to liberate them from the murderous regime.

No one was able to clearly explain the reasons behind such nomenclature. The matter was puzzling and strange, and what was more puzzling was that no one in the revolution or those on its outside stopped to consider the reasons behind it.

It became just another fact, one of the negative aspects of the Syrian revolution that distracted it from its declared goal - the overthrow of the regime.

A few days ago, a meeting of more than 100 Islamist factions was held in Turkey. The goal was to form a single unified force, stressing the importance of unity and warning against separatism. Their intention was that after this meeting, they would not be separated.

This is positive, but we need to ask ourselves if Syria can endure even 100 Islamist factions? To what degree are the factions separate from each other? And on what basis are their stances different? Is the driving force behind these factions their Islamist ideals or is it how they plan to work against the regime?

No one can offering a satisfactory answer to these questions, nor does anyone have the time to understand the reasons behind this transformation in the revolution.

The phenomenon is surreal and cannot be viewed from a logical perspective.

How did Syria get to a situation in which there are 100 armed Islamist groups other than the notorious Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) and the Nusra Front?

There must be a pathological reason, but that reason cannot be diagnosed. The excessive use of the word "Islam" cannot be attributed to Syrian society, since throughout history, Syrian Islam has not been known for its fragmentation. Even during the period of degeneration, the heresies that flourished did not turn into a phenomenon that harmed Islam or distorted its image as a religion.

Division and impotence

Their endless fragmentation has scared regional and international powers betting on the formation of a unified Syrian military body.

With more than 100 Islamist factions, Syrian citizens cannot expect that these groups will liberate them from the murderous regime, particularly as the larger groups that prepared the public for an overthrow of the regime a year ago have not even won a single victory on the ground.

The greatest disaster lies in the harm such organisations have caused the Syrian people's revolution. Those who call themselves Islamists have misrepresented the revolution, setting a negative example for the revolution and its people.

They have become repellent. Their endless fragmentation has scared regional and international powers betting on the formation of a unified Syrian military body they could rely on and offer military support towards.

After a year of the Syrian revolution and the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons, there was talk about the rise of warlords who hid behind the goal of overthrowing the regime.

Bandits, thugs and thieves formed these groups. They manipulated people, using religion and nationalism. None of the leading organisations of the revolution, like the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council or the Syrian National Coalition did anything to stop them.

They failed to address the phenomenon and did not spread awareness of it. Nor did they warn the world about the inherent dangers. Their efforts did nothing to stop a danger to the cause of the Syrian people equal to that posed by the regime itself.

It is not too late for unity to take precedence, as long as the regime has not been overthrown and continues to kill, displace and destroy.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.