The Perfect Enemy
June 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >
The Perfect Enemy
BY NIBRAS KAZIMI
June 1, 2007
Let's take a look at a map of the Middle East through the eyes of a jihadist strategist and ask, "Where to next after Iraq and Afghanistan?" A plausible answer would be Syria and Lebanon, and the latter would only be useful as a base from which to operate within Syria — the real prize for the jihadists.
The ruling regime in Syria embodies the "Perfect Enemy" from a jihadist vantage point: it is equally tyrannical, ideologically abhorrent, and controlled by a sect that the jihadists view as heretical.
The Asad regime is easy to hate: it embodies the brutality of a dictatorship, the secularism of the Baath Party, and the heterodoxy of the Alawites. These are all things that the jihadists loathe, and they are betting that they can whip up enough support among regular Syrians and other Muslims to support waging jihad against such a regime.
Yet, why would the jihadists risk the hostility of the Syrian regime when Syria is their main logistics conduit point for foreign fighters and money going into Iraq?
In the very least, the Syrian regime has been turning a blind eye to jihadist activity on its soil ostensibly because turmoil in Iraq would keep America distracted from taking the Syrian dictator, Bashar Asad, to task over his misrule at home and his disruptive meddling in Lebanon.
Without Syria acting as a bridge, the jihadists in Iraq would deprive themselves of much needed extra manpower and funds, especially at such a critical time when the insurgency seems to be on the defensive against an American troop surge. Wouldn't that be self-defeating?
Public opinion in America and editorial opinion among most American news agencies suggest that they see the Iraqi insurgency on an upswing trajectory in an unwinnable war. That is a load of nonsense.
The insurgents, and most notably the ones who support Al Qaeda's agenda for a caliphate, have concluded that Iraq is a dead end for their cause — an end that they are rapidly approaching. It is time for them to immigrate to "greener" pastures — green in the sense of the symbolic color of Islam.
The place that is most fertile for jihad and the caliphate is Syria specifically because the Baathist, dictatorial, and Alawite nature of the hated regime there gives the jihadists that little extra push that could make their bid successful.
Since October of last year, I have been describing the trends that I believe will eventually defeat the jihadist insurgency in Iraq. The most important factors have little to do with the counterinsurgency efforts of the Americans and the Iraqis. We are winning because the enemy is defeating itself.
Al Qaeda made a fatal error when it hastily rushed into the caliphate project through its vehicle of the Islamic state of Iraq without the consensus of the other jihadist groups that are active on the ground. To compound matters, Al Qaeda's leadership in Iraq began forcing those holdouts to bow to its will, resulting in jihadist-on-jihadist strife. All this gave the jihad in Iraq a bad odor, and once-eager volunteers and financiers outside of Iraq turned hesitant over its long-term prospects.
Things have gotten so bad that one popular discussion theme on jihadist-friendly Internet forums is the alleged fickle and treacherous nature of the Iraqi people. The enthusiasts of this genre are mining history books and poetical anthologies to find all the bad things that have been said about Iraqis for over a millennia.
The mirror image of this debate is the rediscovery of all the good things that have been said about the allegedly blessed and upright character of the people of Syria and their foretold role, as attributed to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad's, in restoring the glory of Islam.
But developments are not confined to touchy feely sentiments about how things are going in Iraq or the sanctity of Syria's soil. Syrian-oriented jihadist groups are emerging out of the woodworks and making themselves known — in both Syria and Lebanon.
The trigger for this deluge is the recent fighting in the Nahr al-Barid camp between the Lebanese Army and a jihadist group, Fatih al-Islam. This group seems to have an agenda that encompasses the geographic entity of the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.
These jihadist groups seem to be leaving behind the preparation phase and entering into the realm of active jihad, and they wouldn't want a rival organization like Fatih al-Islam to monopolize the limelight of the press.
The most interesting of these groups delivered its jihadist calling card on May 27 — the Monotheism and Jihad Group in Bilad al-Sham. Their talking points, delivered by the leader of the group who calls himself by the pseudonym, Abu Jandal, highlight the dictatorial, secular, and sectarian nature of the Asad regime.
Abu Jandal counsels nothing short of the physical annihilation of the Alawites; he derogatively calls them the Nusayris, which is the historical moniker often employed by their theological opponents. To justify his outlook, all he needs to do is to refer to a much-hallowed radical Damascene cleric of the 13th century, Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, who is the ideological fount of all the hardline Islamic sects such as Wahhabism.
Ibn Taymiyya issued three religious edicts in his time that castigated the Alawites as non-Muslims. He made it clear that as Alawite villages were put to the sword, Muslim soldiers were not allowed to eat any of the food that was prepared in an Alawite home, and they were not to rape their women — Alawite men, women, and children must be stamped out from the face of the earth.
Sunni and Shiite antagonism is a red hot issue in the Middle East today, partly stoked by Al Qaeda's murderous campaign in Iraq. Syria is a country where a "heretical" group, the Alawites, which is nominally closer to the Shiites and politically aligned with the Shiites of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, is lording over a predominately Sunni population — and not any Sunni population, but the proud inheritors of ultra-Sunni symbols such the Umayyad dynasty, Saladin, and Ibn Taymiyya, all of whom are buried in Damascus.
The situation is not boiling yet, but the temperature is certainly rising. While recently touring many Alawite shrines and villages, there wasn't a marked sense of trepidation among the people there, nor are Sunni areas experiencing any early signs of a nascent insurgency.
In fact, regime officials, dissidents, and regular folk in Syria are uniformly dismissive of such hard-line fundamentalist ideas taking hold in Syria once again as they did in the 1970s and the 1980s, but were subsequently crushed.
On the surface, the regime seems to be in total control: Asad won another seven-year term as president after garnering 97% of the "yes" vote in a staged referendum last week.
Even diplomatic setbacks at the United Nations, such as the Security Council's vote on Wednesday to establish an international tribunal to look into the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, which many have speculated was Syria's doing, is unlikely to faze the regime any time soon.
Yet this jihadist enemy is different and far smarter than its previous incarnation. Two decades ago, dictatorial regimes monitored every single typewriter within its borders. Now, there's no way to stem jihadist dissemination through the many channels afforded by modern technology.
How many Syrian youths downloaded Abu Jandal's speech? And how many were swayed by his vitriol against the "Perfect Enemy" — the Asad regime? I bet the numbers would be enough to keep such a regime on its toes, and we will know soon enough if there's any bite to that bark.
Mr. Kazimi can be reached at email@example.com
June 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >