Islamists, Salafists, and Jihadists: Friends or Foes of the Revolution?


How should supporters of the democratic revolution understand the Islamist trends that have emerged as part and parcel of the Arab Spring upheavals?

Are they friends of the revolution or enemies of the people?

What class trends do they represent?

The answers to these questions and the frameworks from which our answers are derived 1) highlight the importance of struggling for theoretical clarity and 2) inform our responses to unexpected turns and difficult contradictions of the democratic struggle. Mistaking friend for foe or foe for friend will lead to political blind alleys and painful defeats as in Egypt where anti-coup forces are irretrievably split between the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Anti-Coup Alliance and the Occupy-esque Rabaa on the one hand and the left-liberal Revolution Path Front on the other. A house divided against itself cannot stand against the combined might of the military, the police, the judiciary, and the fulool wing of the bourgeoisie; this is as true today as it was on January 25, 2011.

Syria Freedom Forever, the blog of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, describes the relationship of Syria’s Islamist forces to the revolution in the following way:

“The differences between the Islamic Front and jihadists groups as we explained should not in the same time lead us to consider the Islamic Front as democratic groups reaching to achieve the objectives of the revolution: democracy, social justice and a civil state that treats everyone equally, regardless of its religion, gender, ethnicity, etc… The Islamic front is actually seeking an Islamic State and has not hesitated to attack some democratic groups and figures as we saw in the past with threats from Zahran Alloush against  Douma civil council lately[xxiv], as well as sections of the FSA as we have seen. … Although some of these groups have condemned the actions of ISIS against churches, without challenging them politically and military, they all share a sectarian discourse against Islamic minorities, especially against Shias and Alawites. This is simply unacceptable.”

A few lines later they write:

“This clarity of position regarding the Islamic Front does not mean we ignore these groups, there can be unity of actions on the military field especially between FSA and the Islamic Front against the regime and the jihadists, but no illusions should be put into them to achieve any objectives of the revolution.”

So according to Syria Freedom Forever, al-Qaeda affiliates Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusrah as well as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and the Islamic Front that it participates in are not interested in achieving “any objectives” of the democratic revolution. Why? Because they are “actually seeking an Islamic State,” as if Islam and democracy or Islamic and democratic states are mutually exclusive like capitalism and communism. There are different types of Islamic states and some are more preferable (or less worse) than others. A bourgeois democracy governed by Islamists like Erdogan’s Turkey or Morsi’s Egypt is worlds apart from the Afghan Taliban, Saudi wahabism, Iran’s vilayat-e faqihthe Ottoman Empire, or the Umayyad Caliphate, and all of these are different from one another.

The Islamic Front’s founding declaration repeatedly calls for an Islamic state or a state based on Islam’s laws and values but the devil is in the details — the document is completely silent on what these aspirations mean in practice. Would they agree with ISIS to ban music and dancing, forbid girls from attending school, and force women to wear full body burqas? Would they torture political opponents and activist-journalists as ISIS does? Would they slaughter Alawi civilians and destroy or seize churches to turn them into Islamic centers as ISIS has? Would they make Alawis, Shia, Ismailis, and Christians second-class citizens?

The evidence and the practice of the Islamic Front and its component groups (as well as its exclusion of ISIS) to date indicates that the answer to all of these questions is ‘no.’

Syria Freedom Forever’s claim that Army of Islam leader Zahran Alloush threatened democratic activists in Douma and that the Islamic Front “has not hesitated to attack some democratic groups and figures” does not withstand even cursory scrutiny. Civilian activists in Douma rebuked Alloush for his “tone of threats and mistrust” in a nasty round of mutual recriminations that pitted Alloush and his followers against a coalition of local Islamists and secular-minded activists. Attacking someone verbally (or tonally) is worlds apart from attacking them physically and meanly-worded statements are not a serious criteria for evaluating whether a group or coalition is a friend or foe of a democratic Syria. When outspoken Douma-area secular activist Razan Zeitoune was kidnapped, Alloush’s Army of Islam condemned the action, saying “these practices don’t represent us or our faith” while hailing Zeitoune for her courageous work in Ghouta and noting that that the Army of Islam helped get her into Ghouta safely. While Syria Freedom Forever declares that unity of actions on the military field especially between FSA and the Islamic Front against the regime and the jihadists” is permissible, the FSA already collaborates closely with the ‘jihadist’ Jabhat al-Nusra against the regime even as it prepares for conflict with its present ally in the future.

The Islamic Front’s detail-free vision of an Islamic state contrasts with its explicitness concerning its immediate democratic goals, goals it shares with the whole of the revolution:

“To topple the existing regime in its entirety, with all its obscure remnants, to wipe them out of Syrian existence completely, and to defend the underdogs, their honor and wealth. Toppling the regime means detaching and terminating all its judicial, legislative, and executive authorities along with its army and its security institutions, in addition to prosecuting those who are involved in bloodshed along with their supporters in legitimate, equitable trials.”

While rejecting secularism (or rather a caricature of it), the Islamic Front’s founding declaration indicates openness to the institution of parliament as a means of realizing the Islamic principle of shura, or consultation, which in the West is known as the consent of the governed. There is no anti-Shia or anti-Alawi “sectarian discourse” in the document and contrary to Syrian Freedom Forever’s assertion, not all components or leaders of the front use the “simply unacceptable” discourse that Alloush revels in.

The critical thing to understand is that Islamic Front is not party with a defined platform but an alliance of like-minded but distinct armed brigades. Any effort on their part to outline a coherent, detailed vision of a future Islamic state in Syria would not only lead to serious discord between its component groups but create frictions within each group since their rank-and-file fighters often come from a variety of political perspectives: nationalist, secular, socialist, liberal, conservative. They fight under the banner of Islam despite their personal ideological inclinations because that is where the money, guns, ammunition, and effective organizations are. Pragmatism trumps ideology when revolutionary victory is a matter of survival.

Islamism in general and the Islamic Front in particular is a more mixed, more contradictory phenomenon than the picture painted by Syrian Freedom Forever of an Islamist monolith united in its hostility to the objectives of the revolution.

The full text :

#ahrar-alsham, #isis, #islamists, #jabhat-alnusra, #jihadists, #salafists