It has happened.
After heavy bombardments and intense fighting, al-Bab has finally fallen to the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). This comes after months of shelling from Turkish artillery on the city and fighting between FSA troops, under the oversight of Ankara, and ISIS militants—battling for an area that is 30 square kilometres(2). Dozens dead and wounded, ISIS withdrew from al-Bab and FSA managed to take the area before ‘Syrian Arab Army’ (SAA) forces could advance.
al-Bab is circled in red and was captured by FSA on 25th of February.
Storming the city with Turkish armour, troops of ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ (AaS) were amidst the ranks of FSA fighters that took al-Bab. These troops are among the many Islamist forces that are fighting in ‘Operation Euphrates Shield‘ that Turkey started in August of last year (3). Armed and extremely zealous, these fighters rushed into al-Bab and had no hesitation in claiming its ‘liberation’ (4).
Ahrar Al-Sham fighters pose in al-Bab after capturing it from ISIS. (c. Feb 26th, 2017)
However, the inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamist organisations such as ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) in the ranks of FSA, demonstrate a rather darker aspect of the current Syrian opposition; namely, its domination by Islamist factions(5). This domination is because of infighting amongst FSA that has been going on since 2012. Fights between Salafist and Jihadist factions (collectively Islamist factions) and “moderate” (secular) factions have forced FSA in splintering(6).
Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan
Once a centralised and organised opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship, and an opposition that I once previously supported, now has become a disorganised and splintered opposition(7). Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Sunni Islamist groups have come into the fray—gathering support over the years. Fuelled by a desire to replace Assad’s tyranny with the tyranny of Salafist jihadism, AQ affiliates fight against SAA and those who deny their ideology(8).
The butcher of Aleppo.
When Eastern Aleppo fell in December, many Syrians from moderate factions of FSA defected to Islamist factions. Desperate and afraid of reprisals from SAA, many either fled to Turkish protection or joined HTS and began fighting (9). Those still hanging on against both SAA and HTS, such as ‘Free Idlib Army’ (FIA), now fight on multiple fronts. Helpless and outmanned compared to jihadists(10).
This is convenient for both Russia and Assad, as Kremlin now has more justification to keep its airstrike campaign going in Syria. Kremlin and Damascus have claimed that airstrikes in prior months have only targeted ‘terrorists’(11). However, airstrikes have targeted more than just ‘terrorists’. Many hospitals, schools and civilian areas have faced barrel bombs, airstrikes and chemical weapons by both Russia and SAA forces (12,13). Thousands of civilians have died in Aleppo alone, during its siege.
Aleppo during siege in December.
An influx of jihadists in opposition ranks allows Kremlin now to move more swiftly in changing the narrative of Assad in Syria. Helping reclaim land for Assad is one thing, but to prevent further uprising and to secure Assad’s position as a ‘hero to the Syrian people’, Kremlin has started to increase propaganda around him and has pushed the narrative of ‘buffer to terrorists’ even more (14).
Moreover, by saying that all of the opposition that opposes Assad are Islamists, Russia forces west into a dichotomy: Assad or Islamists(15). In prior months, one could argue against opposition being entirely Islamists, but with current infighting and splintering amongst opposition, the propaganda view is starting to become more dominant.
Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.
Turkish-backed Islamists, who now desire to further an advance to capture Manbij, did the capturing of al-Bab with a desired goal in mind. Unlike Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), as well as other Rojava forces (YPG and YPJ), these Islamists do not have liberty and democracy in mind. What they have in mind is the desire to create an Islamic State. When AaS’ fighters entered al-Bab, waving their index fingers in the air in the ‘Tawhid salute’ (oneness of god) and chanting Islamist slogans, the religious zeal was evident(16).
US forces and previous backers of FSA have halted their support, instead demanding that moderate factions regain control of opposition or risk being abandoned. This is very sad news, as many prior FSA supporters now watch the heart of Syrian revolution succumb to its wounds. With SAA tiger forces moving to cut off Euphrates Shield advancement, Turkish-backed Islamists and ‘Turkish armed forces’ (TSK) now scramble to continue offensive(17).
FSA fight in Aleppo region against SAA.
SAA forces reach the YPG held border near Manbij. SAA start advance against FSA.
Nevertheless, despite the erosion of FSA to Islamist domination, there is an unseen benefit in this conflict. That benefit comes from a possible securing of Rojava cantons in Northern Syria, especially Afrin Canton with Kobani canton. If FSA is bogged down battling SAA, then YPG may have chance to push against FSA and relink the cantons. In addition to this, if the cantons are linked and Rojava is secured, then it will give Rojava forces a better chance in negotiating the future of Syria.
However, before that can happen, YPG will have to defend Manbij from FSA advancement. President Erdogan has claimed the region to be in control of Arabs, implying that Kurdish militias are to abandon area or be forced out(18). YPG will refuse this and thus there will be future conflict to come.
New graduated YPG recruits in Afrin Canton, Northern Syria.
As for me, I watch these series of events on the sidelines.
Writing new observations in my journal.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
The word ‘Daesh’ is an Arab acronym for ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham’ (داعش), which translates to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ in English. The acronym ‘Daesh’ is the Arab equivalent to using the English acronym ‘ISIL’. They literally both are different ways of using the same label for the same Islamist organization—The Islamic State.
This need to be politically correct and not outright label the Islamic state for what they call themselves, namely ‘The Islamic State’, is just a tedious exercise in doing nothing to stop them. Politicians need to stop pussyfooting around and start naming the organization, labelling the ideology of Islamism and start acting out against it. They are, after all, on the front line in talks over this important issue—’the political fighters’, if you will.
In addition to the above, it also has to be said that people need to stop being so afraid of offending others by saying that, “Islam has something to do with ISIS”. There is a great tendency for liberal minded individuals to not want to bring offence to those Muslims they might know, as not to damage relationships with them by mentioning Islam and The Islamic State in the same breath. We have to stop being fearful, as we are doing what exactly the Islamists want us to do—remain silent. If one does not speak out against totalitarianism, then one will eventually become another oppressed victim of it. In other words, it is best to point out the serpent in the weeds before it bites you than to become a victim of its venomous fangs.
These jihadists are doing what they do because of their interpretation of Islamic scriptures—their ‘wahhabist’ interpretation. What ISIS militants want, after all, is to establish a global Islamic caliphate where Sharia Law is the law of the land. Where infidels, homosexuals and apostates are killed and people are subjugated. All in the hopes that they can one day bring an end to open society and bring about an “apocalypse”. This is not a ‘neo-conservative’ statement to make; this is a statement coming from a classical liberal. I am simply speaking from my observations of ISIS; my readings and study of Islamic scripture; my understanding of Middle Eastern history and Islamic history, as well as what is going on in Politics currently. I am also speaking from a non-religious perspective—an atheist perspective; an ‘infidel’ I am.
Time after time, these jihadists have told news outlets worldwide their motivations and have provided most atrocities they do with Hadith and Qur’anic scriptural justification. When the Paris attacks happened, for example, The Islamic State not only took pride in admitting it but they also sent out a statement that denounced the ‘crusader nations’ and their “Crusader campaign”; further promising to continue attacks on these “crusader nations”. It should be clear by now that what they are doing is a part of their Islamist ideological campaign. To deny this is to deny reality.
It is time that people realize what they are up against. These jihadists are not simply rogue individuals that can be labelled as such and thrown to the corner. These jihadists are organized ideological fighters who wish to kill for their religious ideology. Make no mistake; the events that have happened since early last year are all a part of these jihadists trying to bring about a greater ideological goal. It is time that we—people of open society—recognize that and act accordingly. Islamism needs to be crushed as an ideology and all those who follow it must be denounced for supporting it. We have to denounce both the political Islamists and the jihadists—both of which desire the same goal: A global Islamic caliphate.
Islamism is a serpent that needs to be killed, as it is biting and poisoning the conversation and stifling action. In order for us— those of us who value the continuation of open society—to stop this, we need to face the threat head on. We need to cut the head off the serpent… But How? There is no clear-cut solution, but a good start would be to fight the ideology. In order to kill the serpent, one needs to start highlighting the threat of Islamism, its relation to Islam and start fighting the ideology through education and force. Education in the form of promoting free thought, liberalism, secular humanism, reform in Islam and so on; force in the form of crushing ISIS.
This is only the start, but I hope it will help give rise to more discussion on this topic. For it is through the discussion of ideas in open society that change can come about. It is with this said that I close with the following words: Name the threat and kill the serpent.
Artwork by: ‘Thor in Hymir’s boat battling the Midgard Serpent’ by Henry Fuseli (1788)
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
-Islamism: The political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by organisations such as ‘The Islamic State’, ‘Hamas’, ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ and ‘Boko Haram’ to name a few. Individuals who support the political overthrow of a government, through either military coup or democratic elections, can be considered ‘political Islamists’. Those who wish to fight violently for their goal and those who genuinely believe it to be true; can be considered ‘jihadists’.
-Islamic Caliphate: An Islamic government based upon the doctrines from the Qur’an and Hadith.
-Wahhabism: A sub-set of Sunni Islam that interprets the Qur’an in a literalist lens.
Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s ‘Islam and the future of Tolerance: A Dialogue’ is an informative and hopeful dialogue on a number of pressing issues of today, ranging from islamism to Islamic reform. With wit, intelligence and scrutiny all rolled into a short and succinct book, Sam and Maajid effectively take head on these issues and come up with effective strategies to answer them. Easily read in an afternoon, this book is meant to be read in conjunction to the growing political, philosophical and cultural issues occurring in the world today—such as the culture war over Islam, the conflicts against ISIS in the Middle East, the growing rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the intellectual debates centred around reform in Islam. In addition to this, the book provides a list of helpful sources easily verifiable, as well as provides a further reading information list for all those interested in the topics discussed. (It may not be very helpful to me, since I have read most of the books listed, but I am sure it will be helpful for new individuals entering the discussion.) There is very few things to criticise, as the book is very well written and its contents are discussed in a manner that provides little room for arguing.
It is a dialogue that needed to happen, as both individuals have been engaged in trying to provide discourse on Islam. However, both have been labelled as ‘bigots’, ‘Islamophobes’ and ‘Racists’ by those of the left (regressive leftists) for criticising Islam. Sam Harris himself has been for the last year and a half trying to combat these baseless accusations; hence is why I am glad that he addressed them in this book, as well as pushed past them in informing individuals about what really needs to be discussed. Maajid Nawaz was brilliant in this book, as his writing was more on point and his counter-points to Sam did provide room for further discussion and thought. In addition to this, Maajid has improved on his writing, as his last book ‘Radical’ was rather a disappointment in terms of writing.
As for the ideas being discussed, Islamism and regressivism are by far the most pressing concerns of today. Islamism is the political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by groups such as the Islamic State. Maajid’s informative identifying of sub-branches within Islamism, such as jihadism and political islamism, was by far the most informative aspect of his part of the dialogue on this topic. Sam Harris’ critiques of Islamism, and by highlighting the fact that beliefs do matter, were also enlightening but I do feel that both could have done a more in-depth explanation of Islamism than they ended up doing. (Maajid’s distinction between traditional and conservative Muslims does appear to be misleading, but I trust that he is onto something when he distinguishes between them.)
Regressivism (Coined by Maajid Nawaz) is the political philosophy that has emerged from progressive politics and post-modern ‘Identity politics’, as of late. It is identified by individuals defying classical liberal principles, such as free-speech, freethought and individual autonomy and responsibility, all in the ideal of equality. This has resulted in ‘regressives’ (to use a term from Sam Harris) protecting Islam from criticism and has also resulted in the silencing of critics by regressives. This is truly evident in the west, because regressivism—especially in reference to Islam—is a by-product of Islamist apologetics and Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz and many others have been victims of this regressivism. This is further expressed in the book.
Maajid Nawaz makes reference to Dr. Hasan, who is a Islamic scholar and Quilliam, throughout the book. However, I do think that he needs to not fall prey to the false belief in trusting an authority figure too much, because even they can be wrong. This leads into another thought as well, and this is in regards to Maajid’s ‘relativist’ interpretation of the Quran and hadiths. If there is no ultimate interpretation of a text, then there is no right or wrong interpretation of a text. This is problematic for obvious reasons, as it creates stagnation and creates misinformation where there need not be any.
The above-mentioned paragraphs are just some of my thoughts on the ideas discussed in the book, as there are plenty more ideas that were discussed in the book, but I will allow individuals to explore those ideas for themselves.
Read from: October 19th-November 7th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 stars—This is definitely my book of the year so far.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Link to Goodreads Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1387295946?book_show_action=false
We need to wake up against the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as expressed by ISIS and other Islamist organisations. By not naming the threat of islamism, we are allowing more and more chaos to come on our door step. The reason why so many neo-nazi groups are rising again in Europe is because of the lack of action by governments to stop islamism.
I do not support neo-nazi groups of any distinction, as I find them just as toxic as the Islamic state is. However, if we want to not bring on another neo-nazi regime and not bring on more bloodshed by islamists, then we need to wake up and start actively naming the threat, addressing religious ideology and radicalism, and begin fighting jihadists – both physically and ideologically.
For all those who need reminding: Islamism is the political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim brotherhood, to name a few. Political islamists are those who wish to achieve a caliphate through politics and military coup, well jihadists are those who wish to achieve a caliphate through violence. Islamism is the greatest threat of our time, because it is influential in every western nation.
However, until we wake up to the threat of islamism, we will continue to see more deaths like we did in France in January and now again in France today. I just hope action is taken against the ideology of the jihadists who killed many in France, but until that happens I shall show my support with the people of France. If I could say one thing to those French readers, it would have to be this:
Vive la liberté: Je suis Français
“La liberté d’expression est le fondement de la démocratie.”-Alison Locke
Je témoigne ma solidarité à mes frères et soeurs sur tout l’océan. Je suis avec eux et aujourd’hui je suis francais. Aujourd’hui, je suis avec eux, épaule contre épaule, afin de respecter les innocents qui ont perdu leur vie. Aujourd’hui, je suis avec eux contre le barbarisme et les conflits, contre la terreur. Pour les francais, y compris tous les citoyens qui sont pour une société libre et ouverte, ne s’inclineront pas devant ceux qui leur ont fait du mal. Vive la France et Vive la liberté.
[English: Praise Liberty: Today I am French
“Free speech is the bed rock of democracy.”-Alison Locke
I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters across the ocean. I stand with them, for today I am french. Today I stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, to pay my respects to the dead. Today I stand with them against barbarism and strife; against terror. For the French people, including all citizens of open society, will not bow to those who have done them wrong. Glory to France and glory to all those who honour liberty!]
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson