Not the Jihadists but we are the problem


A few days ago, a Belgian mother called me to ask if I could contact the Syrian Jihadists of Jabhat Al Nusra. Her son left his family to join them a month and a half ago and since then she hasn’t heard anything of him anymore. I had to disappoint her, as I have no contact with the Jihadists. In fact, when in Syria, I always try to avoid them.

She was of course very worried, but also embarrassed. Her son is fighting in a battle she does not at all support and even not understand. I kind of recognize this embarrassment as it made me recall the story of a relative whom my family barely ever talks about. He was killed in the Second World War when he decided to fight with the Nazis against the Communists. He believed he had to choose between Rome and Moscow; between God and the Devil and that this choice needed sacrifice even if it meant his own life.

Each time I travelled to Syria during the last months, I saw Jihadists taking the same plane and the same bus as I did and following the same illegal way to enter northern Syria. What drew my attention and worried me each time is the self-confidence in their eyes, the acceptance that they will die in Syria. Above all, they are proud of it. They know they are going to be at the front line of the battle and that some people will admire them for that. And for them, this is exactly what they missed in their lives; admiration, guidance and heroic acts.

What disturbed me most however, wasn’t seeing these Jihadists entering Syria. I can’t stop them anyway. No, what is worse is that I didn’t see any others entering Syria. No relief teams, no doctors and no trucks loaded with aid for the other Syrians, for the vast majority of the rebels who have nothing to do with the Jihadists’ ideologies. While Al Qaida’s friends possess weapons and money to distribute to their fighters, people are dying of hunger in refugee camps supervised by the FSA.

We in the West are so mesmerized by a small group of radicals that we lost the ability to see the reality. By fearing the ghost of Afghanistan, we decided to do nothing. Because if we do nothing, we can’t do anything wrong. And this is precisely the huge mistake we are committing today. Because by doing nothing we only make Assad and the Jihadists stronger. While we are leaving those who share our values on their own.

The main excuse I hear for not intervening is: we don’t know what the Free Syrian Army is and we don’t know what they want. It’s a silly excuse. Because if you don’t know, it’s simply because you haven’t done the effort. It’s not that difficult. Two weeks ago, I had a dinner in Turkey with the Chief of Staff of the FSA, Salim Idriss and four of the five Front Commanders. Anyone who does the effort to go to Antakya will be able to meet any officer of the FSA. You will hear that they want freedom and democracy, that they try everything in order to respect human rights, protect the minorities and help the refugees. But you will also hear that they don’t have the means to achieve these goals properly.

Anyone who makes an effort can reach the refugee camps in Syria very easily and will be able to see how disastrous and inhuman the situation is there, how children spend sometimes days without food or even weeks without milk, how they die because of injuries, caused by a shrapnel, due to lack of medical care. You will see how our aid to Syria is mainly distributed through Assad, which is the reason why almost no aid is reaching the liberated areas. Whoever makes an effort will see that it are the soldiers of Assad and no one else that are attacking and bombarding civilians.

But, apparently all this requires too much effort. We prefer to do nothing “as we don’t know what will happen after Assad falls”. Just imagine that the Americans and the British wouldn’t have entered in WWII because of fear of communists, and because, they too, didn’t know “what would happen after Hitler falls.

Should we be surprised then that those who fight for a better Syria are getting more and more angry and frustrated with the West? They have to witness how the only thing that comes from the West are Jihadist fighters – whatever small and insignificant their number is – while the secular forces and the Syrian people are being left on their own.

It is of course justified to feel uncomfortable and even fearful for “our boys” who go to this far away and unknown Syria to fight for the sake of forming an Islamic State. However, we will not solve this problem by trying to stop them. We will only solve them if we start to engage in Syria itself. It’s less difficult than we might think. We just need to do an effort.


(with thanks to Maha Alasil for helping with the translation from the Arabic version)

  1. #1 by Rick Daudi on April 28, 2013 - 5:33 pm

    Thank you. Exactly what I have been thinking all the time. Another reason for the mistake is increase of Islamophobia in the West.

  2. #2 by Basma El Husseiny on April 28, 2013 - 7:48 pm

    Thank you for an insightful, honest and humane article. i wish there are many people who think in this way, not only in the West, but also in the Arab region.

  3. #3 by cecelia on April 29, 2013 - 6:48 am

    I don’t think it is the ghost of Afghanistan – it is the ghost of Iraq. Chaos followed the dissolution of the army and government in Iraq – and so the US and the UK fear a disorderly transfer of power wherein the army will break up resulting in lawlessness and the government’s collapse will mean economic collapse. So one must find a legitmate government to replace Assad – while the FSA may represent democratic and lawful society they are not fully empowered and the likelihood that AlNousri will take charge is still there. So the issues are not so clear cut.

    We have to avoid a proxy war with Iran and the concerns of Russia cannot just be dismissed. But we also providing aid to those displaced. The US has pledged 385 million thus far – and has been delivering supplies to the refugee camps. The US is also providing medical supplies and communications gear to the FSA while the UK is training their fighters. I too feel great concern for the Syrian people and you are right to speak on their behalf. But I suspect there are no easy solutions and that much suffering will continue for the Syrian people. What we can do is provide assistance to the refugees.

  4. #4 by Wim Roffel on April 29, 2013 - 11:05 am

    The moment the Syrian opposition decided that it doesn’t want to talk with Assad it gave up on democracy. Like it or not, but there are millions of Syrians who support Assad and the decision of the opposition means that they have no voice in the future of Syria.

    We can see in Libya where this kind of arrogance leads: hundreds of thousands are still in exile and an unknown number of people is still held in prison on vague accusations that they supported Gaddafi.

    In a recent article the NY Times concluded that it is hard nowadays to find moderate rebel leaders. That is no coincidence. The uprising had from the very beginning its main core of support among conservative Sunni who in many cases also support the Muslim Brotherhood and who provided most of the Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. Later the opposition got broader support. That was the merit of preachers like Arour who framed the uprising as an uprising of Sunni against Alawite rule/suppression/discrimination and doing that turned it into a sectarian battle that inevitably leads to Islamist domination.

    As for these FSA leaders in Antakya, they will tell you anything you want to hear, as long as it results in more arms and other kinds of support.

  5. #5 by Salem on April 29, 2013 - 3:45 pm

    Military intervention isn’t the right one, yes the world should stop this war by any means before it turn what left of Syria into Afghanistan, but that has to be through removing out both the regime and those non-Syrian forces that fight the regime, so the Syrians, the vast majority, would be able to peacefully find an alternative to the current dictatorship, without falling into Libyan style

  6. #6 by Ahmad Sadiddin on April 29, 2013 - 8:01 pm

    Thank you very much for this article. It summarises the situation in a simple language although reality is much very complicated.
    Cecelia makes a wrong comparison between Syria and Iraq. Actually what she fears is going to happen exactly because the West is not intervening. The choas that happened in Iraq was mainly made by the US decisions, that at the end served only Iran and some local narrow interests. However, what is happening in Syria is chaos that is the result of a revolution that started peacefully and later had to resort to the use of arms for known reasons. The prolonged conflict is the cause of the chaos and not the falling of Assad regime. I understand the concerns of proxy war with Iran, but what is missing in the argument is the interest of Israel, that clearly up to now makes the real veto that protects Assas.
    Wim Roffel does not understand the argument of the opposition regarding talks with Assad, and it seems that does not even understand the argument of the US NOT talking to Al-Qa’eda! Dialgue can only be useful when all parties have a shared ground. My advice is to to try and get more neutral information about this matter, and try to understand the real reasons why many syrians (but sure not millions) are still supporting Assad. “it is hard nowadays to find moderate rebel leaders” This is an extreme exaggeration! And as you like to talk about sectarian issues be aware that sunni represent more than 80% of syrian population, and if democracy talks, they should be the dominant social component in the country and the state, not a coalition of minorities supported by the West and Israel. Among these 80%, they are many liberalists and more moderate. And if many of the rebels seems to be fundamentalists try to understand the reasons, considering that almost all of them were just normal people before the uprising and the blood shedding of Assad forces! Your argument is only conherent if you think that all Sunni are fundamentalists, which is exactly what Assad has convinced the Alawites!

  7. #7 by JimSteel on April 29, 2013 - 10:25 pm

    “You will hear that they want freedom and democracy, that they try everything in order to respect human rights, protect the minorities and help the refugees. But you will also hear that they don’t have the means to achieve these goals properly.”

    Of course we just have to accept what random FSA members say without any independent proof that what they say is true. So let’s see, where are the elections in FSA controlled areas. Noctice how the democracy loving FSA has not held elections in any of the areas they control, some of them for many months. And of course you also strangely fail to discuss the people your “democracy supporting” FSA murder and behead because they do not support them. Or the mortar attacks the FSA launches every day against civilian areas to terrorize the civilian population there. Recently your “minority protecting” FSA murdered and beheaded defenseless civilians just because they came from the Shiite town of Nubbol. You know the same town your wonderful “freedom loving” FSA has been besieging for over six months which has prevented any supplies from reaching it.

    Here are a small sample of the crimes the vicious terrorists you support have commited in the last few days.

    FSA democracy promoters love to use child soldiers. Funny how the only group that we have seen routinely using children as young as 10 to fight is your freedom loving FSA. There are 100s of videos showing this.

    Here the terrorists you think the West has a right to bomb into power threaten to poison Latakia’s drinking water supply because Alawites live there. But don’t worry, I am sure they will do it in a very democratic way that is respectful of the rights of minorities.

    And here the terrorists you love murder a defenseless civilian and than murder others trying to rescue them. I think you just said something about “FSA not targeting civilians.”

    Here FSA democracy lovers murder every person traveling on a civilian bus. Notice how they deliberately lie to excuse their unspeakable crimes. Kind of like the FSA shills who you support.

    FSA doesn’t target civilians, oh except for civilian airliners and airports so they can cut off humanitarian aid to areas outside of their control.

    There are literally 1,000s of videos showing FSA committing similar war crimes but somehow people like you always ignore them and continue to lie without presenting any proof.

    And what happened to the Christian population of Al Qusayr. You know the place the “minority protecting” FSA took over. Oh that’s right, they threatened to murder over 9,000 Christians that lived there if they did not leave in six days. What a wonderful organization, full of democracy loving freedom fighters the FSA is.

    • #8 by A.P. Spits on May 9, 2013 - 4:57 pm

      Thank you Jim for this insightful reply. We need to get away from the usual western styled EU & CIA propaganda and look at facts on the ground. Carla Ponti signaled the use of sarin gas by the ´rebels´ aka jihadists and she was silenced for this. The atrocities are enormous, and I am certainly not a friend of Assad, but under the circumstances the situation will be much more gruesome when the jihadists, sorry rebels, come to power. Minorities such as the Kurds, Christians, Shia and Alawites will be slaughtered.

      We see this everywhere were the jihadists have taken over. Unfortunately Europhille apologists as Koer Deboef are too much taken in by the propaganda.

  8. #9 by AbuJabalAlShami on April 30, 2013 - 4:10 am

    Well,until now I couldn’t hear about a campaign been made to train Syrians and non-Syrians “those who wanted to enter Syria for a human reason” in First Aid, Disasters management,Basic Trauma Courses for GP’s and PA’s,..etc. But what I’ve heard about is: a campaign been placed in border-side areas to train those who wanted to fight and die for whatever cause by western foreigners!?
    Your aids been sent to both sides of the conflict, not for the president Assad’s regime only, but even for the armed oppositions.

  9. #10 by Michael on April 30, 2013 - 3:32 pm

    I guess the U.S. , UK & Israel thought they could pull the same stunt which happened in Libya, which has gone from the most prosperous state in Africa to the status of a failed state. Gaddafi’s main crimes seems to be he wanted the oil revenue to benefit Libyans instead of American Corporations, plus the fact he wanted to trade oil in other than the US$ which increased the threat to the US$ status as the world’s reserve currency, a matter on which the USA depends on for survival.
    Syria’s crimes are also related to oil and the fact that they support the Palestinians against the occupation.
    The so called “revolution” seems to be more or less entirely supported from outside Jihadists, let’s call them what they are, AlQaeda terrorists. But thankfully the Syria army is beginning to make real progress, in fact news today that around 1,000 body bags have been returned to their point of origin , Saudi Arabia .
    It’s interesting to note that within the last week the USA made an offer to stop terrorism in Syria if the Syrians drop their support for Iran, which indicates another motive but also the fact that the USA has control over these barbarians.
    Strange isn’t it, how little support, or even a mention, the people opposing the Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar governments get. The reason of course is that their governments are already compliant to US hegemony.
    The USA knows it’s terrorists are losing and that explains this weeks claims of Syria using chemical weapons. Not that the USA is really in a position to criticise even if it were true, a report came out this week indicating that Iraq children have a 15% chance of birth abnormalities due to USA’s use of chemical weapons, depleted uranium & white phosphorus. So the question is will the USA once again ignore International Law as they did in the case of Iraq, or have the Russians & Chinese defeated this attempt to take over another country.
    Incidentally I’m not saying Assad is perfect but he’s certainly a lot better than the barbaric AlQaeda terrorists waiting to take over. Syria needs better democracy and Assad knows it.

  10. #11 by Cecelia on May 1, 2013 - 4:19 am

    Michel – the US was a reluctant participant in the Libyan no fly zone – it was the French who spearheaded that.

    I think the emphasis here must be on the humanitarian crisis especially since it is so hard to sort out who, what, why etc. Many Syrians are suffering and have been displaced. We can at the very least provide those people with some relief.

  11. #12 by Tasnim from Tehran on May 1, 2013 - 11:37 am

    Even I am Iranian and even I consider myself as Shia but it’s unlikely that you can guess what grounds I am supporting now, but I know if only I had your privilege by visiting battlefields my opinions can change dramatically.

    The truth from 2001 attack to Afghanistan until now is the same, the West is afraid of AN ISLAMIC STATE. Why this phrase is so frightening I don’t know.

    What is the outcome of war in Syria? I don’t know, but most frightening fact is about Western policies and their kind humanitarian words, they always lead to the same outcome. There are more scorched earth and more Muslims being slaughtered in the Middle East.

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  13. #14 by Marcel on May 13, 2013 - 12:12 am

    Islamophobia? Is that like naziphobia?

  14. #15 by Marcel on May 13, 2013 - 12:14 am

    Throughout the ages, the muslims have done plenty of slaughtering. Undoubtedly inspired by the words of warmonger Muhammad who told believers to murder all unbelievers wherever could be found.

    How many girls did Muhammad rape?

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  16. #17 by mustafa copur on May 15, 2013 - 4:06 pm

    l raely understan human been.l beptise in the nema of the Jesus criest.l heva been so many years socialist party in kurdish comminity.but l realy dont understan who running from their home land and their land olsa thistroed everything million turkey by the force to push them beck to turkey olsa in Istanbul so many kurdish Family they run olready from region Kurdistan suriye in Istanbul they suffering their doughter forcing to prostute so many children became psyikatrist promlem olsa they attack near the turkish border kill reyhanli city god know who meda 2 car attack 50 civil lost their life.but lam living in refugea center in Hvalsmoen in norway.from suriye refugea they doing party when they will be transfer to house or they do party when they got pozitif rezident to stay in norway.or kurdish girl using by the Secret service she slaeping With ather refugea following they doing gossip that lam againsth her sexual immorality.l realy dont want to enter their behavior.but for me its shamefull in this Century oll this shit Things they fecing in suriye in turkey in Irak in iran l thing they realy dont heva promlem from isreal from America they heva promlem in their human calacter.
    riligion betwean the person and god besauce of this l pray a day five times that help them.lam realy is not againsth any riligion but lam realy hapy With holy lord Jesus criest.
    in Jesus nema l pray help the region to stop maccare in Century of
    today again l Call them they heva to rispect their relatif their Family in the Secret service better life will be and one day but good job tru human been good human been history will be forever lam realy olsa not againsth sex but lam againsth darknes in Our life in refugea center.
    mr Barack Obama.unated nation European union they heva to put their hand in this killing.
    Mustafa copur
    Hvalsmoen asylum center
    in Jesus nema amen

  17. #18 by ガガミラノ 時計 レディース on May 18, 2013 - 8:53 pm

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.

    I do believe that you ought to write more about this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don’t speak about such topics. To the next! Best wishes!!

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