By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
The al-Qaeda-linked Support Front has murdered 23 men from a single Druze clan in Qalb Lawzah, Idlib Province, Syria. Druze villagers fled in large numbers to surrounding Sunni hamlets seeking refuge from al-Qaeda. There are some 18 Druze villages in the north of Idlib Province.
The Army of Conquest coalition of Salafi Sunni fundamentalists swept into remaining regime-held areas of the northern Idlib Province in late March. A key component of the coalition, the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) is loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda, who helped plan the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Free Ones of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham), another coalition component, has also had leaders who were close to al-Qaeda, but it adopts a pose of greater moderation (a low bar for al-Qaeda affiliates).
The Druze minority is an offshoot of the Ismaili branch of Shiite Islam, but it has evolved so far in a Gnostic, esoteric direction that it is barely recognizable as a form of Islam. Its doctrines, mainly Neoplatonic, are secret even from lay followers. Druze do not pray 5 times a day or have mosques, and are said to believe in reincarnation. The Druze communities in the Levant are spread among Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The Israeli and Lebanese Druze reacted with alarm to the killings. Al-Qaeda types view even ordinary Sunni Muslims as infidels, so you can imagine what they think of Druze.
Druze are 3 percent of the Syrian population, about 660,000.
The Army of Conquest coalition, in which the Free Ones of Syria is the leading component, gave control of the Druze villages in Idlib over to al-Qaeda. This decision has to be seen as a deliberate provocation and as a crime against humanity waiting to happen. The Free Ones of Syria is also part of the Islamic Front, at least one component of which is Saudi-backed, and rumor has it that the Free Ones themselves get support from Turkey.
It is extremely distasteful that US allies are willing to back a coalition like the Army of Conquest, given that al-Qaeda is a central component of it. The last time the US supported al-Qaeda allies, in the form of the AFghan Mujahideen, the whole thing came around to bite us on the ass on 9/11.
As might have been expected, al-Qaeda has constantly bothered the Druze in Idlib, denouncing them as heretics and confiscating property from them. Several hundred are said to have been forcibly converted to Sunnism. A Tunisian al-Qaeda commander, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi, tried to take a home from a Druze family. When the head of the family object, the thugs just shot him down. His brother grabbed a gun from one of the al-Qaeda pond scum and it went off, killing an al-Qaeda guy. Then al-Qaeda killed the other brother. Then reinforcements came and they rounded up the unarmed men of the village and executed them Nazi style.
The Support Front leadership investigated and decided that al-Tunisi had gone too far in killing his prisoners, but declined to punish anyone. They also fended off suggestions from Sunni authorities that the perpetrators be tried by a traditional Sunni court judge or qadi.
Between leftist Kurds and religious minorities, something like 40% of Syrians belong to groups that al-Qaeda would shoot down just as it did the Druze. Not to mention that it would happily shoot down the majority of Syrian Sunnis, who are secular-minded.
The story is that Free Men of Syria and other coalition partners intervened to try to patch up things with the remaining Druze. But it should be remembered that they gave the Druze into the hands of al-Qaeda in the first place and continue to be allied with al-Qaeda, which killed nearly 3000 innocent American civilians and continues to rack up the body count. They are sort of playing Mussolini to al-Zawahiri’s Hitler. Mussolini wasn’t as bad as Hitler, but that is hardly a character recommendation.
The Druze community outside Syria was badly split over the incident. Some Israeli Druze have been lobbying the Netanyahu government to bomb radicals in Syria to protect Druze villages there, especially in the Syrian south. (In fact, the only Israeli bombing in Syria has been directed not at al-Qaeda or ISIL but at Hizbullah, the enemy of the former two).
In Lebanon, Druze warlord Waleed Jumblatt wants to see the al-Assad family overthrown and was clearly afraid that the massacre would turn Syrian Druze against the rebel opposition.
Jumblatt’s father was assassinated in the 1970s, likely at the order of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current dictator, Bashar.