As Russia Strikes, Arab Twitter Wars over call for Jihad against “occupation” of Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian plans hit 20 targets in Syria on Tuesday according to the Ministry of Defense in Moscow. Among them were a training camp for terrorists in the countryside around the city of Idlib, and another facility in the outskirts of the port city of Latakia. The Russians were calling these “ISIL” targets (Daesh in Arabic), but seem to be confused about the meaning of this term. Daesh isn’t present in Idlib or Latakia. Idlib is now controlled by a coalition, the Army of Conquest, led by al-Qaeda in alliance with groups such as the Freemen of Syria.

Russian spokesmen seem to be confusing al-Qaeda and its hard line Salafi allies in places like Idlib with Daesh/ ISIL. Al-Qaeda is a much greater threat to Latakia and hence to the regime in the northwest of the country. If the port of Latakia fell to the al-Qaeda-led Army of Conquest, Damascus would be cut off from resupply by sea. It seems clear that the Russian intervention is in large part about defending Latakia for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Daesh is not important in that picture. Why exactly the Russian officials keep calling al-Qaeda or the Army of Conquest Daesh is not clear. Daesh or ISIL did begin as a faction within the Support Front or Syrian al-Qaeda, but its leaders were thrown out by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (a mastermind of 9/11) because they kept attacking other radical fundamentalist groups instead of confining themselves to fighting the Syrian Arab Army.

The Russians say that they can see Daesh moving armored vehicles into populated areas or near mosques, knowing that Moscow won’t dare risk hitting religious edifices or residences. They allege that Daesh is blowing up mosques and blaming the damage on Russian airstrikes.

Also the Russians seriously need better English interpreters– some of the news conferences can barely be understood in translation.

Meanwhile, Khalid al-Shayeh in al-Arabi al-Jadid (The New Arab) writes that a Twitter war has broken out over the call by 52 clerics in the Gulf region for “a jihad in Syria to repulse the Russian and Iranian enemy from the country.”

The call generated half a million tweets in only 24 hours with hashtags like #bayan_52_`aliman_liljihad (but in Arabic characters).

Those criticizing the call characterized it as a repeat of the mistake made in Afghanistan 35 years ago, when Gulf countries backed the Afghan Mujahidin and sent volunteer Arab guerrillas to fight the Soviet occupation of that country. That intervention created al-Qaeda, endangered Gulf security, and threw Afghanistan into decades of turmoil from which it still has not emerged.

Some opponents said that the call played into the hands of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and that it constituted a form of incitement.

Others objected that no similar call was issued after major terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda or Daesh, such as the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait. That is, critics suggested that the document is soft on Sunni extremism and has a sectarian overtone. Dr. Turki al-Hamad, an academic, called it “a manifesto with ISIL tendencies, containing an instigation, which is sectarian in form and substance.”

Writer Ghassan Badkuk complained that the call lacked legitimacy, since only the ruler can call for jihad. “Are those he signed it,” he asked, “rulers?”

Anwar al-Rashid tweeted that he demanded of these missionaries of blood that their own children be the first to go fight this holy war.

Others accused the authors of wanting to turn Syria into another Afghanistan and of wanting to visit chaos on the whole Middle East.

The call’s defenders insisted that it doesn’t ask anyone to go fight in the jihad. This position seems hard to defend, however.

Meanwhile 40 Syrian rebel groups have denounced the “open occupation” of Syria by Russia and Iran. The document was not signed by Daesh or the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra– the al-Qaeda branch in Syria), the two that control the majority of rebel-held territory. But several of the 40 rebel groups have a tactical alliance with al-Qaeda.


Related video:

RT: “‘We don’t want Syria to be terrorist black hole, let us deal with ISIS’–Russia’s Foreign Ministry”

15 Responses

  1. Syria into another Afghanistan war? unbelievable Daesh is blowing up mosques and blaming the damage on Russian air strikes.

  2. We need a program to keep the players straight. Maybe at some point Prof. Cole or another contributor could give us (or guide us to) a Who’s Who in Syria.

  3. From my media (I’m not a tweeter) it looks as though a majority (maybe slim) of Americans are pretty wary re US intervention (one level or another). The record of it in this theater doesn’t seem to make much sense. Good to know there are Muslim tweets out there recognizing that opposing our no-sense-interventions wouldn’t make sense either. That shows Muslims are aware of what’s happened in Afghanistan, and are concerned about it. That they’re being realistic about it.

    Doesn’t seem like such a wonderful prospect opening up a port to al-Qaeda or the Army of Conquest. If it’s true, as it’s said Putin claims, that rebel troops defect hither and thither for better pay…then the lines sort of blur. If Turkey really does shut its southern border (which seems to be hard to get information on), then Daesh’s source of recruits are the aforementioned…again, if Putin said what he said and if it’s correct.

    All these elements are like gangs in the hood. Actually, they’re like the gangs of San Salvador forcing folks out of their homes and off to other countries, but on a much more colossal scale.

    IMO Russia should go ahead and name the groups. Most likely we could handle it.

  4. The translation is indeed obscure but I wonder how some of the White House doublespeak sounds in Russian. I suppose from a Russian perspective anyone attacking Syrian regime forces is impeding their purpose and needs be encouraged to back off. The US etc. are the ones in the business of overthrowing the Syrian regime, not Russia whose strategy is to use precisely those Syrian forces to tackle Daesh.

  5. Here is the Arabic translation. Russia is bombing both Jabhat al nusra an extension of al Qaeda and supported by Saudi Arabia and gulf states and Daesh (Isis). In Maarat Al-Nuuman in Idlib they bombed weapon workshop and a command center in khan Shaykhum. Remember back in April an AFP reporter and 300 Kurdish civilians were kidnapped by what turkey called al nusra fighters. ( Reuter ). At that time 200 Christian ( Assyrian Christians ) were kidnaped by Isis. Both groups are fighting each other’s closely on the ground. So call these groups whatever name but everyone fighting in Syria is not really directly fighting the Syrian army unless they try to intervene. They are killing, torturing, burning, raping innocent Christians and Kurds and anyone that stand in their way. And remember that the rebels trained by U.S joined al- nusra. Refer to senate meeting last week.

  6. The Russians call all Terrorist Daesh, but they promised to only use “moderate” bombs on “moderate” Terrorists.
    What’s the problem? ;-)

  7. If Twitter is going after war mongers things must be serious. It’s nuts: Israel aligned with the Saudi and the US supporting al-Qaeda. Unbelievable. We’re going down the tubes here at home while the government is spending money on the same groups that did 9/11. It’s like living in a parallel universe. One of those really messed up ones.
    A friend of mine suggested that our leaders are aliens brought here to destroy humanity before the invasion from planet Xixx Xaxx. I’m starting to believe him.

  8. We didn’t prepare ahead for the power vacuum that would exist once American hegemony fell apart. Now we aren’t preparing for the consequences when the rising regional powers start shooting at each other in that vacuum. Which in this case means Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel. One overt nuclear power, one nuclear power that’s lying about it, and one country with enough money to buy plenty of nukes.

    This is a serious matter, August 1914-level dangerous. No one is talking about our worst-case contingencies. If you think we should do nothing, then for God’s sake at least start marching now to that effect, because our public needs to be informed that it can no longer start whining for Washington to “do something” when the media images get too scary, as they will.

    • “We didn’t prepare ahead for the power vacuum that would exist once American hegemony fell apart. Now we aren’t preparing for the consequences when the rising regional powers start shooting at each other in that vacuum.”

      This is so well said.

  9. Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.

    I wonder when the gods decided to destroy us all? We seem to be quite mad, and have been for quite some time now.

  10. The Russians aren’t confused.
    Anybody opposed to Assad is their enemy.
    Everyone opposed to Assad is ISIL or an ally of ISIL. Ally of ISIL=ISIL/Daesh
    Definition of enemy in Syria: ISIL/Daesh.

  11. If all the anti-terrorist groups could win the war in Syria so fast and hard that the jihadists are all backed into a near-worthless/waterless desert area which can be physically quarantined, then perhaps jihadi volunteers could be allowed to go into that quarantined jihadistan. But only if the world could be guaranteed that every jihadi who went there would be killed there. Ideally the world would burn through its supply of people who want to go join a jihad.

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