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December 11, 2012

The Secular Idiot’s Guide to Syria’s Jihadist Groups

The proliferation of radical Islamist groups fighting in Syria is beginning to resemble the Jihadi Olympics in the words of one observer. (Me). They span the entire political spectrum, from extreme militant Salafist to Nihilist Al-Qaeda franchise. But to the untrained eye it’s difficult to tell them apart or know what each stands for. So we prepared this brief but handy guide to help you differentiate between The Lions of Damascus Brigades and The Damascus Lions Brigade. As a general rule, the more hard consonants there are in a group’s name, the more hardcore they are. Groups with 3 vowels or more are often dismissed as ‘liberals’.

Jabhat Al-Nusra

No doubt the jewel in the crown of all Jihadi groups. Except that they don’t approve of jewels. Or crowns. Or embellishments of any kind. Sometimes they are mistakenly referred to as Jabhat Al-Nusra Front, which literally means The Nusra Front Front. But that makes them sound ridiculous. And if there’s one group you don’t want to piss off it’s the Jabhat Al-Nusra. In fact, don’t piss any of them to be on the safe side.

Liwa’a Al-Tawheed

Liwa’a Al-Tawheed or the Unity Brigades is a splinter group formed out of a spin-off group of members that quit the Free Syrian Army. I know, but irony isn’t their thing.

The Lions of Damascus Brigades

Animal names are popular among Jihadi groups, but mostly lions and eagles, not so much giraffes and hedgehogs. The names are chosen to symbolise their ferocity but also their sympathy with nature and wildlife. The Lions of Damascus is also a semantic device to appropriate the name of President Assad which means ‘lion’ in Arabic. Many Jihadi groups are influenced by post-structuralist theory.

The Damascus Lions Brigade

Before you start making jokes of the “Judean Liberation Front” variety, it’s worth understanding the nuance in this group’s name that distinguishes it from The Lions of Damascus Brigades. There are some things about Jihadi groups that might appear nonsensical or irrational but… (we didn’t find a way to finish that sentence).

The Islamic Dawn Movement

Times of the day are also very common in group names’, particularly ones symbolising newness and beginnings, dawn, morning, mid-morning, that sort of thing. Which is somewhat at odds with groups that draw inspiration from ancient times and have a strong sense of nostalgia about them, but as we have already established semantic consistency isn’t the Jihadists’ strong point.

The Ummah’s Shield Brigade

Shields, swords, sabres and other paraphernalia from Islamic history are quite common among these groups, but for some reason not astronomical instruments , medical implements or any of the multitude of devices that Islamic scientists produced in the past. One might argue that it’s the result of a selective and militarised interpretation of Muslim history but one better be at a safe distance before making such argument.

Sultan Mohamed Battalion

Some might ungenerously assume that this group was named after the Ottoman Sultan because it is sponsored by Turkey, but such cynical conspiratorial interpretations have no place in the modern Jihadi world. In fact the group’s name commemorates the Sultan’s main achievement, conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantine Empire. This austere battalion is deeply offended by the Byzantines, “spending hours putting those puzzles together”. (We think they mean mosaics.)

The Free Men of Syria Brigade

Freedom is a strong theme among Jihadist groups, although you need to disassociate it from its Euro-centric meaning in the sense of freedom to drink alcohol, vote or read modern poetry. Freedom here refers to the freedom to impose the righteous way on other people, a human right than is totally ignored by the West. The Free Men of Syria practice what they preach, and they have taken the liberty to destroy several shipments of alcohol already.

We hope this guide was helpful, come back for updates as the groups constantly change shape, reform and split according to their own internal logic. (Nothing to do with where their financial support is coming from as some cynics might argue.) And to the Jihadi groups we say, we’re just doing a public service here, don’t shoot the messenger. I mean, you’ve been known to do it in the past.


Bashar Is bombing us.

Dec 11

Posted by OFF THE WALL

I am not good at that. I mean, I don’t know how to collate news round-ups despite of the many available modern gadgets that make that easy. May be I don’t like to do that, or perhaps, it is nowadays harder for me to do so as my main source of news ceased being news-papers and blogs and became fast tweets, rapid shots of rss-feeds, and Facebook posts coming from all over Syria telling me and a cynical world where a mortar shell has just fallen and where the most recent massacre-by-barrel has taken place decimating a neighborhood block and absurdly ending many potentials of greatness, mediocrity, and just plain normal living.

It is also harder to be opinionated nowadays, especially regarding the rapidly unfolding events in Syria, which while appearing to occur in a rapid succession, do nonetheless betray a slow, constantly flowing lava-like wall of brutality, suffering, and unimaginable misery. Friends are wounded with no well-organized medical relief to take care of them, and when relief is available, it is mostly controlled by a single group with a viciously selfish and opportunistic political agenda whereby aid is dispensed only to those who belong in their allegiance to the group or to its battalions, most of which consist of fighters and leader who are neither indoctrinated, nor deeply religious, but are pragmatic in meeting the needs of the moment, be it a case of ammunition, a few gallons of fuel, or some food to sustain their fighters.


Destruction in Aleppo due to Assad regime criminal bombardment of civilian areas

What permeate the atmosphere in Aleppo are the genetic prints of the culture of despotism, nurtured and fed through corruption and terror by two generations of Assads. Despotism is evident among some armed groups, especially in Aleppo where stories of abuse, theft, corruption, lack of coordination, greed, vengeance, betrayal, and selfishness continue to surface every day. A majority of these stories can be attributed to the hordes of Shabee7a, who when abandoned by Assad, decided to form their own military battalions or to join other groups under the banner of the free Syrian Army. But other stories can be attributed to young men, now carrying weapons, and are entrusted with maintaining peace and order in liberated areas, but fail to understand that this revolution is all about ending abuse and behave the only way they have seen men with arms and authority behave, and that is being abusive with a sense of entitlement. The regime, as expected, continues its wanton “burn the country” vengeful madness as it bombs infrastructure including power stations, bakeries, and hospitals, as well as civilian neighborhoods as the most wanted target on its list of mayhem. Power outages, water cuts, and full deterioration of basic services made life unbearable in a city used to abundance, and during forty years, has been devoid through premeditated malice by the Assads and their goons of civil society institutions to maintain social cohesion in times of disasters. A city plagued, like all of Syria, with a state that is indistinguishable from the brutal regime who had as described by Yassin Haj-Salih, used the state to cement its brutal sectarian rule, and gradually eradicated it and turned it into a mere extension of itself. Yet it shed it the moment the state became a liability to the small gang of bloody Assads and their sectarian criminal circle.


Naval mines dropped as highly destructive cheap killing and destruction instruments In Damascus country side, where Assad has been bombarding civilians for the past few days in hope to slow down the revolutionary forces’ progress toward Damascus.

It is natural, therefore, that some residents of Aleppo’s liberated areas complain about FSA in their midst. The lack of basic services, the severe bread crisis, weeks’ long black-outs, and water outage, and constant bombardment gets to you. But is that a sign that FSA is losing public support? Or that the regime is gaining more supporters? Frankly, I believe that only a fool, completely detached from the facts on the ground, would think that the regime can gain any public support. Same fool of course might even think that this criminal gang of thugs cares about gaining public support at this stage.  The Assads and their band of thugs and criminals (both physically and economically) have combined brutality, corruption, despotism, fatalism, and sectarianism, to create a witch’s brew of absurdity at an inhuman scale and qualities. Within such severely deformed prism, facts don’t matter, and whether one believes his own lies or not is irrelevant, for suspension of disbelief is no longer a requirement, what matters is only fear and spiteful vengeance. Both are the hallmarks of this inhuman horde that had ruled my Syria for most of my life-time.

In the midst of suffering and lack of coordination among FSA groups in the north emerge groups of highly disciplined fighters. Jihadist in their practices, and yet, of unclear origin, these groups are now coalescing under Jabhat Alnusra (Support Front). I have argued in the past that this group is highly likely made up by the regime. But the front and similar groups seem to have taken an increasingly more visible role as the most effective of the anti-regime armed groups. There are visible campaigns to bestow a legendary stature on the front as it continues to be present in almost all recent successes of the FSA against the regime, and with that, control over much of the spoils in weapons and ammunitions captured from regime forces. Groups not directly affiliated with the front, but wanting to get access to the same source of support the front has are starting to copy-cat the front’s behavior, albeit against the citizens instead of against the regime such as the fools who declared the establishment of the virtue brigades, with calls for the cleansing of Syria from Alawite and the band of battalion leaders war-lords wannabe who declared an Islamic Emirate in the north in a desperate effort to oppose the newly formed coalition, which they feared will centralize funds and leave them out to dry if they don’t shape up.

Arguably, the presence and ascendancy of Jihadi groups has played a double edge sword. On the one hand, they are making it easier to wipe out the security apparatus in the post-assad era as they have managed to close many of its branches, scare its informants into hiding, and intimidate its collaborators, sometimes through outright execution style assassinations especially at the local level. At the same time, they have made defection of much needed officer corps harder than it would have been without their practices and ignorant pretend “I am a Jihadist attitude”. In fact, as expected, pushing their luck, some of the groups have now scared the US and some other nations into the edge of declaring them terrorist organizations, which even if right, further complicates the on-going liberation of Syria, hinders much needed relief efforts, and the jeopardizes the immediate post-assad political process.

I have not commented on the formation of the new Coalition. Many have argued that the coalition suffers the same ailment of its largest component (SNC), which has been controlled by an opportunistic and cynical group of the Assad opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition, however, presents a reasonable platform for now. It seems to be successfully led by a charismatic and respected leader, who still needs to do much more to stem the monopoly the Muslim Brothers have over much of the aid resources available. This monopoly continues to place honest people, who are willing to work within SNC in bad situations. Today, the Kurdish National Council decided to join the coalition, which is bound to reduce the influence of the MBs, and with more groups to join as the coalition becomes recognized as the legitimate interim representative of the Syrian people, there may be a hope for some improvement on the political front. Power plays are bound to affect it, like any ad hoc political coalition formed in response to external pressure and facing brutal regime that has succeeded, through brutality, in making relief work become the measure of performance instead of political or even military successes of its opponents.

Likewise, militarily, also under external pressure, there seems to be a trend for coordination. A meeting was held recently in Antalya, Turkey between representatives of many of the armed revolutionary groups. Once more a new central command was announced, albeit in complete isolation from the political coalition, at least for the time being.

Criticism of the FSA is coming from several sides. I will of course dismiss that coming from the band of loyalists and regime propagandists. But I will not discount criticism coming from the revolution quarters. Some of the criticism is fair and some is not, but in all, it is a very healthy sign that has thrown some of the personnel and leaders off balance and has caused the FSA to try to ameliorate some of the problems, albeit through sharia courts, which on many occasions add fuel to the fire instead of calming things down. I would argue that once the regime air force and artillery are silenced, hopefully soon, civil society will emerge and will thrive in short order. It is the regime’s criminal destruction and murder that continues to hinder the emergence of effective local council and the evidence of the inherent and capacity to produce healthy community governance was well articulated earlier on NPR

Overall, the picture is grim. Syrians are now recalling what their great grandparents have once told their parents about the great years of famine and misery. The time of Safar Barlek, when the Ottomans forcibly drafted the men of all ages for their war efforts, confiscated most agricultural products, and left the women, the children, and the elderly to fend for themselves during one of the harshest cold spells in the elders’ memory. The Syrian tragedy resembles no one for never in recent and past history have rulers shown such contempt to their own people. The Syrian Misery extends throughout the region. Children have died in the cold of most inhumane refugee camps in Jordan. I have been told that the Jordanian authorities tax every single item by confiscating a third of the shipment intended for the camps, notwithstanding that on several occasions, what was left after confiscation, never really made it to the camp. There is no worst story to tell of the horror than that of children. Even the lucky ones who have made it, through family members into the safety for homes in Egypt or one of the gulf states continue to suffer.  A face book post illustrated this most vividly by telling the story of a little girl,  brought to safety in the United Arab Emirates by her uncle, and was taken for an outing during the celebration of the UAE national day.  The poor girl when hearing fireworks, she put her hands over her ears, and started shouting hysterically, Bashar is bombing us, Bahsar is bombing us.

It is for this child, it is for Hamza’s memory, for the Qashoush, for nearly fifty thousand Syrians, young and old, who were murdered in such cold blood by the Assad gangs, accompanied with the fanfare barked by ugly and cruel herds of mindless loyalists, it is for the victims, for Syria, and above all for humanity that Syrians can’t lose hope. We can’t afford to lose it, even knowing that this regime might and can easily resort to mass murder weapons in its arsenal. There is nothing that the regime has done that demonstrates that its arsenal of weapons, which by definition are lethal was prepared for anything but for its survival one more minute, even if that meant the utter destruction of a beautiful country, and the death of all of its inhabitants. Anyone who thinks that there is a shred of humanity or of rationalism in the Assad gang is a fool who has blinded himself to forty years of history leading to two years of anti-historical nightmare. No one is responsible but the regime, and anyone claiming otherwise is complicit in the great Syrian Genocide. The list of regime crimes include, in addition to the evil murder of tens of thousands of Syrians, the torture of hundreds of thousands, but most vile of this contemptible gang’s crimes is the attempted murder of their souls and of their humanity.  To the scared child I say, sweet child, they have been bombarding us for forty two years. Little by little, they destroyed our heritage of civility. But my sweet child, we will get that back. Granted, we may lose some of our innocence, but from you dear child, we will learn it again.

Note: Dear 7ee6anis. I think by now, most of you already know of SYRIA DEEPLY. It is an outstanding new site on Syria that combines smart commentary, intelligent design, and for the tech-freak mundass some incredible tools such as defection tracker, regime relation mapping, and an updated map of incident on the ground. The site also feather Syrian Stories, with two so far written by the wonderful Amal Hanano.  You may want to read this article about Syria Deeply describing how the site Outsmarts The News, Redefines Conflict Coverage.

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