Nourishing Syria's terrorist tree
In the wake of the brutal defeats of the extremist Takfiri organisations, the leaders of Daʹesh, Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaida simultaneously issued a statement declaring that they would continue the sabotage operations that they have been conducting for the past few years in the Arab world.
These violent groups helped to consolidate sectarian rule in Baghdad and this became the pretext for Arab and global public opinion to turn against the popular uprising in Syria and against the movement towards democracy across the Arab region. These groups also played an important role in cultivating fear among the powers that be of any political change or transition in the Middle East.
Similarly, they spread the fear that the internal wars which are tearing populations apart will drag on, just as calls will continue for foreign intervention in the war against terror. The threat they pose to any movement for change or progress, not to mention to the geo-political and demographic map of the region is considerable.
Allies of the Arab anti-revolutionary coalition
Whilst there is no proof that these groups were set up directly by security agencies in different countries, either as a means of justifying their actions or merely with the idea of benefitting from them, no-one can deny that they have served as an ally, legitimately or otherwise, of the anti-revolutionary coalition. They are a dagger in the back of movements for popular and democratic change in the Arab world.
Whether as a result of converging interests in the destruction of existing states, in the instigation of chaos and despair, or because regional and international security agencies have succeeded in penetrating their ranks, this fact changes nothing. For sure, the agencies were in broad agreement with the plans and strategies deployed by these groups to counter revolutionary change.
Neither the Western nor Eastern states are innocent; they both use these groups as a pretext to block Arabs on their path to freedom, democracy, peace and progress. With their imposition of colonial policies, they have showed utter disregard for the interests of nations and peoples; they have supported tyranny, imposed unjust governments and defended them from their blunders and their crimes. A glaring example of this is the Assad government: a poisonous plant that grew and flourished in this fetid swamp.
If these terrorist groups still dare to threaten everyone, after all the "deadly" attacks against them launched by the Russians and the Americans, it is because they can see the failure of the states which claimed to be fighting against them to achieve fair and lasting solutions in the region. And in a Syria which is currently aflame, they have been left considerable room for manoeuvre, to catch their breath and to resume their ongoing war. Indeed, these violent organisations exist in a state of war and feed off it.
No regard for the inhabitants of Idlib
The struggle between states for control, to establish spheres of influence is the main reason for the ongoing war in the region today. Smaller states and their peoples are undermined by bigger states abandoning their international obligations, ignoring UN resolutions and turning international legitimacy into empty rhetoric. Likewise, they rob of all meaning the concepts of international law, human solidarity and hope for a future free of tyranny, slavery and war.
This analysis is particularly important today, in light of the expected campaign in the province of Idlib, where the Russians, and their proxy, Bashar al-Assad, are looking for any excuse to attack and take control, without regard for the disastrous consequences for the inhabitants of Idlib, or for the neighbouring countries threatened with the arrival of millions of new refugees. Or maybe this is what prompts them.
Meanwhile the extremist groups are gnashing their teeth, believing that Idlib will present the opportunity to inflict a political and psychological defeat, if not also a military one, and thus to redress the balance and to restore strategic credibility. To achieve this "victory", they will use civilians as human shields, either threatening to kill them or making them flee their government adversary.
Terror begets terror
To counter terror and outdo the extremist groups by killing even more civilians is no solution, as we have seen in recent years. Entire cities and governorates were sacrificed in order to force "Daʹesh" and its ilk to move on. Sometimes they were transported in official Russian and non-Russian buses, some of them even air-conditioned, from one governorate to another. In Suweida only this month, they were used to put pressure on the civilian population, by targeting hundreds of civilian casualties.
The war on terror cannot be won by trying to outdo terrorists in the slaughter of civilians. On the contrary, this is what nourishes the terrorist tree and strengthens their ranks. It creates the environment, the source of hatred and the lust for revenge, which they need to justify their heinous deeds.
Terror cannot be fought by using it to address unrelated agendas, such as to put down popular uprisings or the normal protests of the marginalised, those without hope or those fearful of the future. Terror cannot be fought by terrorist means, by turning the state into a gang and its security and military institutions into counter-terrorist militias. To do so undermines the state and deprives it of its legal and moral status, possibly irreversibly; it also leads to the dispossession of millions.
Tahrir al-Sham will not be subdued by the destruction of Idlib over the heads of its inhabitants, or by the sacrifice of millions of civilians, or by the devastation of their habitats; such acts are what breed terrorism and extremism. Nor will it help to put these groups under siege. On the contrary, this will spawn grievances, hidden and overt, which terrorism needs to survive and flourish.
Serious effort needs to be put into finding political solutions that reunite people and communities, empowering them to speak out against and combat terrorism, if extremism is to be contained and terrorism eliminated. Unfortunately, Moscow is trying to prevent this, rejecting the political transition envisaged by UN resolutions – the first of which is 2254 – and insisting Assad remains in place at all costs.
Bankruptcy of the Syrian regime
Without the involvement of those same communities in combatting extremism and in containing terrorism, thereʹs no hope of eliminating either, but their participation in this endeavour will not be gained by intensive aerial bombardment of their villages and towns, or by destroying homes over the heads of their inhabitants. The breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism will not be shrunk by ignoring real problems, denying legitimate demands, manipulating a few opportunistic elites, or by persisting on resolving the struggle for power and resources by military force.
It certainly wonʹt be possible to promote peace and reconciliation or mutual understanding between people and communities by defending to the hilt a regime which has demonstrated its bankruptcy, or by forcing this regime onto a people who have suffered so much from it. The Assad regime has, after all, been the primary cause of the countryʹs destruction – of the killing of thousands and the displacement of millions of its people.
This holds true regardless of Russiaʹs national interest or the legitimacy or otherwise of Moscowʹs challenge to Syrian and Western policies, which we have observed in Syria for years. Unless, of course, the true aim of the war against terror is to perpetuate terror itself, drawing people into internal wars, without any way out, and undermining concord, harmony and understanding in order to control resources or territory.
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton