[Marxism] Report on Syria Opposition

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Tue Sep 17 07:21:49 MDT 2013

This is a very interesting report, and as a report from Jane's, probably 
reasonably accurate to the extent that it can be read through a 
Telegraph translation.

Of course, the purpose for the Telegraph is to show how terrible the 
Syrian opposition is, because so many of them are dreaded "Islamists" of 
some stripe or another. As the article itself says, this confirms what 
US and other western leaders have been saying about Syria forever, ie, 
that they hate the Syrian opposition, because so many of them are people 
the US doesn't like, and the reason used forever for never sending them 
a single rifle.

The amusing thing, of course, is that much of the left will use the 
report in the exact same way, to show how bad the opposition is, as 
there are so many "Islamists." Amusingly, however, the left will claim 
that this is a different view to that of western leaders who agree with 

Many will even more amusingly claim the Telegraph is finally admitting 
"the truth" that only the Islamophobic "left" knew along, perhaps that 
imperialists are finally seeing the light, and will mumble liberal stuff 
about "blowback" etc.

But let's look at it at face value. Basically it says that the most 
hardened, outright counterrevolutionary section - the Al Qaida groups - 
account for about 10,000 troops, or 10% of the armed opposition. Then 
there are about 30,000 other "hard-line" Salafist groups, about 30,000 
"moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character", and 
therefore about 30,000 in outright democratic-secular formations.

The telegraph puts its own special spin on the last figure: "meaning 
only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely 
nationalist groups", a "stark assessment."

Right, 30,000 secular rebels, plus 30,000 "moderates belonging to groups 
with an Islamic character", 60% of the armed rebels, is "stark", is it?

Perhaps from the point of view of imperialism, for whom all of those 
vaguely Islamist moderates would still be considered enemies of 
imperialist interests (would even "moderate Islamists" be as dedicated 
to protecting the Israeli annexation of Gaza as Assad has been? Would 
they likely make war on the Palestinians as often as Assad did?); and 
also, since for the US "moderate" doesn't; just mean secular, but rather 
pro-imperialist, the fact of 30% secular fighters is no guarantee of 
serving imperialist interests. As Dempsey stated on August 19, no one in 
Syria represents US interests.

But the admission that 30% are secular and 60% are non-Salafist/jihadist 
is a vast improvement on the stark New York Times article that the 
Islamophobic left quoted so widely back several months ago, that 
laughably claimed there were *no* non-Islamist armed rebel groups.

And of course, as Jeff notes, it also depends on what is meant by the 
30,000 "hard-line" Islamist rebels who share much of the ideology of Al 
Qaida without its global aims. While these leaderships are indeed 
hard-line, the evidence of many fighters slipping between groups, 
because some have better arms supplies (the jihadists, due to the open 
Iraqi border with Al Qaida in Iraq), but with no real commitment to 
their ideology, is quite abundant.

I'll just copy what I wrote for the Green left discussion list several 
days ago on what I understand about these divisions among the groups 
that are in any way "Islamist", as opposed to the more clearly secular 
groups (ie, the FSA), together with some other comments related to a 
discussion on that list:

If I can be very simplistic, "Islamists" in Syria can mean about 4 

1. Those who are not "Islamists" in a political sense at all, but who
adopt some of the religious phraseology of their culture. In
particular, given the fundamental class divide that characterises the
Syrian revolution, the fact that the base of the revolution is the
peasantry, devastated by Assad Junior's neoliberal reforms, and the
urban poor, first generation from the countryside with extensive links
to country cousins; and that "secular" bourgeois nationalist Syria,
like "secular" Egypt", "secular' Turkey, "secular" Iran in 1979,
"secular" Palestine - in all cases the "secularism" only went as far
as the bourgeois limitations of the process could take it, and remains
a largely middle and upper class phenomenon. Thus it is not surprising
that peasants and urban poor, when they began organising political and
then military formations, often adopted religious names, to the vast
horror of all kinds of crusading "left" exponents of "secular"
chauvinism in the distant West.

2. The "moderate Islamists". These are a large group of powerful
militias which, in religious terms, stand between the secular FSA
militias and the radical Islamists. While the Brotherhood is not much
on the ground at all, as I said, nevertheless these groups (Farouk
Brigade etc) fill that kind of space, ie, they are fighting for a
democratic republic, not a theocracy, but like the Brotherhood (or the
AKP) they believe they can slowly bring about more religious laws etc
via bourgeois democracy. Some have vague links to the Brotherhood,
others see them as a spent force. They have risen organically from the
Syrian revolution, from the masses, certainly not in any way set up by
outside forces like the Brotherhood, or its chief backer, Qatar. These
groups have formed a coalition called the Syrian Liberation Front,
which is outside the secular 'General Command' which officially
controls the mainstream FSA, but they cooperate closely with it, have
representatives within it, indeed, these groups have often been lead
players in FSA clashes with Al Qaida.

(MK: both of these first tow groups may be considered the Telegraph's 
"moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character", 
depending on the meaning of the Jane's original)

3. The "national" wing of the Salafist/jihadist wing of the Islamists,
ie, those who are genuinely part of the Syrian uprising, whose goals
are entirely Syrian, but do believe they are fighting for an Islamic
state. The biggest group is Ahrar al-Sham, leader of a coalition of
hard-line groups called the Syrian Islamic Front. They are completely
outside the General Command, but tactically collaborate on the ground
with FSA and moderate Islamists in operations against the regime,
while also cooperating with Al Qaida at the operational level. The
actively reject Al Nusra's ties to Al Qaida.

4. The "Salafist/jihadis" who have a global agenda, meaning the two Al
Qaida linked groups, Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The former is largely Syrian, despite its global agenda, the latter
heavily Iraqi. Most foreign jihadis join these groups. They likewise
aim for a theocracy, and are even more hard line than the SIF, and in
particular are explicitly sectarian, promising oppression to Alawites
and Shiites (though not so much Christians). Most of the gruesome
sectarian attacks, especially in the last few months, are the handiwork
of this section of Islamists. They represent a counterrevolution just
as the regime does.

Thus the divisions here are roughly similar to what the Jane's report 
outlines, except I have no way of knowing about the numbers they give 
for each.

But now while it is important to know that some 60% of the rebels are 
either secular or moderates in groups with an Islamic character, and 
thus the whole rebellion has not become a giant jihadist plot, at the 
same time, leftists in the West need to get off the "secular" bandwagon 
of insisting that peasants and urban poor over in Syria trying to 
overthrow a monstrously brutal dictatorship have to first get a 
western-left, or western-liberal, or western-right, star of approval for 
their "secularism." What fantastic imperialist thinking that is.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jack A. Smith" <jacdon at earthlink.net>
To: "Michael Karadjis" <mkaradjis at theplanet.net.au>
Sent: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 12:28 AM
Subject: [Marxism] Report on Syria Opposition

> From The Daily Telegraph (UK) Sept. 15

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