Do you prefer Frankenstein or the ‘moderate’ Frankenstein?
The logical answer is to go for the “moderate” Frankenstein. In reality, a better answer could be “neither,” since it will only be a matter of time before the “moderate” Frankenstein willingly metamorphoses into the real Frankenstein. Such are the options in Syria.
But who, really, is a “moderate” jihadist fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, less moderate jihadists and sometimes Kurds in Syria? Why is he a fighter and, in some cases, in a foreign land? In all reality, the “moderates” are the same Islamists who do not behead people, release their brutal videos on social media but who, instead, just kill for the same holy goal.
The militants of the Free Syria Army (FSA) are a ragtag group of rebels with a cause: to build a Sunni Islamist Syria. In Syria, fighters moving from one group to another are not uncommon. In 2014, for instance, the “moderate” rebel group Harakat Hazzam disbanded and its members joined extremist groups such as the al-Nusra Front (ANF), which is an al-Qaeda offshoot, or the Levant Front, a coalition of rebels with ties to al-Qaeda. The ANF has also picked up thousands of men who once fought under the flag of the FSA.
In the Syrian theatre, the “moderate” Frankenstein is an Islamist like the real Frankenstein, although the two often feature different practices of violence. In 2012, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an open letter to the opposition groups in Syria, including Turkey’s darling FSA, accusing them of carrying out kidnappings, torture and executions. A United Nations-sponsored inquiry commission documented war crimes committed by these groups.
Some FSA-aligned groups have been criticized for affiliation with radical Islamists. The FSA itself was accused of summarily executing numerous prisoners it held. Moreover, the U.N. offered credible allegations against opposition groups, including the FSA, that they were recruiting children as soldiers. The FSA was also mentioned in a 2014 HWR report detailing the widespread practice of using child soldiers – just like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Most recently, Jaysh al-Islam, another “moderate” group supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the usual trio) admitted to using “forbidden” weapons against Kurdish militia in Aleppo. The group’s statement came after reports of chemical gas being used in shelling Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsood district.
The group’s “moderate” motives are hidden in its name: the Army of Islam. It is part of a wider coalition that goes with the name “the Islamic Front.” Unsurprisingly, the group aims to create an Islamic state under Sharia law – the exact same goal ISIL is trying to achieve.
In 2013, more than 50 rebel factions, operating mostly around Damascus, merged into Jaysh al-Islam, with Liwa al-Islam being the new consortium’s dominant faction – the same group that claimed responsibility for carrying out the July 2012 Damascus bombing that killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, Deputy Defense Minister Asef Shawkat and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani.
In June 2015, Jaysh al-Islam released a video of the execution of captured ISIL fighters, which looked very much like the videos released by the real Frankenstein. But, the “moderate” Frankenstein, unlike ISIL, dressed its executioners in orange prison robes, rather than their victims. And in November 2015 the group was exposed as using caged men and women as human shields in Eastern Ghouta. The people were reported to be Alevis.
Jaysh al-Islam’s founder, Zahran Alloush, once said that Alevis are “more infidel than Jews and Christians.” In July 2015, Mr. Alloush accused “international forces” of waging a media war against jihadists “such as his own Jaysh al-Islam.”
Here are your good boys – the “moderate” Frankenstein. Enjoy!