Are we Syrians the Islamic State?

Are we Syrians the Islamic State?
5 min read
12 Nov, 2014
The idea that Syrians are synonymous with the Islamic State group is gaining ground. Syrians have to prove to the world they are not.
Are these children terrorists? [Anadolu]
A disturbing video was posted online this summer showing a Lebanese man threatening Syrian children with a knife.

The children shivered in terror as he brought the knife closer to their necks, asking one after the other: "Are you the Islamic State? Who will the first to be slaughtered?"

The children all begged not to be the first to be killed.

We found out later that the children's mother had left them in the young man's care while she went to the market. The video was circulated extensively on social media and made it to TV networks around the globe.

Are we the Islamic State group? Are all Syrians IS? Are we not all accused of being IS, even though it did not emerge in Syria and entered our country by force, without our permission or active support?

We Syrians have been its most frequent victims; it has victimised few others as it has victimised us. In spite of all that, we are accused of being members of "the Islamic State", just because we are Syrian.

All Syrians are the 'Islamic State'

Why do so many Lebanese people think we are members of the terrorist organisation calling itself the Islamic State? We are known as "Daeshites" - the people from Daesh, the Arabic acronym of "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria", now better known simply as the Islamic State group, ISIS or ISIL.

Initially, the Lebanese government and a large portion of the Lebanese public welcomed our refugees with sympathy. They later came to harbour the suspicion all Syrians were terrorists or terrorists in the making.

This suspicion is so extreme that an apolitical young man found no other way of joking with young Syrian children than by threatening to slaughter them - not because they were members of IS, but because they embodied IS itself? Did the young man think that killing the Syrian children meant destroying IS? Has it come to this?

Has being Syrian - even being a terrified Syrian child -  become synonymous with being a terrorist?

     Bashar al-Asad said the revolution was a cover for fundamentalism.

I am not sure if this is an exaggeration, but I do know our image as Syrians has suffered from dangerous distortions for various reasons, among them the fact we started a revolution asking for freedom that quickly and easily transformed into an armed sectarian conflict.

This conflict was not resisted by the multitude of organisations, councils, coalitions, political parties and personalities who claimed they represented the revolution and condemned terrorism.

They believed everyone who was anti-Assad and carried a weapon must be supportive of the people and their fight for freedom. They did not change their opinion even when these groups adopted extreme sectarian ideologies and Takfiri views - regarding those who do not share their beliefs as infidels - and declared their blatant hostility to freedom, democracy, a modern Syrian state and a progressive society.

The "representatives" of the people did not fight them, nor did they question the motives of the Muslim religious leaders among them.

Fundamentalism unchallenged

They allowed the ideologically Takfiri fundamentalists to flourish and did not fight them in the media, nor did they warn of the fundamentalists' extreme views of Islam, which are radically different from its true values. They did not seek to explain to the people the contradictions of what these extremists preached compared with what true faith represents.

They avoided the issue altogether, with the excuse they did not wish to undermine unity while fighting Assad. They did this, even though the extremists declared their rejection of the ideals of the revolution in every statement they made, and persecuted those who supported it.

The official and popular religious associations, the politicians and intellectuals did not do their part. The fact that some leaders from within the revolutionary movement defended fundamentalists and refused to open the issue to discussion reinforced the impression that the revolution, as Bashar al-Assad said, was "merely a cover for fundamentalism".

Because of this evolution, it has become legitimate for us to ask, aren't we really IS?

     Some observers say almost one third of Syrians support the IS and justify its atrocities.

Some observers say almost one third of Syrians support IS and justify its atrocities. An interpretation widely accepted in the West and in many parts of the Islamic world is that the IS is a political expression of the Sunni refusal to be excluded from power.

It is a response to the abuse they have faced in Iraq and Syria, where the IS quickly grew.

According to this analysis, our "Daeshness" is not merely a local problem, it is an international one. It is important that our response is loud and clear - so that one day we won't find ourselves accused of having done more than simply accepting IS in silence, and that we are not punished for something we did not identify with, something unrelated to us.

The idea that Syrians are somehow the IS is gaining ground. We do not know what the result of this idea will be.

What can we do? 

If we really do not want to be the IS, it is not enough to fight against it, we need to deny we belong to it or simply oppose every manifestation of it and its ideology.

It is vital for us to take the initiative and convince the world we are doing all we can to resist terrorism. We need to strip the IS of its ideological justification, destroy the ideologies from which it draws its succor - from the fundamental and religious to those modern ideologies connected with the murderous "progressive", "revolutionary" and secular systems such as the Syrian regime.

Are we, as a political and military power in the national coalition and as an opposition, able to achieve this? If we do not , will we then be "Daeshites" implicated in the IS by the very fact of our existence as Syrians?

So many times we kept quiet about it, so many of us sympathised with it, because in some way it represented both us and the extremists, no matter how much we tried to deny it.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.