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Andrew G. Bostom

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December 24, 2012 - 6:40 am
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Following significant military successes and diplomatic gains by Syria’s anti-Bashar Assad Sunni Muslim insurgency over recent weeks, Moscow, a key Assad regime ally, announced Tuesday 12/18/12 its preparations for an evacuation of Russian citizens living in Syria.

While the Assad regime’s ruling Alawite minority sect retained a firm hold on their indigenous base in the coastal Syrian provinces, the predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have seized the northern and eastern border zones, near Turkey and Iraq, respectively, and dominate wide swathes of rural Syria. The continued rebel assault is even advancing on Assad’s seat of power, Damascus, near the western frontier of Lebanon, having just seized the pro-Assad Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, on the southern edge of the Syrian capital.

By Wednesday, the rebels had reportedly captured at least six towns in the central Hama governorate (Latamneh, Helfaya, Kfar Naboudah, Hasraya, Tibat al-Imn, and Kfar Zita), with skirmishes erupting in the city of Hama itself. As of Friday, the Sunni insurgents were besieging Morek, an Alawite stronghold in Hama governorate, a province which contains dozens of Alawite and Christian villages among Sunni towns, igniting fears of increased sectarian violence.

During an interview with Barbara Walters on December 11, President Obama announced the U.S. would formally recognize the recently established Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces (SNCROF), an umbrella group seeking to depose Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Obama extolled the SNCROF for its inclusiveness, allegedly being open to various ethnic and religious groups, and bonds to local councils participating in the fight against Assad’s security forces.  He opined:

At this point we have a well-organized-enough coalition — opposition coalition that is representative — that we can recognize them as the legitimate representative of Syrian people.

Independent analysts sympathetic to the anti-Assad forces, have concluded that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood remains the dominant force in SNCROF, as it had been in the earlier Syrian National Council opposition front. London-based Syrian journalist Malik Al-Abdeh noted:

The Muslim Brotherhood seems to be in the dominant position … However, the West feels compelled now to legitimize the Syrian opposition in whatever guise it may take, simply because of the fast pace of events on the ground in Syria.

Andrew Tabler, cofounder and former editor-in-chief of Syria Today, maintained: “The [Muslim Brotherhood-dominated] SNC [Syrian National Council] is still a major player.” Tabler also expressed this ominous concern:

And that’s just the civil end. The armed groups within the country are not included in this coalition directly. How is that going to work?

Apropos to Tabler’s worry and concurrent with President Obama’s recognition of SNCROF on December 11, the U.S. State Department designated the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization, amending the 2004 designation of al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq (AQISI), and declaring there was “sufficient factual basis” to conclude AQISI, under the guise of Jabhat al-Nusra, was operating in Syria. Justifying the designation, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated the group had claimed responsibility for almost 600 attacks in several cities during the past year, including homicide bombings, which had caused the deaths of “numerous innocent Syrians.” She added:

[Al Nusra] has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI [i.e., AQISI, Al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq] to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes.

Public Syrian denunciations of the State Department’s formal labeling of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist group were swift and often fierce, running the gamut from the Syrian opposition website Sooryoon.net, and the mass vox populi demonstrations of anti-Assad Syrian civilian populations,  to the SNCROF leadership itself (including comments by SNCROF’s anti-Western, antisemitic, titular leader, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib).

Anticipating the State Department’s 12/11/12 designation of Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorists, Sooryoon.net had posted articles (on December 6 and 7, 2012) which recognized Jabhat Al-Nusra’s efforts in damaging Assad’s regime, while objecting to the motives of the (then) looming U.S. action. Sooryoon.net claimed the U.S. sought to blunt the burgeoning support and gratitude Jabhat Al-Nusra has garnered among the Syrians. Moreover, regarding Jabhat Al-Nusra’s avowed goal of establishing a strictly Sharia-compliant Islamic state following removal of the Assad regime, the Syrian opposition website insisted there was “nothing wrong” with this openly proclaimed aspiration, acknowledging it was shared by multitudes of Syrians, especially members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Sooryoon.net also warned the SNC/SNCROF leadership not to accept Jabhat Al-Nusra’s terrorist designation, while urging vigorous opposition to the U.S. action, and encouraging FSA leaders and members, and all Syrians, to declare their solidarity with Jabhat Al-Nusra. By December 11, Sooryoon.net cautioned the U.S. against intensifying its hostility toward Jabhat Al-Nusra, adding such measures would be counterproductive at any rate, and would swell the jihadist group’s popularity among the Syrian Muslim masses. The website further chastised the U.S. for allegedly missing opportunities to be effectively involved in Syria, and even forewarning that any direct U.S. commitment now would transform the country into an American graveyard.

Sooryoon.net’s rallying cry was amplified by social media outlets which called upon Syrians to participate in Jabhat Al-Nusra solidarity rallies on December 14, organized around the slogan: “No to American Involvement [in Syria] — We Are All Jabhat Al-Nusra.” Heeding such admonitions, thousands of Syrians took to the streets decrying the U.S. for blacklisting Jabhat Al-Nusra, holding aloft slogans which proclaimed: “There is no terrorism in Syria except that of Assad.” Demonstrators in the Eastern Ghuta region on the outskirts of Damascus, subjected to regular air raids by the Assad regime army, held up a sign reading: “Thank you to all the ‘terrorists’ in Syria who are fighting Assad. We are all Al-Nusra Front.” Al-Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr interviewed a participant at a Jabhat Al-Nusra solidarity rally in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, who asserted:

We want Sharia law, and no peace with Israel. They [the Free Syrian Army] shouldn’t compromise and fall under the West’s influence.

And holding aloft the well-recognized black flag of jihadists (with the Islamic confession of faith, or “shehada”, inscribed) demonstrators supporting Jabhat Al-Nusra in Daraa, southwestern Syria, near the Jordanian border (as captured in video posted on December 14, 2012), chanted:

Obama, there is no terrorism in Syria. Obama, there is no terrorism in Syria.

Obama, there is no terrorism in Syria. Obama, there is no terrorism in Syria.

Obama, the army is the terrorist. Obama, the army is the terrorist. Obama, the army is the terrorist. Obama, the army is the terrorist. Obama, the army is the terrorist. Obama, the army is the terrorist.

Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria. Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria.

Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria. Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria.

Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria. Oh world, there is no terrorism in Syria.

Oh [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, we love you to death.  Oh [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, we love you to death.

Oh [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, we love you to death. Oh [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, we love you to death.

Most significantly, echoing these vox populi denunciations, on December 12 Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood — whose Syrian National Council dominates the newly created, American-endorsed SNCROF — issued a statement objecting vociferously to the US terrorist designation for Jabhat al-Nusra:

We in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria believe that some states’ decision to add revolutionary movements [i.e., Jabhat al-Nusra] in Syria to their lists of terrorist organisations was a hurried, wrong move that should be condemned … [and] contradicts the idea of supporting the project of freedom and human dignity … The first and only terrorist on Syrian territory is Bashar al-Assad and his criminal gangs. Assad is the one who has used weapons that are forbidden under international law, bombarding innocent civilians…(and) slaughtering hundreds of women and children.

Farouk Tayfour [Tayfur], deputy comptroller general of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the deputy chairman of the Syrian National Council reiterated this view in a Reuters interview:

The designation is very wrong and too hasty. I think it is too early to categorise people inside Syria this way, considering the chaos and the grey atmosphere in the country.

A May 1, 2012 report by investigative journalist John Rosenthal highlighted that the so-called Friends of Syria — notably the U.S. — had recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) as “a legitimate representative of all Syrians” at an April 1, 2012 meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. Rosenthal added:

U.S. State Department statements both before and after the Istanbul meeting leave no doubt that the Obama administration treats the SNC as its principal Syrian interlocutor. The SNC is also the presumptive recipient or at least conduit of the aid that the Obama administration has pledged to the Syrian opposition…[According to] Belgian Syria expert Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh… the Muslim Brotherhood controls the council’s “commission on humanitarian aid” and thereby the distribution of SNC funds in Syria.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Istanbul with SNC representatives during the April 2012 Friends of Syria event. Immediately thereafter, she praised the SNC for “working hard to organize different Syrians behind a unified approach,” promising “there will be more assistance of all kinds for the Syrian National Council.”

Hillary Clinton’s April 1, 2012 statements, and President Obama’s December 11, 2012 pronouncements, are pathognomonic of how contemporary American policymakers (and Syria analysts) willfully ignore the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Weltanschauung — a toxic amalgam of Sharia supremacism, anti-Westernism, and Jew- and other “infidel” hatred — continuously reaffirmed over six decades. Thus, despite the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood-controlled SNC having morphed into the SNC/ Syrian Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SNCROF, both “Syrian rebel” entities are recognized and supported by America.

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood “Hama Rulers”

A Carnegie Endowment biographical sketch of current Syrian Muslim Brotherhood deputy comptroller and SNC deputy chairman Mohammed Farouk Tayfour maintains that he is the Brotherhood’s “most influential organizational and political figure,” adding: “Tayfour is one of a triumvirate of Hama natives who now hold the reins of power within the Brotherhood.”

Hama (2011 census, 698,928), is Syria’s fourth-largest city after Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs. The provincial capital of the Hama Governorate, Hama is situated on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria, (132 miles) north of Damascus.

Itzchak Weismann’s 1993 analysis of Hama [Hamah] native and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Said Hawwa noted that there were four families — including the Tayfur [Tayfour] family –“whose rule in both the city and its villages was almost absolute.” Accordingly, “[n]inety-two out of 114 villages of the district belonged to them … [i.e.,]the members of the large families who would represent Hamah in the nationalist movement and parliament.” Five decades earlier, Robin Fedden’s Syria: An Historical Appreciation (London, 1947, pp.221-222) captured the combined effects of  the “terrifying power” of zealous Islamic communalism, and class hierarchy — “faith and feudalism” — so evident during his mid-1940s visit to Hamah:

Islam colours its temper, and there can be few places outside the Holy Cities of Arabia where the Faith has remained so aggressive and fanatic. As in the eighteenth century, the Muslim is ipso facto the master and the Christian dog exists on sufferance. As for Jews, not one is allowed in the town. [emphases added] Faith prohibits the sale of alcoholic drinks in hotels and public places … All the women are veiled with the greatest strictness … Even the Syrian Christians adopt a protective mimicry, veiling their women and assuming a Muslim pose whenever they can, while the sisters of the Sacré Coeur are obliged to tuck their crucifixes out of sight when they go abroad. The mosques are always crowded at prayer time and the movement of the suks seems to overflow into them spontaneously. Faith intrudes even on merchandising … There are times when the intensity of the town’s belief seems to excuse all that it involves of intolerance and prejudice.

The Great Mosque … is the focus of Hama’s life. It is built upon the site of an earlier Byzantine basilica [church]. The carved lintel and capitals of what was once presumably the west door of the church are particularly fine … That even such stone reminiscences should remain is recognizably fortuitous where the tide of Islam runs so strongly and so deep. These stones are merely debris, incorporated into a now Muslim wall, and its at Hama that the stranger understands better than elsewhere in the country what must have been the initial force which overspread half the Byzantine Empire and submerged all ancient Syria. The terrifying power of belief, and the absolute demands it makes upon passions and energies, good or bad, remain very evident in this lovely and aggressive pocket in the plains. It is the spirit of the Islamic past that moves in the narrow streets…

In such a setting of faith and feudalism it is not surprising that the population should be notoriously farouche [sullen; recalcitrant], hostile not only to the European, but even to the neighbouring inhabitants of Homs, and indeed to all ideas and persons unfamiliar. Their mood is expressed in sudden violences and rash riots … Prior to 1932 disturbances closed the Hama suks twenty-one times in three years, and the same sporadic unpredictable outbreaks still occur. It is a place of fanatical certainties and uncertain passions which it is difficult for the western mind to comprehend.

Richard Mitchell’s seminal analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s advent, and formative initial quarter century, concludes that by its fifth general conference (in 1939), the Brotherhood had produced an ideology based on three traditionalist, “insistent” Islamic pillars:

(1) Islam as a total system, complete unto itself, and the final arbiter of life in all its categories; (2) an Islam formulated from and based on its two primary sources, the revelation in the Qur’an and the wisdom of the Prophet in the Sunna; and (3) an Islam applicable to all times and all places.

Mitchell adds that Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna defined the movement’s scope within this framework as “a Salafiyya message, a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organization, an athletic group, a cultural-educational union, an economic company, and a social idea.”

Hama came to embody the “Salafi-Sufi” synthesis in harmony with al-Banna’s vision, due to the efforts of Sheikh Muhammad al-Hamid (1910-1969), a (Naqshbandi) Sufi adept, and founding member of Hama’s Muslim Brotherhood branch. Al-Hamid was educated at Al-Azhar University in Egypt where he first met his fellow student and eventual founder of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syrian affiliate, Mustafa al-Sibai. A close associate of Hasan al-Banna, al-Hamid committed himself to political activity following his return to Hama in 1942, taking an active part in fomenting the jihad against the French via sermons delivered from the minbar of Hama’s Sultan mosque. (He personally hung the flag of independence on the barracks of the jihadist garrison in Hama upon victory). Shortly afterward, consumed by the jihad against the Jews of Palestine, al-Hamid devoted many sermons to the matter, arguing the only solution was the Jews’ forcible removal. (Urgent appeals from local ulama [Muslim religious leaders] to remain in Hama prevented him from joining the battle.)

Said Hawwa, the Hama Muslim Brotherhood ideological leader, renowned for his struggles against the Syrian Baathists, acknowledged al-Hamid’s earlier profound contribution to Hama’s post-independence Brotherhood environment:

[Sheikh al-Hamid] molded his town Hamah in such a way that he made it capable of every good. From here there emerged in Hamah a generation that is an example of how the people all over the Muslim world should be … [H]e educated his brothers to adhere to the Scriptures, to respect the religious scholars and the jurists, and to follow the Sufis while adhering to the Scriptures and to the precepts of the Law. He educated his brothers to love Hasan al-Banna, to love the Muslim Brothers, and to love all Muslims …

The Muslim Brotherhood formed the core of the opposition to secular and socialist Baath party rule of Syria, beginning in 1963. Syrian ulama and the Muslim Brotherhood rejected even the somewhat more permissive and pragmatic rule of Hafiz al-Assad, starting in 1970, given that he was from Syria’s minority non-Sunni, heterodox Muslim Alawite community. Not surprisingly, Hama was the hub of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition to the Baath, which intensified under Hafiz al-Assad’s reign during the latter half of the 1970s, culminating in the mass uprising of 1982, and its brutal, murderous suppression.  Pace Farouk Tayfour’s recent bowdlerized appraisal during a January, 2012 interview with Al-Hayat, the Muslim Brotherhood bears responsibility for precipitating the catastrophic events that concluded with the disproportionate, wantonly destructive, and bloody carnage Hafiz al-Assad’s regime wrought upon Hama in 1982.

David Kenner published a re-capitulation of the events leading to the 1982 Hama uprising on the thirtieth anniversary of their convulsive resolution. Kenner’s essay opens with this chilling anecdote:

It was a massacre. On June 16, 1979, Capt. Ibrahim Yusuf ordered some 200 cadets at the Aleppo Artillery School to attend an urgent meeting in the mess hall. Once they were assembled, he opened the door to a squad of gunmen who opened fire on the defenseless crowd. At least 32 cadets, most belonging to then President Hafez al-Assad’s Alawite sect, were cut down in the hail of gunfire and grenades.

Kenner acknowledges that opposition to the Hafiz al-Assad regime was expressed by non-violent means as well, and the Syrian military engaged in violence “that far exceeded anything that the Sunni insurgents could muster.” However, Kenner also argues that the Muslim Brotherhood-animated Sunni revolt created “sharp and unbridgeable sectarian rifts” stressing the Alawite-led Syrian regime to the point where it was “virtually impossible for the Alawite ruling class to do anything but fight to the death.”

Escalating their terror campaign in Damascus during 1981 — a response to Assad’s bloody reprisal (i.e., gunning down at least 500 Muslim Brotherhood jihadists imprisoned in Tadmor prison) for a failed assassination attempt against him — Kenner notes:

… they [the Muslim Brotherhood Sunni insurgents] bombed the prime minister’s office in August, the Air Force headquarters in September, and a military recruitment center in November. In February 1982, the “Islamic Revolution Command in Syria” claimed credit for bombing the Damascus offices of the regime’s al-Baath newspaper, killing at least 76 people. “It was a great accomplishment to be added to the series of tremendous explosions carried out by the mujahidin,” the statement read. “We draw attention to the fact that all the Syrian information media are nationalized and that the explosion was timed for all the authority’s hirelings to be present.”

The Assad regime’s final crushing assault on Hama took place after the city rose in open revolt during February 1982, punctuated by a Muslim Brotherhood jihad terror attack:

During the night of 2-3 February 1982, a group of 150-200 armed men moved into Hamah under the command of Umar Jawad, local head of the organization of the Brothers, better known by the name of Abu Bakr [the first “Rightly Guided” Caliph of Islam]. The watchword was to attack the main political officials affiliated to the government, including cadres of the Baath Party, senior administrators and military heads. Exactions were committed by members of the commando and reference has been made to a dozen Baath cadres assassinated in their homes with their wives and children. In addition, the liquidation of clerics who had publicly condemned the crimes of the Tali a al-muqatila (fighting vanguard), the armed wing of the Muslim Brothers in Syria, was reported. In all, 90 people were killed. The high command of the Muslim Brotherhood declared in a communiqué that Hamah was regarded as a liberated city and urged the population to rise up against the infidels.

Although the press office of the Muslim Brotherhood insisted that in the fighting which occurred between February 2 and 22, 1982, the Syrian regime’s armed forces lost 3,412 men, while a further 5,000 were wounded, the final confrontation between Assad’s Brotherhood opponents and over 10,000 well-equipped Syrian security forces, was, as Kenner observes, “a battle the Sunni insurgents could not hope to win.” According to an Amnesty International inquiry from November, 1983  the Hama massacre, claimed the lives of anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 Syrians. Kenner notes, that while the massacre, “may have permanently stained the reputation of the Assad dynasty in the eyes of the world,” he concludes appositely:

 … it also crushed the organized Islamist insurgency in Syria and paved the way for three more decades of relatively unchallenged rule by the Assads.

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