MESOP Opinion: It is time to take a stand / Michel Kilo

2-1-2014 – Al Sharq al Awsat – The Syrian situation is deteriorating quickly, for reasons that include the intervention of strangers in the conflict, an intervention which was not desired by the Syrian people, who were seeking to deliver their demands to the president, demands for freedom after 50 years of Assad’s Ba’athist oppression.

The irony is that the deterioration of the situation is not caused by the shortage in numbers of those who are fighting the regime, but by the foreign fighters who entered our country and fundamentally changed the identity of the revolution with their extremist beliefs and extreme cruelty, which has persuaded many people who were demanding freedom that the Assad regime was better than the revolution.

This is because the rise of the extremists will lead to a rule by parties which claim to be Islamists, which promises people nothing more than murder and mayhem if they rejected their rule, which they say will be an Islamic caliphate. This is despite the fact that those who will rule will be strangers to the Syrian people and deny them their rights, just like they were denied by the eras of decay which Arabs and Muslims have endured.

I will go ahead and name the party I am talking about: it is the fundamentalist group which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Its Baghdad-born Iraqi leader announced the abolition of the Syrian national state, and its replacement with an entity with no identity, which is no more than a vague fundamentalist entity that is trying to take the title of a state. It is not a state by any measure, and not Islamist by any true standard. It is also not established yet, whether in Iraq or Syria, and one of its first achievements was to impose a punishment of 70 lashes against anyone who did not mention it by its correct title, or called it by the acronym “ISIS.”

This entity is tasked with destroying the revolution physically by killing freedom fighters, and morally by smearing the spirit and letter of Islam, and by taking actions which are totally inconsistent with Islam’s tolerance and acceptance of others, its moderation, and its constructive, civilized message.

The leaders of ISIS received their education and ideological upbringing in one of the Islamic world’s most deprived areas, speaking in spiritual and religious terms. Throughout the modern era, it has denied debate on Islam’s tradition of moderation, and adopted the worldview which refuses to recognize that current, existing Islamic societies are actually Muslim and refuses to accept Muslims who reject their ideology and theories of governance. Instead, it focuses on the “ignorance” of our societies and the inevitability of the Islamization of Muslims—according to their narrow understanding—and leading Muslims into an inevitable civil war after designating the majority of them as ignorant people who deserve to be killed.

Indeed, the followers of this movement did not leave undone a single deed harmful to Islam and well-suited to making the Assad regime look good in comparison. The coming days will show that they have killed more Syrian Muslims than those killed by the regime in the areas under their control, areas which were liberated by the Free Syrian Army only for ISIS to take them over and establish a regime which is more authoritarian and brutal than Assad’s.

This situation not only threatens Syria and its revolution, it also threatens the Islamic faith and the world. It threatens Muslims, both as individually and collectively, and threatens to end God’s gift of unity between all faithful, taking us back to the dark ages which were awash with the blood of innocents, whose needless killing was forbidden by God.

Today, ISIS kills individuals and groups using fatwas which God had nothing to do with, like the one issued by one of their scholars after he was asked about the ruling on the killer of an innocent person. The ISIS scholar replied: “He will receive his dues from God because he killed his victim believing he was guilty, but God rewarded him because He knows he is innocent, and therefore, the mujahid receives his reward because he helped the victim receive God’s justice.” This judgment is nothing but an open invitation to kill people indiscriminately, in the name of a religion which forbade killing and raised the status of a human being, making him God’s successor on earth.

Staying silent on these judgements is no longer possible. A stance by our religious scholars and clerics must be taken to uncover the aggression of these extremists against the righteous religion which God bestowed on us as Arabs and Muslims. Otherwise, we will fall victims to our ignorance and regret it when it is too late, when the oppression of Assad has been replaced with the darkness and oppression of his agents, who fight the Free Syrian Army and kill the best of its men, and assault those who originally organized the revolution, deluding themselves that they can cover their crimes by hiding behind a religion which has always condemned their kind.

The defenders of Islam’s moderation and its respect for humans and their dignity must speak loudly against the distortion practised by the murderers of ISIS, who kill Muslims and other believers under the guise of a religion which was brought forth by God to protect them.