News / Middle East

Jihadists and Islamists Clash in Syria

Jihadist fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra group take up positions in Aleppo during a battle against Syrian government forces December 24,2012. Al-Nusra fighters are also accused of clashes with other anti-government rebels.
Jihadist fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra group take up positions in Aleppo during a battle against Syrian government forces December 24,2012. Al-Nusra fighters are also accused of clashes with other anti-government rebels.
The gunmen came for Syrian Islamist rebel commander Thaer al-Waqqas riding in a battered white car.  As they arrived, he was shouting orders at a food supply depot in the town of Sermin, a few kilometers from the border with Turkey. He had no time to defend himself as the gunmen got out of the car and riddled him with bullets.
 
The killing of the northern commander of one of Syria’s largest rebel groups wasn’t carried out by gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but by men supposedly on the rebel side in the nearly two-year-long Syrian civil war.
 
No one has taken responsibility for the Waqqas’ killing on January 9, but the men of al-Farouq Brigade, the rebel group he led, have no doubt that the gunmen were fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra. This is the Jihadist group that has grown rapidly since its formation a year ago and is now one of the most effective rebel forces fighting to oust Assad. 
 
War within a war
 
The killing underscores not only the worsening divisions between rebel groups, say diplomats and Middle East experts. It also foreshadows a civil war within the civil war and highlights the growing rift in the region between Islamists and Jihadists. The fear is that the fighting among the rival rebel factions will get worse.
 
Western media often do not distinguish between Islamists and Jihadists, seeing them as interchangeable. Both groups subscribe to political Islam, believing that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life. In the past, Islamists and Jihadists have often made common cause, drawn together to defend what they see as the interests of their religion against their own rulers and the largely secular West.
 
They both adhere to strict interpretations of the Koran and tend to be Salafist – Muslims who stress the importance of following the examples set by the Prophet Mohamed and the earliest Muslims. 
 
Michael Rubin, a former Bush administration official and now a scholar at the Washington D.C.-based think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, says Islamists and Jihadists were aligned most strongly before the so-called Arab Spring uprisings began two years ago. They united against those they considered despots and other, more secular rulers such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, all of whom turned their backs on Islamic fundamentalism.

Jostling for power

But tensions are increasing between the two groups now as they jostle for power and disagree over how to govern. Egyptian liberals may see the country’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, as rigid and condemn him for ushering in a constitution they consider too Islamist and undemocratic. But for Jihadists, Morsi is making too many compromises and they reject his readiness to continue honoring the peace treaty with Israel.
 
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
x
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
“This is a battle within Islam for the right to interpret the Koran and the primary dispute is over individual liberty versus collective identity,” Rubin says. He adds, however, that as Islamists take power in Arab Spring nations, they are being forced to deal with very practical issues and day-to-day demands that often require compromises they are reluctant to consider.
 
“If you are truly a Jihadist you believe you have a monopoly on the truth and the truth is God-given,” Rubin says.
 
It isn’t clear what provoked Jihadist gunmen to kill Waqqas. Some rebels say it was in retaliation for the murder four-months ago of an al-Nusra leader. Whatever the cause, the rivalry in northern Syria is growing rapidly between jihadists and the Islamist rebel brigades, such as Farouq, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Not only in Syria
 
Disputes between the Islamists and jihadists also have sharpened elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. Last September, jihadists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. That attack earned the sharp reproof of horrified Islamist politicians.
 
Unnoticed in much of the media coverage of the Benghazi attack was that Libyans trying to protect the U.S. installations were from the Islamist-based militia, the February 17th brigade.
 
Libyan Islamists in the new government also have resisted a jihadist campaign to rid the country of all landmarks of Sufi Islam. The jihadists consider Sufism heretical and idolatrous.
 
Omar Ashour, a professor at Britain's University of Exeter, says rivalry between Islamists and Jihadists goes back to well before the Arab Spring.  “This rivalry has been there for four decades, from the late 1960s onwards.”  

As Ashour sees it, the dispute is “between the ones who say armed tactics are the most effective and legitimate means for social change and those who doubt its effectiveness or legitimacy.”

He points to a sharp disagreement between the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a spin-off group, the Fighting Vanguard, who fought an insurgency between 1976 and 1982 against Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez. “You also saw violent clashes between Jihadists and Islamists in Algeria and in Egypt in the 1980s,” he says.

Ashour says the rivalry has intensified. “In the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions this rivalry has come to the fore. The Islamists have a unique opportunity to make measured changes.”

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Remain Engaged in Afghan Peace Talks

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Daniel Feldman recently met with Pakistani and Afghan officials as talks were disrupted by news of Taliban chief Mullah Omar's death More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sir Percy from: USA
February 19, 2013 10:23 PM
USA and Europeans cannot justify to support these people for regime change against Assad who accepts Muslims and Christians alike and is willing to cede more power to Sunnis.
They will not help USA or Israel.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs