Tahrir al-Sham will not be subdued by the destruction of Idlib over the heads of its inhabitants, or by the sacrifice of millions of civilians. As Russia and Assad tighten the noose, we need to realise that the war on terror cannot be won by outdoing terrorists in the slaughter of civilians, argues Burhan Ghalioun, former SNC chairman.

The Idlib offensive

Nourishing Syria’s terrorist tree

Tahrir al-Sham will not be subdued by the destruction of Idlib over the heads of its inhabitants, or by the sacrifice of millions of civilians. As Russia and Assad tighten the noose, we need to realise that the war on terror cannot be won by outdoing terrorists in the slaughter of civilians, argues Burhan Ghalioun, former SNC chairman

In the wake of the brutal defeats of the extremist Takfiri organisations, the leaders of Daʹesh, Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaida simultaneously issued a statement declaring that they would continue the sabotage operations that they have been conducting for the past few years in the Arab world.

These violent groups helped to consolidate sectarian rule in Baghdad and this became the pretext for Arab and global public opinion to turn against the popular uprising in Syria and against the movement towards democracy across the Arab region. These groups also played an important role in cultivating fear among the powers that be of any political change or transition in the Middle East.

Similarly, they spread the fear that the internal wars which are tearing populations apart will drag on, just as calls will continue for foreign intervention in the war against terror. The threat they pose to any movement for change or progress, not to mention to the geo-political and demographic map of the region is considerable.

Allies of the Arab anti-revolutionary coalition

Whilst there is no proof that these groups were set up directly by security agencies in different countries, either as a means of justifying their actions or merely with the idea of benefitting from them, no-one can deny that they have served as an ally, legitimately or otherwise, of the anti-revolutionary coalition. They are a dagger in the back of movements for popular and democratic change in the Arab world.

Used as a pretext by West and East to block Arabs on their path to freedom, democracy, peace and progress: “after all the ʹdeadlyʹ attacks the Russians and Americans have launched against them, these terrorist groups are still daring to threaten everyone, because they can see the failure of those states fighting against them to achieve fair and lasting solutions in the region. In Syria, they have been left considerable room for manoeuvre,” writes former SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun

Whether as a result of converging interests in the destruction of existing states, in the instigation of chaos and despair, or because regional and international security agencies have succeeded in penetrating their ranks, this fact changes nothing. For sure, the agencies were in broad agreement with the plans and strategies deployed by these groups to counter revolutionary change.

Neither the Western nor Eastern states are innocent; they both use these groups as a pretext to block Arabs on their path to freedom, democracy, peace and progress. With their imposition of colonial policies, they have showed utter disregard for the interests of nations and peoples; they have supported tyranny, imposed unjust governments and defended them from their blunders and their crimes. A glaring example of this is the Assad government: a poisonous plant that grew and flourished in this fetid swamp.

If these terrorist groups still dare to threaten everyone, after all the “deadly” attacks against them launched by the Russians and the Americans, it is because they can see the failure of the states which claimed to be fighting against them to achieve fair and lasting solutions in the region. And in a Syria which is currently aflame, they have been left considerable room for manoeuvre, to catch their breath and to resume their ongoing war. Indeed, these violent organisations exist in a state of war and feed off it.

No regard for the inhabitants of Idlib

The struggle between states for control, to establish spheres of influence is the main reason for the ongoing war in the region today. Smaller states and their peoples are undermined by bigger states abandoning their international obligations, ignoring UN resolutions and turning international legitimacy into empty rhetoric. Likewise, they rob of all meaning the concepts of international law, human solidarity and hope for a future free of tyranny, slavery and war.

This analysis is particularly important today, in light of the expected campaign in the province of Idlib, where the Russians, and their proxy, Bashar al-Assad, are looking for any excuse to attack and take control, without regard for the disastrous consequences for the inhabitants of Idlib, or for the neighbouring countries threatened with the arrival of millions of new refugees. Or maybe this is what prompts them.

Meanwhile the extremist groups are gnashing their teeth, believing that Idlib will present the opportunity to inflict a political and psychological defeat, if not also a military one, and thus to redress the balance and to restore strategic credibility. To achieve this “victory”, they will use civilians as human shields, either threatening to kill them or making them flee their government adversary.

Former chairman of the Syrian opposition Transitional National Council, Burhan Ghalioun: “the breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism will not be shrunk by ignoring real problems, denying legitimate demands, manipulating a few opportunistic elites, or by persisting on resolving the struggle for power and resources by military force”

Terror begets terror

To counter terror and outdo the extremist groups by killing even more civilians is no solution, as we have seen in recent years. Entire cities and governorates were sacrificed in order to force “Daʹesh” and its ilk to move on. Sometimes they were transported in official Russian and non-Russian buses, some of them even air-conditioned, from one governorate to another. In Suweida only this month, they were used to put pressure on the civilian population, by targeting hundreds of civilian casualties.

The war on terror cannot be won by trying to outdo terrorists in the slaughter of civilians. On the contrary, this is what nourishes the terrorist tree and strengthens their ranks. It creates the environment, the source of hatred and the lust for revenge, which they need to justify their heinous deeds.

Terror cannot be fought by using it to address unrelated agendas, such as to put down popular uprisings or the normal protests of the marginalised, those without hope or those fearful of the future. Terror cannot be fought by terrorist means, by turning the state into a gang and its security and military institutions into counter-terrorist militias. To do so undermines the state and deprives it of its legal and moral status, possibly irreversibly; it also leads to the dispossession of millions.

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