Historical Roots of Syrian Jihadism… Its Reflection on Revolution

The last decade in Syria removed the coverage from many issues that were being dealt with as if they were postulates, whether at the intellectual level of research, or at the level of political reality and societal interaction with it. These postulates shaped the system of general thinking and the prevailing discourse system according to the expression of Michel Foucault, the famous French philosopher. They played a fundamental role in this tragic situation that Syria has reached and prevented seeing the Syrian reality as it is, but as desired by those behind the management of these systems of thought and discourse.

The mirror of this painful decade revealed how Syrian society embraces vast and multiple jihadist and Salafist currents, with diverse affiliations, loyalties and schools, in addition to sectarian, religious, ethnic, class and clan divisions to the extent that one wonders about the effects of modernity that have long been praised. While the authority revealed its true face and its readiness to commit the most heinous crimes and severe violations in the name of modernity and secularism once again, in order to preserve power. Until currents, parties and elites revealed an intellectual and modern vacuum, as if modernity has been just a cover for what remained latent in the depths of sectarian, clan and religious affiliations, so to eventually be faced with fundamental questions, including

Where did these jihadist currents in Syria originate? Where was it lurking? Is it new to the Syrian social fabric, or an authentic component? What are the deep and generative roots of it, whether they are original or new? What role for power in this? Where is the discourse of modernity that has been proposed on the Syrian and other scenes for at least half a century?

However, before moving on to the issue of observing and understanding how jihadist Islam arose in Syria, it must be said that the discourses of modernity and religion that we referred to above are politically torn between the authority and its opposition. Which reveals to us the presence of multiple discourses within each of them, a discourse determined by its position of authority, so that it can be said that there is an authoritarian religious discourse, an opposition religious discourse, and a neutral religious discourse, or it seeks to be neutral, and the same applies to the discourse of modernity.

Since the reform issue was raised in the Ottoman Sultanate and as a result of missionary missions in the Arab region and friction with the West through educational missions, and the advancement of the national bond at the expense of the religious bond, in the Arab region, including the Syrian/ Damascene countries, which were at that time part of the Ottoman Empire, calls for reform and the adoption of modern and Western values began to appear, with the aim of proving oneself in front of the other and striving to enter the modern era that revealed the obsolescence of the Ottoman Sultanate institutions that were resisting its upcoming collapse.

Within this context, we can say that two new currents have begun (and each one has a new discourse) in the Arab region, the first of which belongs to city dwellers and owners who embraced the national and modernist call, and the second is coming from traditional religious institutions that were blown by the winds of the age and sought to belong to them.

Within this context, many associations were formed, some of a modernist secular political nature, and some of a purely social charitable religious nature, but also reformist. Here the first and second discourses came to constitute a departure from the discourse of the Ottoman authority, which was going through a moment of vibration, fragmentation and conflicts within its wings between the old and the modern, the reform and its opposition. Which allowed the prevailing discourses to exploit this vacuum within the authority on the one hand, and the empire’s political and military weakness, which weakened its ability to impose its discourse, which began to recede in the face of the modernity, change, and the coming nationalism that heralded a better future.

Within this context, a new religious Salafist current call for reform arose in the second half of the nineteenth century. This current was manifested in a number of religious associations and clerics who had a vision contrary to the prevailing view, including, the Makassed Charitable Society and the circle of Abdul Razzaq al-Bitar and Jamal al-Din Qasimi, which included a number of reformist scholars and sheikhs of Damascus who “gathered to read the hadith and seek evidence for the sayings of the jurists.”This matter was opposed by the Ottoman authority and called for the trial of the two sheikhs in the Sharia Court in Damascus in 1896 on charges of ijtihad

But the collapse of the Ottoman Sultanate and the advent of the French and British colonizers, and reneged their promises to Sharif Hussein, who led the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, led to a reaction in the eastern societies towards this religiously different colonizer. A reaction in which religion overlapped with the resistance discourse, which is understandable and expected in these cases.

It was also formed, and motivated by the new political transformations and tasks that presented themselves during the period of French colonialism, many religious and charitable associations aiming to preserve the society’s religion and customs for fear of the coming colonial invasion and seeking to distort religion according to their vision of course.

However, while the deep structure of religious discourse remains the same, i.e. the process of producing meaning has not been affected by any change, and the change was only at the level of the political discourse that expressed the interests of the organizers of these associations, which intersected or contradicted the political discourse that also sought to benefit from the popularity of these associations in the political framework.

Since the unity era and the advent of the Baath to power, a new relationship began to form between religion and authority in Syrian society, where the authority, which built its apparent political legitimacy on Arab nationalism and the vocabulary of modernity away from religion, began to enter into a clear and deep conflict with the authorities and religious associations that have a prominent role on the Syrian street. It is a political, economic, social and class struggle in the depth, even if the matter is hidden under the duality of modernity/ancient, because in depth it is the result of all of that. Especially after the authorities worked on the absolute domination of society, and began to strip religious associations of their institutions and sources of funding, for fear of being used against them.

As a result of this authoritarian Baathist policy from the end of the fifties of the last century until the eighties of the last century, a conflict erupted with clear features which escalated between the supporters of “modernity” represented by the national authority and some parties that stood by modernity or were opposing it, and representatives of the old current with some of the “modernists” who They stood by the religious currents against the authority.

This shows us that the position of authority was what governed these alliances, not the ideological position. When we say “supporters of modernity,” we do not mean a deep-rooted modernity, but rather a formal modernity that apparently raised the slogan of secularism and modernization, while it remained in depth belonging to pre-modernity and its vocabulary.

Thus, we know in practice that the Syrian base was under control during the years of Assad’s Baathist tyranny, due to oppression and tyranny. Not because it is a moderate and acceptable Islam as was promoted by the authority, especially with regard to Islam of rural, which differs in general and historically from Islam of urban, and the role of rural Islam in embracing jihadist Salafism and interact with it!

That is why, in the end, we found how, after the weakened of the Syrian authority, extremist and jihadist discourses began to appear themselves.

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