Jabhat Fath Shaam and the balance between harms

A comprehensive evaluation and analysis of events
 Everyone has read or heard about the conflict between Jabhat Fath Shaam and Jaysh Al-Mujahideen primarily, in addition to several other factions. We will try to explore this issue in some detail while referring to the statement published by Jabhat Fath Shaam concerning these events. Looking at the statement published by Jabhat Fath Shaam we can conclude that the overall message, whether we agree or not, is their desire to protect the course of the Syrian revolution. They clearly are not after power or authority and they are not seeking to annihilate other factions. They mainly address the political negations which seek the surrender of the Syrian opposition, and point towards the fall of Aleppo, a scenario which must not repeat. After the fall of Aleppo all eyes were set on Idlib, so it is actually not strange that Jabhat Fath Shaam took preventive measures to strengthen the weak spots that could be penetrated. 

Let us look at the statement of Jabhat Fath Shaam concerning the conflict. The statement starts with: “The blessed Syrian revolution is passing through a dangerous slope which threatens its path that wants to reach its goals of toppling the Nusayri regime and its allies. The projects of reconciliations and peace agreements today are plain and obvious, the conferences and negotiations are trying to deviate the course of the revolution towards reconciliations with the criminal regime and surrendering the country after all that is sacrificed in the past six years. On the other hand we have the lesson of Aleppo, a harsh lesson from which we must take heed, we must not let this repeat again. As some factions refrained their support to Aleppo for years, their participation was weak, it did not match the proportion of these factions and their numbers on paper, and their defense lines were empty.”      

One thing which was obvious about the campaign, is that Jabhat Fath Shaam was very controlled and balanced, looking at the amount of casualties. It is obvious that they did not launch their campaign for power, they did not force Jaysh Al-Mujahideen to join Jabhat Fath Shaam, and they stated that they did not have the intention to fight, kill or annihilating Jaysh Al-Mujahideen. This explains why they did not launch an all out assault against them with heavy weaponry and martyrdom operations, unlike the assault of ISIS against the factions who even used acid to burn their faces in Deir Zor and chemical shells in Marea, in addition to the reckless suicide bombings and bloody beheadings. This assault is in no way comparable.   

When you decide to confront corruption one must outweigh the benefits and harms of this confrontation, as the confrontation must not lead to a larger corruption than the one you are trying to confront. And there must be a balance of wisdom between softness and harshness. We have seen how ISIS failed in this respect, but other factions failed as well. Jabhat Fath Shaam is actually the one group that has been and is successful in outweighing between harms and benefits, and balancing between softness and harshness when confronting corruption.  

Jabhat Fath Shaam could have been a lot harsher in their assault if they wanted, they clearly did not pull everyone out of their arsenal against their opponents. It was a balanced neutralization campaign similar to the campaigns against the Hazm Movement, Syria Revolutionaries Front, Division 30, Army of Revolutionaries, and the New Syrian Forces. Jabhat Fath Shaam balances between softness and harshness and knows very well when to use the appropriate amount of softness and the appropriate amount of harshness. This is because they realize and clarify that they are dealing with multiform people, they are Muslims mixed with corrupt people and hypocrites, while some of them are apostates. They can not treat them as one entity, that is why they have to stay careful and balanced when dealing with them. 

Thinking about the timing of the campaign it becomes clear that the campaign is coordinated with the ongoing Astana negations. It is because of these negotiations in addition to the inactive fronts against the regime that the soldiers of Jaysh Al-Mujahideen were not willing to defend their bases with their lives, they largely surrendered as they lost their trust in their faction and its leadership. Jabhat Fath Shaam neutralized several bases in Western Aleppo and Northern Idlib without a drop of blood. We witnessed several defections in Jaysh Al-Mujahideen and the deputy even dissolved the faction; when the general leader Abu Bakr denied this, his deputy replied that he should not deny anything while he was staying in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia. This embarrassing exposure showed that the leader of this faction is more occupied with foreign powers and their interest instead of the Syrian revolution and his own soldiers.   

Another thing we notice is that several major factions stayed neutral in the conflict, they did not choose any side. This tells us something very important, this tells we are not dealing with a clear cut assault of oppression by Jabhat Fath Shaam, unlike the deceiving picture portrayed in the media. If Jabhat Fath Shaam was the obvious oppressor and Jaysh Al-Mujahideen the obvious oppressed party then the factions would not announce their neutral position. No, they would side with the oppressed against the oppressor, like they did in the case of ISIS. It has even been reported that several elements within other factions supported the campaign. This would not be the first time that the factions supported a campaign of Jabhat Fath Shaam to clear the arena of corruption, as they supported previous similar campaigns by Jabhat Nusra. Many factions were on board when Jabhat Nusra countered the corrupt factions in the past, and nearly everyone was on board when Jabhat Nusra countered the deviant corruption of the Khawarij. So why would the current campaign be any different this time one might ask? 

The second point in the statement addresses the issue of the failed merger. When someone accuses Jabhat Fath Shaam of creating division he must not forget that they were prepared to merge with all of these factions only a couple of weeks ago. Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani was even prepared to give up his leadership to Abu Amar Al-Umar, the general leader of Ahraar Shaam. Jabhat Fath Shaam even cut its organizational ties with Al-Qaedah for the sake of unity in Syria, and Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani showed his face for the sake of unity, to gain trust, while exposing himself to the threat of US drone airstrikes in doing so. Yet the factions refused to merge, it was not Jabhat Fath Shaam who refused to unite. So the outcome of what we are witnessing now of conflicts and division is due to the refusal of the factions to merge. We can al agree that the refusal to merge is the root cause for the division we are witnessing now, and that a merger could have prevented the current division and turmoil. 

Jabhat Fath Shaam continued the statement with the following remark: “We strived because of this destructive reality, and to prevent the scenario of Aleppo from repeating, and the scenario of the Southern Front, and to advance our situation to a political and military entity worthy or representing the blessed revolution, and honors its sacrifices and its struggle, and a unification of decrees which strengthen its rod, we strived from this perspective to a merger with welcoming truthful hearts. We leaned towards our brothers from other factions, we removed all the obstacles we were capable of, and we surrendered some of our personal rights which we deserve based on capability and merit, so we walked the path towards Fath Shaam and we stepped back from authority, desired by the gathering, to others from the factions, while we called towards an overall merger which does not exclude anyone. Except that some were not on the level of the situation and the danger of the phase which were are passing through, so the pens and verdicts were let loose which forbade the merger with us and said that it was suicide. And their motives were their keenness to preserve the channels of aid and their obedience to the threats and pressure of the backers, some went even further and requested from us to dissolve our group and leave our members and bases.”  

The same scholarly verdicts which spoiled the unity and merger are the same verdicts which exaggerated the conflict between Jabhat Fath Shaam and Jaysh A-Mujahideen. These verdicts and the leaders of the factions who called for a general mobilization is what caused the conflict to escalate. There were no verdicts and no calls for a general mobilization for the people of Aleppo or for the besieged city of Wadi Barada. More than 80.000 civilians, 65% of them women, are trapped in besieged Wadi Barada as they are bombed for more than 30 days despite the so-called ceasefire, they ran out of food and denied any aid, medicine and food, even their water resources are bombed and destroyed. They are without medical treatment since their medical center is bombed by the Assad militias. Yet there are no active noteworthy fronts by the factions to pressure the regime, rather they continue to uphold a fake ceasefire and they are attending negotiations in Astana while the regime is bombing and starving the Syrian civilians in especially Wadi Barada. Where are the general mobilizations for them? 

A ceasefire and negotiations with the regime while calling for a general mobilization against Jabhat Fath Shaam? The leader of Ahraar Shaam Abu Amar Al-Umar and the leader of Suqor Shaam Abu Isa for example called for a general mobilization, but we did not see such heated calls when the people in Aleppo were bombed, besieged, starved and slaughtered for months. It is clear that there are leaders and scholars who want to capitalize on the conflict as they used this opportunity to ventilate their hidden grudges. Jabhat Fath Shaam did not have the intention of fighting against Jaysh Al-Mujahideen, rather they succeeded in convincing them of the treachery of their leaders thought debates and negotiations as most of them surrendered, they did not fire a shot and no blood was spilled. Rather it was actually Jabhat Fath Shaam who got attacked as several of their men got killed in a treacherous twist of events.   

Despite the exaggerations in the media, not even one casualty was reported from Jaysh Al-Mujahideen or from Jabhat Shamiyah and the operations room of Rashideen, as Jabhat Fath Shaam neutralized and dissolved their factions in Western Aleppo and Northern Idlib. The members of the dissolved factions will be gathered and they will choose a leader themselves. The only casualties that were reported caused by Jabhat Fath Shaam were from Suqor Shaam because they attacked them, killing and imprisoning several members from Jabhat Fath Shaam. And Jaysh Al-Islam even opened fire on Jabhat Fath Shaam with heavy weaponry. 

Jabhat Fath Shaam stated in an additional statement: “An important clarification: During the dispute between us and Jaysh al-Mujahideen on Monday 23-1-2017 we were surprised by the statements of the leader of Suqor Shaam Abu Isa Al-Shaykh who described us as Khawarij and called to eradicate us unjustly and he mobilized his convoys and attacked some of our bases which caused the death of six of our men, knowing that we did not approach them and we did not start anything with Suqor Shaam whatsoever. And in Ras al-Hasn Jaysh Al-Islam approached the village and moved its tanks and soldiers towards it, knowing that we did not attack them, and there were no fights or clashes in the region to begin with.” 

We can not ignore the baffling speed with which Islamic verdicts were published criticizing Jabhat Fath Shaam before the facts and details were actually known. A total of at least six verdicts were published by various scholarly counsels; including the verdict concerning Jund Al-Aqsa. Two verdicts from the Islamic Syrian Counsel were published in one day, and two from the Shura Counsel of the People of Knowledge in Shaam, one verdict signed by thirty-three scholars including Abu Baseer Tartoosi, and another signed by four scholars including Abdullah Al-Muhaysini. Nearly all of them were published in one morning. This raises legitimate questions. How can they be so fast with verdicts when it concerns the matters of Jabhat Fath Shaam, while we are still waiting for weeks on just one verdict that explains the legal position of participating in the Euphrates Shield Operation in Al-Baab now that Turkey has openly declared that they are cooperating with Russia? As the scholars clearly set the strict condition that rebels are only allowed to participate if Turkey does not coordinate and cooperate its strikes with the US, let alone the occupying murderous Russians in Syria.  

The Islamic Syrian Counsel based in Turkey, the same counsel that published a verdict forbidding any merger with Jabhat Fath Shaam, even passed the reasonable boundaries of condemnation and criticism as they called the leadership of Jabhat Fath Shaam renegade Khawarij, and that it is forbidden to join them or stay in their ranks, that their members should defect, and that those who are killed under their banner will enter Hellfire, and that the factions should unite in one entity against them, and that the Syrian people should go out on the streets and demonstrate against them and besiege their bases, etc. They called them Khawarij even after Jabhat Fath Shaam declared their innocence from extremism and proofed this numerous times, as they distanced themselves from both ISIS and Jund Al-Aqsa. The counsel was able to find excuses for those who participate in the Euphrates Shield Operation and those who participate in the Astana negations, they excused their opinions, but they were not able to find one excuse for the decision and opinion of Jabhat Fath Shaam. No, the judgment of Khawarij was already ready on the table before the facts and details were even known.

Jabhat Fath Shaam published a very balanced and sharp response to the Syrian Islamic Counsel which shows the level of noble manners and respect they have for scholars, even if they incite against them and call them Khawarij, let alone if they merely disagree with them. Jabhat Fath Shaam called on them to listen to their side of the story, as they must know the details of the situation and they can not understand these details from the outside of Syria. They said: “With your influence you were suppose to come down to the arena in a quest to research and investigate before you publish verdicts, and we have called you –and our invitation is still open– to sit down with us to listen to us as we explain and evaluate the situation of the arena and its weakness and the dangers that are threatening it. Especially since we have discovered from more than one perspective that the counsel has some very mistaken understandings about us and our wishes and legal directives, and the most prominent evidence which indicates this is the published statement in which we are compared with the Khawarij of ISIS. This is a claim which denies history, it is an unjust comparison and judgment. As it is known to everyone that we broke with these people methodologically and organizationally.”     

How can Jabhat Fath Shaam all of a sudden become Khawarij within a couple of hours because of one conflict, of which the facts and details were not even clear at the time of the verdict? Furthermore, this counsel is not even based in Syria so how would they know the facts and details of this incident with such speed even before the rest of the Syrians knew them? This verdict reeks of prejudice. One of the main characteristics of the Khawarij is their unjust Takfir, and nowhere did Jabhat Fath Shaam make Takfir on Jaysh Al-Mujahideen, not their soldiers nor their leaders. One of the many accusations is that Jabhat Fath Shaam is influenced by foreign Salafi-Jihadist scholars and theorist while all the jurists of Jabhat Fath Shaam are based in Syria itself, not in Turkey or any other foreign country. So those who depend on such counsels are actually the ones who are influenced by foreign authorities. In addition to the fact that the overall members of these scholarly counsels are anonymous.        

When Jaysh Al-Islam transgressed against Jaysh Al-Fustaat and Faylaq Rahmaan we did not see this condemnation, with such speed, let alone the label of Khawarij being uttered, while over more than 350 Mujahideen were killed in the infighting in a plain and obvious act of transgression for power and authority by Jaysh Al-Islam in Al-Ghoutah. We did not see these verdicts and we did not hear the leaders calling for a general mobilization to eradicate them like we did when it concerned Jund Al-Aqsa or the during the limited campaign of Jabhat Fath Shaam. When the Free Syrian Army clashed with the Levant Front in which many youths were killed in Northern Syria we likewise did not see these verdicts and these calls. So these dubious positions actually only proof the conspiracy against Jabhat Fath Shaam.  

The verdict of the Islamic Syrian Counsel that Jabhat Fath Shaam are Khawarij is clearly setting the precedent for the factions to cooperate with Turkey or even Russia and the US to fight against Jabhat Fath Shaam like they did and still do against ISIS in Northern Syria. This is the same counsel that did not yet explain the position regarding the Turkish-Russian cooperation in Al-Baab and the legal ruling for the factions on participating in such an alliance. They did not yet explain this position like several other scholars and jurists didn’t because they are caught between two fires; the fire of reliance on aid and pressure from the foreign backers, and the fire of exposure and embarrassment in front of everyone.   

There is of course no problem if the scholars disagree with the decision of Jabhat Fath Shaam, there is no problem if they said that this campaign is wrong and that they are committing a sin which deserves punishment in hellfire; such a disagreement is valid. But it is truly amazing that this decision of Jabhat Fath Shaam to neutralize the corruption of Jaysh Al-Mujahideen, with minimum casualties and minimum bloodshed, is compared to the bloody onslaught against the factions and infighting caused by ISIS after they declared their fictional State in Shaam. How can these two be compared? The defaming campaign against Jabhat Fath Shaam, –whether they were right or not, whether they made a mistake or not– by everyone who seeks to destroy the Syrian revolution, is obvious. Because they and other Islamic fundamentalist factions are the remaining backbone of the armed opposition against the Assad regime.       

Like the independent media activist Musa Al-Umar said: “You demonize Jabhat Fath Shaam and say that they are ISIS, brother shame on you for calling them ISIS, shame on you. Did you see Jabhat Fath Shaam dress someone in orange overalls and behead him and slaughter him like a sheep in a video publication? Did you see someone defect from Jabhat Fath Shaam as they chased him and killed and slaughter him? Did you see anyone get killed or slaughter by Jabhat Fath Shaam in this way? Jabhat Fath Shaam has mistakes, but people must know, and those who treat the people like donkeys, that the backbone that remained from the armed opposition forces of the Syrian revolution consists of fundamentalist, they are the backbone of the armed forces. And the one who does not know that is truly struck with foolishness.”       

This generally known fact is also something Jabhat Fath Shaam highlights in their statement: “It is not hidden for any truthful Mujahid in the domestic or those who follow the Syrian arena in the foreign –and we do not say this to outshine anyone rather we are being realistic– what Jabhat Fath Shaam represents on every level; military, judicially and in serviceability. As Fath Shaam represent nearly two thirds of the military offense and defense force, and they hold the topmost active defensive posts against the Nusayri regime and the Rawafid militias.”    

We have witnessed a series of local and international exposures since the revolution in Syria, just like the Prophet (SalAllahu Alayhi wa Selam) said about The End Times –a war in Shaam is one of these signs. He said “When the Signs start to come, they will come fast, like a string of beads falling one after the other.” We can not deny that the fall of Aleppo, the failed merger, the Astana peace talks, the increased US air strikes and the Turkish-Russian alliance has exposed many facts, and the recent developments after the conflict between Jaysh Al-Mujahideen and Jabhat Fath Shaam is another episode in long series of exposures.  

As Jabhat Fath Shaam clearly stated: “With the foiled attempts to merge came the coalition airstrikes. Fath Shaam was hit in more than one position and gathering, and they targeting several active leaders, in a clear message to isolate and then fight us, at a time when some factions maintain solid relations with America; the guardian of crime. And during these events the Astana meetings appeared, the conference to which its guardian called, the occupier Russia. And they forced the factions to attend under a humiliating ceiling over the revolution and Jihaad. From overthrowing the criminal regime; to negotiations and agreements to a ceasefire and entering humanitarian aid. And the factions participated in the course of this conference which states that its wants to implement a democratic state and an agreement to fight and isolate Jabhat Fath Shaam. The matter was overtaking the arena and the opinions concerning it, beginning with the conference of political gambles, then bargaining over us, and agreeing on fighting us, in addition to exposing our backs to the international coalition.”  

Instead of calling for the eradication of factions, or a general mobilization against them, or making Takfir on them, and so on. We have rather seen a very balanced position and reasonable tone from Jabhat Fath shaam towards the factions, and a strong message towards the foreign powers who sought to sabotage the Syrian revolution from the very beginning. And because this campaign was targeted against the foreign powers, more than anyone, we have seen an uncontrolled media defamation and a massive spread of misinformation and lies.      

As stated: “Because of all of the aforementioned it was necessary for us to foil the conspiracy and confront this before it is ignited, to stitch the arena and prevent its collapse; military with the stitches of fronts and politically by cutting of the imported projects and foiling them and pulling them down and preventing them from passing. Knowing that we do not make Takfir on these factions, not the leaders nor the soldiers, and we have ordered our soldiers to be careful as not to spill any sacred blood. Rather the aim was cutting off the project not to fight or kill, and not to make Takfir and legalize blood. So that everyone who tries to bargain over that which he does not own known that he can expect this as a natural result for what his political offices are seeking in the abroad. And we say to the abroad: those from which you are trying to buy the sacrifices of the revolution of the people of Syria, do not own them.” 

It is not fair to let those who represent the factions, to first profit from the years of sacrifices made by Jabhat Fath Shaam on the ground, only to back-stab them in conferences and negotiations as they bargain over them. This campaign against Jaysh Al-Mujahideen is a clear message to everyone who wants to use Jabhat Fath Shaam as a political bargaining chip. The poor Syrians who sacrifice their lives and wage Jihaad are likewise used as numbers on paper who increase the aid and fill their pockets. This aid and these resources which they gained on the backs of the Syrian people are the property of the Syrians, and not their own personal property. They became known for their corruption among the local people, and Jabhat Fath Shaam chose to delay a confrontation with them because this could lead towards serious harms for the Jihaad, but they could not delay this confrontation any longer as the threats and dangers for the Syrian Jihaad and revolution grew bigger than these possible harms.  

Even the remaining factions agree on this but they refuse to confront them because this will anger the foreign backers, while a general mobilization against Jabhat Fath Shaam on the other hand will please the foreign backers. Jabhat Fath Shaam however succeeded in neutralizing these factions with minimum casualties and losses, and everyone who claims otherwise can not bring any proof for his exaggerated claims. Changing an evil with such wisdom and with such care and delicacy is a true talent, very little people are able to do this.     

If we were to look at the attempt of Ahraar Shaam to eradicate Jund Al-Aqsa before they joined Jabhat Fath Shaam –until they left recently. Then we would discover that it cost Ahraar Shaam hundreds of their men between those who were killed, wounded and imprisoned, while many of them left the Jihaad all together due to the infighting. In addition to much of rural Hamaa falling to the regime. Furthermore, breaking the siege on Aleppo got delayed by twenty days because of their reckless attempt to eradicate and annihilate Jund Al-Aqsa, until it was eventually impossible to break the siege on Aleppo as the regime got enough the time and opportunity to fortify the siege on the city. Compare this failed attempt of Ahraar Shaam with so many losses with the attempt of Jabhat Fath Shaam to dissolve Jaysh Al-Mujahideen. Ahraar Shaam did not seem to care about the lives of their own men and those of Jund Al-Aqsa. Moreover, they and other factions did not learn from this bitter experience as they still call for eradications and general mobilizations against Jund Al-Aqsa and Jabhat Fath Shaam.  

The attempt of Ahraar Shaam to eradicate Jund Al-Aqsa despite the many harms it caused for the Jihaad and revolution was not seen as a mistake, rather they were supported in this by scholars and factions. Yet we do not see the same support now that Jabhat Fath Shaam has tried and succeeded in dissolving factions known for their corruption, with minimum casualties and harms from both parties. Until they got rid of these corrupt factions who exploit the suffering of the Syrian people; factions which are unable and unwilling to hold the lines against the regime, putting in dangers the lives of millions of Syrian Muslims.     

One of the major problems in Syria is that factions are able to commit injustice and crimes while getting away with it without any accountability. The Levant Front left 150 defensive positions in Aleppo, their soldiers watched as Aleppo fell, without any accountability. This has to stop. This is why Jabhat Fath Shaam decided to confront these factions, and if they did not do so this could have cost the lives of millions of Syrian Muslims. And they achieved in a couple of hours what others could not achieve in years, and without major losses and harms to the revolution and Jihaad. Jabhat Fath Shaam made a decision based on strategic insight and sincere concerns, while knowing that this would place them at the center of a witch hunt and a defamation campaign, but this is not the first sacrifice they made for the Syrian revolution.   

Jabhat Fath Shaam concludes their statement with a message to the soldiers and leaders of the factions, again very balanced, between softness and harshness, as they call for unity and warn against deviation: “We say to our brothers, the soldiers from the factions who shared our Jihaad and trenches, what is being discussed of decrees in Astana and others to fight and isolate us is not only empty talk, rather it is the beginning of a dangerous phase which will have negative consequences on the arena. And be careful that you become tools, without realizing it, for a project desired by the enemies of the revolution and Jihaad. As for the leaders of the factions: We know that some of you are led by deviant verdicts and ideological terrorism carried out by them –perhaps with good intentions– to pass decrees which you will regret in the end, but regret will not be of any benefit at that point. Be patient for your religion and return to Jihaad and fight, and push away from you the devils of politics and their whispers, and you will not find us except to be brothers to you who support you and defend you like we have promised.  Finally: We call upon all the factions to take active and honest measures which are translated in positions and deeds, removed far away from the language of official statements, crowned by a statement of deeds which will benefit the arena. And in which its people agree on the establishment of one Sunni entity united politically and military, based on the Sharia, which posses the decree of peace and war, which protects our people and safeguards their religion and sanctuaries. We stress the importance of hasting to cooperate and participate to achieve this goal. And we are completely prepared to implement and abide by it.”    

Taken from  Al-Maqalaat


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