Syrian rebels: terrorists or freedom fighters?

A Syrian rebel prepares to advance against government troops in Azaz. (Manu Brabo / Associated Press)

The question of “whether or not the Syrian rebels should be supported” is highly controversial. This is because there is evidence that the rebel forces have been infiltrated by members of dangerous organizations who could alter the initial democratic goals with radical Islamic elements which are highly criticized in the West.

The Syrian population took to the streets to call for political reform and freedom from the corrupt government of President Basar Al Assad, having been inspired by the successes of their neighboring countries. The government used brutal force thus triggering a violent response from the people. The country quickly descended into civil war. This led to major socio-politico-economic problems for both Syria and the international community because of the constant exchange of population and the dangers that armed, leaderless groups posed to border security.

Different political analysts and governments have expressed increasing concerns over whether or not the rebels should be supported in their fight against Assad’s oppressive regime. However, the Syrian government has classified the rebels as terrorists from the beginning of the conflict. Other governments who support the Assad regime, such as Iran, have done the same. This is because the rebels fit the definition of terrorists, according even to Western standards. These states also argue that foreign extremist groups and fighters have joined with the rebels in an attempt to gain political advantages with the future regime. Initially, these accusations were dismissed by the international community as an attempt on the Assad Regime’s behalf, to justify the brutal measures taken against peaceful protesters. When the armed conflicts started, they were seen by the international community as a repetition of the events in other Arab countries during the Arab spring; countries that have opposed their oppressive regimes with force like Libya.

However, having monitored the situation in Syria for the past two years, some rebel actions have seemed unorthodox like: intentionally attacking Syria’s neighbors Turkey and Lebanon to trigger an international response or the desecration of the shire of the revered Shiite figure, Hojr Ibn Oday. More recently, UN officials have accused the rebels of using banned chemical weapons in their struggle against the regime whereas U.S. and U.K. intelligence services suggest that the Damascus regime is responsible.

As such, there are increasing concerns that the rebels have been compromised by Islamist extremism. There is even evidence that members of al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra have infiltrated the rebels. Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Al-Amir Gazi al-Haj, did confirm the participation of his organization in Syria, but stressed the nature of their intentions as being pure and honorable. This brings the spread of Islamism extremism among the rebels who were fighting for democracy. The NY Times issued an article pointing out the problems with The Supreme Military Council and the Leaders of the different rebel groups, there are some influential people who “seek to infuse the future Syrian Government with Islamic law”, which is highly controversial and criticized in the Western world. The Supreme Military Council is the organization that is supposed to unite and control the rebels in Syria. If its initial democratic goal is compromised by non-democratic principles then the war struggles and the lives lost would have been in vain.

In this case, the US, who has recently reconsidered the idea of supplying weapons to the rebels, and its allies actually have a tough decision to make. This is because whoever wins, Syria will still be a problem in the future. The Assad regime is already known for its anti-Israeli and anti-American positions and supporting the rebels may be counterproductive if the rebels actually have ties with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, because it would mean that the US is arming its own enemies and the terrorist organizations will have sympathizers within the new Syrian government for having fought alongside them in the war.

By: Isabel Elena Esteban

Alexandru Movila

Giovanni Baldoni

Hurkan Karas.


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