Spiralling accusations of apostasy could spell the end of the most extreme jihadist elements in Syria today. History has shown that, as the exclusivist nature and aggression of jihadist groups increases, so does the likelihood that they will one day burn out.
Killing Muslims is not something to be done lightly and, somewhat surprisingly, this is more the case for jihadists than any other militant political activists. For them, the murder of co-religionists must always be legitimated by takfir, by a successful, foolproof declaration of apostasy against the proposed target.
But, because there is no one person who holds the recognised and required authority to infallibly label another an apostate, the act is easily co-opted, made into an ideological weapon and a means of justifying what are, at base value, political objectives.
This was nowhere more the case than in Algeria during the 1990s’ civil war, where jihadist groups like the GIA ended up being directly responsible for the eventual dissolution of the many Islamist militias fighting in the war.
“Killing Muslims is not something to be done lightly”The spiralling barbarity of the jihadists’ actions and its eventual excommunication of all other Muslims that did not adhere to their many disparate takfiri doctrines destroyed popular support for Islamist players in the conflict.
The immense discontent the Algerian people felt towards the FLN state became obscured by their anger against jihadists’ tactics and, as such, the masses, who once supported the Islamists wholeheartedly, or at least as the lesser of two evils, began to turn their backs on those fighting the state.
Concurrent with this, overenthusiastic pronunciations of takfir among Algerian jihadists led to infighting that made each militant group more of a threat to each other than the Algerian state itself.
On account of these two trends, the Algerian jihad subsequently lost steam, though the socioeconomic and political ills that catalysed it did not.
Recently, events in Syria appear to be taking a similar turn, with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – already in Ayman al-Zawahri’s bad books – reportedly being responsible for the death of senior Al-Qa’ida delegate Abu Khaled al-Suri, someone who was sent to Syria in order to mediate between ISIS and the preferred Al-Qa’ida proxies, the Ahrar al-Sham.
His death points towards a widening chasm between ISIS and Al-Qa’ida, one which threatens to further fragment the jihadist opposition into smaller, more aggressive groupings of like-minded rejectionists (importantly, rejectionist not just of Assad or democracy, but all other Islamists as well).
To make matters worse (for the jihadists), this internecine rivalry comes on the back of growing discontent in ISIS-held parts of Syria like ar-Raqqa, where smoking and music are banned and women are flogged or even executed if they are not veiled.
So, the last couple of weeks in Syria points towards its potentially turning into an uncanny extension of the Algeria paradigm. They could, however, be of even more significance for the global jihadist movement in general, on account of their embarrassing effect upon Al-Qa’ida and its perceived position at the top of the jihadist hierarchy.
While the jihadists remain as they are in Syria right now, they are the greatest obstructions to a political solution, something which is, in the opinion of most, the only solution to the civil war.
For that reason, we should welcome this fighting among Syria’s jihadist ranks and encourage enmity between the rival groups as well as popularise the harsh reality of Islamist rule. The sooner the Algeria effect takes a real hold, the better for all involved, the secular opposition to Assad most of all.