Zahran Alloush is the military chief of the Islamic Front (الجبهة الإسلامية, al-Jabhat al-Islāmiyyah), the newly founded super militia that reportedly represents 45,000 fighters. As such, he could turn out to be the most powerful man in rebel held Syria.
Hassan Hassan argues in his article, “Why Syria’s Islamic Front is bad news for radical groups,” that the Jihadist and radical Islamist rhetoric of the Front can be discounted as a positioning ploy, but that the new group is really bad news for al-Qaida groups in Syria because it will stem the slide toward radicalism in Syria and be able to face down militias on their right.
It is too early to know if the Islamic Front will take on the formidable al-Qaida groups in Syria. Despite frequent tensions, the main groups that came together to form the Islamic Front have worked hand in glove with al-Qaida linked forces, particularly al-Nusra, on most battle fronts and recent offensives against the regime.
كلمة الشيخ المجاهد زهران علوش للامة وتحدية للرافضة
This is an anti-Shiite tirade and “bring-back-the-Umayyad-Empire” propaganda piece. It shows how sectarian Alloush is. He refers to Shiites, and reduces the Nusayris into this grouping, as “Majous”, or crypto-Iranians. “Majous” is the old term for pre-Islamic Persians or Zoroastrians. Arab Christians use the term in Christmas carols about the Magi, or “three kings from the Orient” (or east) who come to pay homage to Jesus—Magi are Persians or Easterners. Here it is an Islamic term of abuse meant to suggest that Alawites and Iranians not only have the wrong religion but also the wrong ethnicity—they are not Arabs, but crypto-Iranians. The term Majous is used in many rebel videos to refer to the Assad regime—”al-nizam al-majousi”—or simply to refer to Shiites (or Alawites) generally. It demonstrates how demonized the Alawites are in the propaganda of the new Islamic Front.
Zahran calls for cleansing Damascus of all Shiites and Nusayris. (“Nusayris” is the old term that referred to the Alawites prior to the adoption of “Alawite.” It has now taken on a connotation of abuse for Alawites. “Nusayri” refers to the founder of the religion, Ibn Nusayr, and can be used improperly to emphasize an accusation that the Alawite religion is man-made and not sent from heaven, as is Islam.) He calls for ridding Damascus and Greater Syria of their evil works and impure deeds, using Qur’anic language throughout to underline their deviance from the divine. Such language makes Assad’s effort to demonize the revolutionaries and rebels easy. On hearing this sort of talk from the leaders of the revolution, Alawites and other non-Sunni sects worry that their struggle is a fight for their very existence. Unfortunately, the regime treats the opposition with the same sort of extreme language, calling them terrorists, takfiris, and al-Qaida who are not true Syrians. Bigotry and religious intolerance has become a hallmark of the Syrian struggle as both sides try to annul the humanity of the other and completely dismiss each other’s concerns as conspiracies derived from evil.
Islamic Front versus al-Qaida Ideology
This video and the language of Alloush demonstrates how difficult it is to draw a clear line between the ideology of the Islamic Front and that of the al-Qaida groups. They both embrace foreign jihadists and encourage them to come Syria to join the fight. They both call for the resurrection of an Islamic Empire and they both look back to the Golden Age of Islam for the principles upon which the new state will be founded. Their political philosophy and blue print for the future is largely based on a similar reading of Islamic history and the Qur’an.
Some analysts try to draw a clear line between al-Qaida and the Islamic Front, insisting that the former support changing Syria’s borders and seek to establish a Caliphate while the latter are Syrian Nationalists. Unfortunately, this distinction is not evident in their rhetoric. Both idealize Islamic Empire, both reject democracy and embrace what they call shari’a, both welcome jihadists from the “Islamic Umma,” both fly the black flag of Islam rather than the Syrian flag as their predominant emblem. The Islamic Front is dominated by Syrians who do have clear parochial interests, whereas ISIS is run by an Iraqi. Foreigners play a dominate role in its command, but this is not so with the Islamic Front. All the same, their ideologies overlap in significant ways.
Geneva II seems very far away when considering the statements of Zahran Alloush. The effort by moderate FSA leaders to recruit Zahran Alloush to their side and to set him against al-Qaida will be difficult. Equally, the US effort to take a new look at him seems driven by equal parts wishful thinking and desperation now that Salim Idriss has been thoroughly disgraced and driven from Syria. Alloush is unlikely to go to Geneva or to embrace any sort of compromise with either Assad or the remains of the Assad regime if Assad were to step aside, as the US demands.
Here are a bunch of tweets and articles underlying how controversial Zahran Alloush is. His Islamic Army is responsible for Douma, the town in which Razan Zeitouneh was kidnapped this week. She is a human rights lawyer and represented what was left of the original Syrian uprising.
Zahran has a number of domestic enemies. In the Damascus region, many fighters who are not under his command seem to think that he is a self-promoter. He is also a prime target of the ISIS. He seems to receive the brunt of their social media attacks together with Adnan Arour. The Syrian opposition is uncomfortable to see a leader break away from the pack. This is why Zahran seems to elicit such strong attacks from his competitors and those who do not fall under his command.
Alloush has gone out of his way to keep good relations with Jabhat al-Nusra. In this video he goes to some lengths to explain that his relationship with Nusra is one of brotherhood with only superficial ideological differences that can be settled with shari’a and discussions. This supports my argument that the ideological differences between the Front and al-Qaida are not deep. He says that Washington’s proscription of Nusra as a terrorist group does not concern him.
قنبلة قائد جيش الإسلام مع جبهة النصرة وعلاقة قائد جيش الإسلام بقائد جبهة النصرة أبي محمد الجولاني
The Islamic Front also overran the Bab al-Hawa crossing into Turkey this week and routed the moderate Free Syrian Army divisions that were loyal to the Supreme Military Command and indirectly represented US efforts to arm Syrian opponents of Assad. Salim Idriss, the putative head of the FSA and direct link to US support for the FSA, fled into Turkey. Here is an excellent video made by an FSA officer who was at one of the arms warehouses when the Islamic Front overran it and stole its contents. He was stripped of his clothes and underclothing while being held upon the ground at gunpoint. Here is Salim Idriss’ account of the events. He denies that the Islamic Front attacked his headquarters and insists that it was protecting his position. US officials have asked the Islamic Front to return US equipment and vehicles taken from the warehouses. In the meantime, Ambassador Ford has met with Alloush to discuss the possibility of his going to Geneva.
Here is a translation of one section of the video, for which I thank my research assistant who wishes to remain anonymous.
1:59 minutes …I heard lately what was mentioned by some unclean (أنجاس) Shia, the enemies of Abu Bakr and Omar, the enemies of Osman Bin Affan, even the enemies of Ali ibn Abu Talib. I heard them making threats and promises, about the matter of the Banu Umayya state, saying that they won’t allow the creation of a state like the Banu Umayya state in Sham. And we tell you O unclean (أنجاس), you, who have distorted the Qur’an and challenged the honor (طعنتم بعرض) of the prophet and declared his sahaba kufar (declared his companions to be unbelievers) and killed the Awlia al-Salihiin, and allied with the Tatar and the Mongols and brought every heretic into the country and distorted the religion of Allah…??… and changed the sunna (غيرتم السنه) and fought it and killed the young and old, O you enemies of Islam, O you enemies of the Milah, we will step on your heads in the Najad, if Allah wills it…
[The writing on the screen says: "The sectarian Majousi Yasseh Al Khayth"]
From the mouths of the unclean Shia saying that they won’t allow the creation of the new Umayya state in Sham.
Shia sheikh: do you [Sunnis] want to bring back the Umayya in Sham again? We won’t allow it.
Alloush: The glory of Banu Umayya will return to Sham despite you (despite your noses) and it’s not up to you to allow it or not. The mujahediin of Sham will wash the filth (رجس) of the Rafida and the Rafidia from Sham, they will wash it forever, if Allah wills it, until they cleanse Bilad al-Sham from the filth of the Majous who have fought the religion of Allah.
Shia sheikh: You will find a great Shia intifada that won’t leave anything. You’re not stronger than us, we’re stronger than you, beware of the patient one if he is angered, we’re stronger.
Alloush: They threaten about a Shia intifada and we say that Shia are still servile and small (أذلاء صاغرين ) throughout history and that even Islam destroyed the Shia state repeatedly and destroyed their skulls repeatedly, despite their noses, thanks to Allah. Here are the Shia, wearing servility and shame, bringing in the Tatar to Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria), bringing in the Mongols to Bilad al-Sham, wearing servility and smallness, and then the Muslims come back and cleanse Bilad al-Sham from their filth and their uncleanliness.
I invite all the mujahidin to join their mujahidin brothers in Sham (Damascus and Greater Syria)
And look at this hadith in which the prophet bids the mujahediin that join their brethren in Sham: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: It will turn out that you will be armed troops, one in Sham, one in the Yemen and one in Iraq. Ibn Hawalah said: Choose for me, Apostle of Allah, if I reach that time. He replied: Go to Sham, for it is Allah’s chosen land, Go to Sham, for it is Allah’s chosen land, to which his best servants will be gathered, for Allah has on my account taken special charge of Sham and its people… and Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari narrated: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say: ‘Tuba is for Ash-Sham, Tuba is for Ash-Sham, Tuba is for Ash-Sham.” So we said: “Why is that O Messenger of Allah?” He said: Because the angels of Ar-Rahman spread their wings over Sham. Because the angels of Ar-Rahman spread their wings over Sham.”
Thus, congratulations to the people of Sham, for their battle with falsehood (الباطل), congratulations to the people of Sham for being the home of Islam (عقر دار), congratulations to the people of Sham that belief is returning to them from all over the world [he uses the word ya’ariz, from a hadith, talking about the belief ya’zir (returning/retreating/receding) to medina]. You people of Sham are carrying the banner of Islam today, so be worthy of holding it, and raise it high (ارفعوها بحقها) like the prophet asked. Majous, from Rafida and Nusayris, besieged al-Ghouta, they claimed, to prevent the creation of a state, such as that of the Banu Umayya.
And I bid you, o unclean (أنجاس) Rafida, that as the Banu Umayya destroyed your skulls in the past, the people of the Ghouta and the people of Sham will destroy your skulls in the future. And they will make you taste the worst torture in life (الدنيا), before Allah makes you taste the worst torture on judgment day. O unclean Rafida, you will find what you never expected, from the force of the Mujahediin of Islam in Bilad al-Sham until they make you taste the worst torture. O unclean Rafida, you’ll find what will worsen your faces [image, يسوء وجوهكم] in life (الدنيا), what will harm you in life and shame you on judgement day. They (the Shiites) don’t want a state like that of Banu Umayya, because the Banu Umayya state got rid of their obsolete Majousi glory, because the Banu Umayya state destroyed their heads, because the Banu Umayya state established truth (haq) and justice and tawhid.
We are proud of the Banu Umayya state, the capital of which was Damascus. So go (هبوا) O mujahediin to support your brethren, go to support your brethren, we, in Liwaa al-Islam, welcome the mujahediin from all over the world to be an aid and support for us, to fight in our ranks, the rank of Sunna, the Sunna of the messenger of Allah, which raise the banner of tawhid high, until the humiliation and destruction is upon the Majous, the enemies of Allah. Until we cleanse the Sham (Damascus and Greater Syria) from their filth and uncleanliness (?ادناسهم) so go (هبوا) to support you brethren O believers, go to support you brethren O believers, and heaven will await you, and Allah is with you…..7:41
About the author: Syria Comment - Joshua Landis
Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.