'It’s an extremely complex situation what’s going on in Syria' - expert
Once the video appeared online the victim was identified as Mohammed Fares, an anti-government fighter and member of Ahrar al-Sham - a group allied to Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. He was wounded and taken to hospital. According to one of the versions the al-Qaeda rebels killed him because they misunderstood his religious statements. The rebels posted a new video in which they apologized for killing their fellow fighter. The Voice of Russia discussed it with Dr. Max Abrahms, assistant professor of public policy in the department of political science at Northeastern University, United States.
As we see even al-Qaeda rebels sometimes fail to distinguish between their "friends and foes". For us it is even more complicated. Could you break it down to us what are the main al-Qaeda linked groups fighting in Syria?
Well, I wish I could. It’s an extremely complex situation what’s going on in Syria. I dare say that in some senses it is the most international conflict probably in human history. Obviously this all began in the context of the Arab awakening, you had a non-violent protestors trying to rise up and fight for some freedoms, under anti dictatorial regime. It was largely sort of a nationalist political struggle but then Assad used violence against the protestors and the protestors see themselves became violent in the main group at that time, with the army, the FSA, which was actually a secular group at least in terms of their demands but that group quickly encrypt by more religious and al-Qaeda affiliated fighters and now you really have, I would say, three main groups of opposition, you have and, of course this is simplification, and I want to underscore that things are extremely complex and fluid over there and overlapping as well as murky. But basically you have largely secular fighters who are centrally nationalists, you have al-Qaeda affiliated fighters who obviously are not only religious, but they also have sort of an extensionist view, where they always wanted to take over the Lebanon, they want to spread their control specifically from areas in Iraq to Syria and beyond. And then you have jihadist fighters who share many of the religious views but they like to separate themselves in terms of their aims from al-Qaeda, they may or may not be extensionist, they may or may not want to grow their power beyond the Lebanon and Syria and so I think it’s useful not to memorize in means of dozens and dozens of groups, but to understand there are certain types of groups, with certain kinds of preferences and they are uniting together because they really only share one thing in common and that is opposition to the Assad regime.
Will people finally realize that we are fighting one human species living on this planet?
It’s funny because there was a very big book that came out this year written by Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard University, and what he showed is that the overall worldwide violence is going down and he attributed that to norms, universal norms that found recognition internationally, we should reframe from violence and work it out peacefully, this view is much stronger in mature countries but in these countries that are in transition, especially in the Muslim world we don’t see this widespread opposition to violence, so anyway, I think that that’s what makes Syria so perplexing. I’m speaking from Boston, Massachusetts and it’s hard to imagine that worrying parties wouldn’t just prefer to sit down and negotiate because the fact that the matter is, it’s extremely costly for all parties in this conflict, the Assad regime is getting warned out, jihadist fighters, al-Qaeda fighters, the FSA, everybody is dying over there and maybe better off to sit down and work things out on paper.
That’s where I guess nationalism come into place. Dr. Abrahms, you recently gave us a very interesting resume on the rebel groups. What is the main motivation of these rebel groups to fight against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
Sure, I think they all have different ambition. Some of them want to remix Syria in sort of more along western lines, or more secular lines with more freedom, others want Sharia law, other want the combination of Sharia law and the expansion of policy of so. What we have there now is the situation of very strange bad fellows, we are people in groups who would otherwise probably be killing each other are uniting against the dictator and this is kind of situation is really uncommon when the government overreacts and overreaches and kills people largely. They came to realize that they best off by uniting together. So what I expect to happen is if Assad’s power is curved, and is just hypothetically speaking these groups would by themselves suddenly inter swop the country, the war would continue but instead of sticking their sides on Assad, they would fight against each other. In many ways it kind reminds me of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian groups with one of the various things they can agree on is the opposition to Israel but without Israel I think that the secular groups like Palestinian Islamism Jihad, I think they would be quickly at each others throats.