Below is a translated excerpt from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s Abu Mariya al-Qahtani’s (Myassar al-Jubouri) May 30 appearance on the latest season of Abdullah al-Muheisini’s Ramadan interview show, Daimeh, in which Qahtani touches again on something that’s been on my mind: The line between defeatism and realism.
This is something on which Qahtani has also commented recently on his Telegram channel. Qahtani is Jabhat al-Nusrah’s former supreme religious official and its emir for the east, and now a leader in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Here Qahtani reacts indignantly to criticisms – articulated here by jihadist evangelist and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham religious official Muheisini, playing Devil’s advocate – of the jihadist movement and jihadists as, basically, born losers.
This critique is a sort of free-floating, universally applicable indictment of jihadism. But it also has special relevance in the Syrian context, where the prospects of the Syrian opposition generally and the jihadist-dominated northwest specifically seem bleak. Even relatively hard figures like Ahrar al-Sham-linked Aymen Haroush and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s own Hussam al-Atrash have lately been trying to think through unconventional, counterintuitive alternatives, casting about for something other than an increasingly lonely, fruitless battle against the Syrian regime.
Qahtani offers the jihadist rebuttal. The sentiment he articulates is a sort of mix of impulsive, stand-up-and-fight adamancy – the imperative of resistance, consequences be damned – and conviction that jihadists are fighting with God’s mandate.
He’s also informed by a particular reading of history, in which Islamist democrats have consistently met with betrayal and failure and – this part seems debatable – jihadists can point to victories against occupying enemies, as in Iraq. In this view, less extreme alternatives have been discredited, and jihadist militancy is the only sane option.
Basically, I disagree. Jihadists and jihadism as a global movement and intellectual trend seem impossible to comprehensively defeat. But I’m personally convinced that, ultimately, they can’t win and that they doom whatever group or cause they attach themselves to, whether that’s relief NGOs or the Syrian revolutionary opposition writ large.
But for what it’s worth, this is Abu Mariya’s counterargument.
Translation follows, beginning from 11:50 in the Daimeh episode. (And please note – I’m not hugely familiar with Iraqi, so apologies if I missed or inverted anything from Qahtani.)
Abdullah al-Muheisini: “Given that we mentioned jihadist history just now, some of those criticize it say, Brother, the Ottoman Caliphate and jihad ended. After it fell, the Arab and Muslim countries were divided like a cake, as is well known, through Sykes-Picot and other [means]. And now the world is ruled by the United Nations and these regimes. So the project of armed resistance, jihad on the path of God, is a failed project. And the evidence is that there hasn’t been a jihad that’s happened that’s delivered the desired result. Jihadist groups get stood up, they fight, they’re killed, and then they end. How do you see that? Now you’re violating the laws of the universe, which say you can’t confront these great powers.”
Abu Mariya al-Qahtani: “God on high ordered us to resist the aggressor enemy (dafa’ al-‘adou al-sail). Especially when it enters a Muslim country and corrupts religion and the temporal world. That doesn’t give anyone a license, faced with that, to turn away. So a person comes, and you’re in your home, and this person comes and wants to kill your son, and your wife, and commit criminal acts in this house. So do you leave [him] and just say, ‘In the end, we lose?’ That’s not a loss. That’s a loss by the measure of the defeatists. To be frank with you.
“The Ummah has provided. Those who are killed from the Ummah’s youth on the path of God, God permitting, is a martyr. So we reckon him, and God makes the final accounting.
“We’ve asked, what have the projects of democracy provided? Is Muhammad Morsi – Muhammad Morsi, I don’t declare Muhammad an apostate, my position on him is known. [I don’t kaffar him] as an individual, I mean. But it’s well-known what Morsi’s government was, it didn’t rule by what God had sent down, and it was well-known it was an idolatrous (taghoutiyyah) government. The same with all these governments. But, what happened? There was a campaign against it, in agreement with the Crusaders, and they fought Islam.
“And when the Islamists won in Algeria, the infidels all mounted up to fight Islam and Muslims.”
Muheisini: “They say, the jihadist movement can’t succeed.”
Abu Mariya: “Great, well, the democrats didn’t succeed! With every jihadist battlefield (sahah), they say the same thing. It’s a misreading. The jihad – who got the Americans out of Iraq? Let’s be frank – despite my objections to [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi]. God, if those Dawa’esh could use their heads a little and work with the Sunnis, if it hadn’t happened the way it did with their base…”