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.) Continue reading