This very well researched report linked to below, by the Arab Reform Initiative, provides quite a thorough study on the explicitly secular part of the Syrian resistance. This itself belies claims that “there are no secular armed rebels groups” in Syria, that all are explicitly “Islamist” etc, a claim made by the New York Times some months ago in order to justify US imperialist policy of refusing to send even a few light arms to the rebels (indeed, of actively blocking their receipt of portable anti-aircraft guns). This clearly false assertion was repeated by a great many leftists, as usual not noticing that they were saying the same thing as those they thought they were criticising.
This also chimes in well with a recent report from Jane’s defense consultants which gave a break-down of the armed opposition, claiming some 30% were explicitly “secular” and/or “nationalist” (ie, generally called Free Syrian Army – FSA, and officially under the Supreme Military Council – SMC), and another 30% were “moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character”, ie the FSA-aligned soft Islamists grouped together as the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF). As opposed to another 30,000 in the hard-line Salafist, but Syrian nationalist, Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) and 10% in the two Al-Qaida groups who have a global agenda.
I write about this article and the meaning of this break-down at https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/report-on-relative-strength-of-armed-rebels-in-syria/
This report also notes that the moderate Islamist forces aligned with the FSA (ie, broadly meaning the SILF) could have been included in the report into “democratic” resistance groups, and warns not to confuse them with hard-line jihadists:
“It would have been justified to include other groups described as moderate or mainstream Islamists, who should be clearly distinguished from the extremist and Jihadi groups. They reflect the moderate Islam, which Syrians like to call social Islam traditionally prevalent among the Sunni community in Syria and therefore are part of the social fabric of the country. Some are known to be close to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The political leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to a democratic and pluralistic agenda for post-Assad Syria. This is clearly stated in the political platform of the Muslim Brotherhood published in 2004 and re-confirmed in a document published in 2012. Several conservative religious leaders have also indicated their commitment to a political system that protects the rights of all minorities. Syrians from all communities and ideological backgrounds do not question the right of these figures to be part of the political transition and to play a role in the future political system.”
It is important to understand this, so as not to crudely divide everyone in the Syrian resistance into “secular” folk that us western leftists like, and everyone else that is in some form an “Islamist”. That is liberal imperialist thinking. We need to get away from those kinds of obsessions. Especially given the nature of the revolution as arising from the marginalised rural peasantry hit by Assad’s neoliberal reforms and the masses of urban poor, often first generation from the countryside, sectors more likely to be religious to some degree than the Syrian bourgeoisie and upper middle classes, the base of the “secular” bourgeois Baath regime.
The report clearly distinguishes the mainstream FSA-aligned “Islamist” groups from the hard-line jihadists, including Al Qaida:
“Extremist Jihadi groups pose a problem of a different kind. Most Syrians see them as alien to the social and political fabric of the country. They run wild and shut down civilian life, calling for establishing an Islamic theocracy more often than they mention the fall of Assad.”
Indeed, the soft-Islamist groups – notably Al-Farouq, Liwa al-Tawheed, Liwa al-Islam and Ahfad al Rasul – have been alongside the FSA in clashes with Al Qaida all over Syria in recent months (as has been widely reported).
However, the purpose of this report is explicitly to describe in detail the explicitly secular resistance, to counter the lazy description of the whole resistance as “Islamist”. This is thus a very valuable contribution for this reason.
Clip from report: