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Awkward questions surrounding the ‘war on ISIS’

All praise be to Allāh and peace and blessings be upon His prophet, Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

The position of mainstream Muslim scholars and intellectuals is under the spotlight and subject to scrutiny now more than ever in the wake of the anti-Islamic and heretic actions of ISIS.

They have actively hampered efforts at uprooting the dogmatic Syrian regime, and have waged a vicious war of attrition against the rebel groups that had made notable progress to their objectives. As for the US, a large number of its proponents have formed an alliance against ISIS, or so they claim, in an attempt to limit their gains and increasing strength. Taking a closer look at preceding and current events, whilst studying the stated motivations for the intervention, however, depicts a more cunning image to the coalition’s campaign. This specific article intends to highlight some inconvenient questions that are largely ignored despite being crucial to analysing some of the main goals of this campaign.

1) Why the complacency of foreign powers to suppress the Syrian regime and its militias?

Clearly, the lessons learned from two previous wars led by the US against different targets in the Middle East have retired into redundancy. With the same priceless support of a number of Gulf countries, the US has managed to deceive the world into forming a 14-state alliance against a faction of untrained fighters from different backgrounds, their number approximated by the Central Intelligence Agency as being between 20,000 and 31,500.[1]

On the 7th of August 2014, the US leadership outlined the motivation to their intervention, the two most evident being to “protect our American personnel” and “to help save the thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food or water”. They further stated their fear that ISIS would enter the city of Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, thus threatening the American consulate, not stopping short of mentioning the barbarity of ISIS, “especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christians and Yezidis”.[2] For the remaining 13 nations, it was either that they tailgated the US’ foreign policy or truly desired to enact their concern for the human rights infringements in Syria and Iraq. But before we believe the latter, let us consider the following:

The conflict in Syria has killed almost 200,000 individuals,[3] the majority of whom are civilians, murdered by the brutal Syrian regime. Unguided barrel bombs have been used indiscriminately as the frantic regime attempts to restore its grip on Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. In the 21st of August 2013’s chemical attack alone, 1,729 Syrians were killed by nerve agents at the Damascus suburb of Ain Tarma, Zamalka.[4] The victims were, as usual, Sunni children. Apart from empty condemnation, where was the humanitarian coalition and where were its folly backers from the so-called Sunni Gulf? Where were they when pro-regime militia stormed the Sunni town of Houla in May 2012, quite literally slaughtering at least 116 of its residents with knives, “family by family, one by one”?[5][6]

Houla formed but part of the regime’s hopeful Alawite enclave, spanning from the coastal town of Latakia, into Banias and Tartous. In each of these cities, successive massacres and mass expulsion of Sunni families aimed to cleanse remnants of Sunni presence and form a solid, Alawite-only ‘crescent’ up to Shi’ite-dominated areas in Lebanon’s Bakaa Valley; ideological and physical hegemony at its peak. News agencies have been reporting on the families in the Sunni areas of Homs such as Ashere, al-Shoder, Karm al-Zaitoun and Bab al-Sebaa that have been expelled at gunpoint and replaced with Alawites,[7] whilst Alawite communities have been armed to their teeth. Where lies the US’ concern for the Alawitisation of Syria’s populated coastal towns? Why did the ‘Sunni’ gulf’s air force not engage Bashar’s militias? What happened to its hi-tech fighter jets that were tendered for billions of pounds under allegations of bribery?

All four corners of the earth and, at the forefront, Muslims have condemned ISIS for murdering its hostages. But are these murders more despicable than those sanctioned by the pro-Syrian regime militias? What pretext exists for engaging ISIS that is absent in the regime? If only the first female fighter pilot to attack ISIS, boasted to the US’ coalition for popular acceptance,[8] had been dispatched to Gaza’s north-eastern border of Shuja’iyya to protect her sisters in faith and humanity when it was incinerated by the Israeli criminalised force. Almost 2,200 innocent Gazans were murdered when Israel pursued its campaign of mass execution in the summer of 2014. Of course, it is absurd to expect this.

It is true that ISIS yearns for hegemony in Iraq and Syria, and seeks to enforce its heretic ideology on the collective mass. But what basis of legitimacy does the coalition have in claiming that it desires to remove this hegemony and to establish democracy when it jointly endorsed the deposing of Egypt’s first elected leader in 8,000 years, President Mohammad Morsi?

Obama’s cries to protect the stranded Yazidis in the Sinjar Mountains fail to redeem the US’ long lost conscience, humanity and care for human life. It is just another perfect excuse, or rather another chapter of imperialist trickery that the world falls victim to once again after the humiliating Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures.

2) What happened to the Iraqi revolution?

Mass Iraqi sit-ins broke out in the western Anbar Province on the tail of the revolutions that swept the Arab world (the ‘Spring’) from the beginning of 2011. Protestor demands focused on releasing thousands of Sunni detainees from prisons, including women, on forming a better ‘sectarian balance’ within the Shi’ite-dominated government and on halting persecution of Sunni activists on the back of the ‘anti-terrorism law’.[9] In tandem with Nouri al-Maliki’s neighbouring despotic counterparts, a bloody campaign was launched to disperse these widespread protests, forcing Sunni tribesmen to pick up arms in self-defence.[10]

Regardless of who later adopted the revolt, how can these masses have disintegrated into non-existence? Who was John Kerry referring to when he asserted that “Iraq has clearly made a statement that they are looking for change”?[11] The entire Iraqi Sunni rebellion has been misrepresented by the US political and complicit media establishments as the ravaging ISIS monster from the north-west and the hundreds of thousands who utilised democratic, legal means to induce a voice and presence have been stacked altogether.

The US has stipulated that the Iraqi government becomes more inclusive and ceases to marginalise Sunnis and other ‘minorities’ before it can offer greater assistance to push back ISIS. Think again about this statement. It speaks volumes. Certainly in Iraq, there is an entity that feels ‘marginalised’. This entity is undefeatable as it forms a large part of the society (Sunnis) and thus US assistance against it is futile so long as the Iraqi government fails to accommodate it. In turn, it means that within what the US classifies as ISIS (the single variable) resides another entity that hopes for political participation. Without doubt, the reason for this is to protect the bankrupt regime lodged in Baghdad against a Sunni revolt that has come out of control.

3) Why does a ‘war against ISIS’ involve bombing those fighting ISIS?

This intervention has culminated into a war against some of the sincere elements of the Syrian revolution. Mainstream Muslims, yet again, find themselves cornered into adopting a defensive mode. Continuous harassment by authorities and the repugnant sentiment of certain media outlets exploiting their Islamophobic interests have pushed the Muslims into a state of apology. But why is this? How often is it reiterated that mainstream Muslims have sacrificed the most in the struggle against ISIS? From as early as January 2014, Islamic revolutionary groups in Syria who call for a real Islamic State have been fighting ISIS.[12] Islamic scholars, particularly in Syria have been renouncing their heretical ideology since the early months of 2013.[13] Mainstream Muslims have more than fulfilled their duty of clarifying their position, and the Syrian Mujāhidīn have engaged in fierce battles with them time and time again.

It is reprehensible that after the international community’s neglect for all of 2013, its ‘humanitarian intervention’ finally culminates into a waged war against these very Syrian fighters who have been fighting ISIS. In fact, those reporting from Syria have been shouting upon deaf ears that the mainstream Mujāhidīn have been the best chance to get rid of ISIS since their inception. Recently the Islamic Front’s spokesperson, Abu Firas al-Halabi, confirmed that the coalition air force has targeted civilians and revolutionaries far apart from ISIS, adding: “the coalition should target the Syrian regime, the biggest terrorist, guilty of repeated massacres over four years.”[14] Ahrar al-Sham for example, an Islamic Sunni group who used to fight against ISIS, said in a statement on Thursday 6th November 2014 that overnight air strikes by a US-led coalition had killed civilians, including women and children, and destroyed one of its bases near the Turkish border. [15]

The American Congress and the British Parliament sanctioned military intervention unequivocally against ‘ISIL’ or ‘ISIS’. Did the coalition consult the electorate about launching strikes against non-ISIS affiliated Islamic factions who dealt the heaviest blows to ISIS? Among the targeted groups were Nusra Front who according to political analysts was the most ardent group against the Syrian regime,[16] and whose leader Mohammad al-Golani unequivocally expressed no intention to rule Syria.[17] It does not help when popular news bulletins appear with paradoxical, nonsensical statements such as: “The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (Nusra Front) has promised retaliation over air strikes in Syria, as the US-led coalition widened its assault on ISIL targets and British jets flew their first combat missions over neighbouring Iraq.”[18] The US coalition has already agreed that the two group’s aims have diverged from one another a long time ago, but why not strike both ‘while they are at it’? Even the most ‘moderate’ rebels have condemned the US’ airstrikes, and on the 29th of September, ‘Liwa al-Haq’, a member of the Islamic Front, was pounded by a few coalition rockets while the Syrian regime gratefully took the chance to gasp for breath.[19]

With increasing prospects for a fully-fledged “cooperation [with] and a renewal of legitimacy for the Syrian regime” against a joint enemy,[20] we ask whether the US and Europe only condemned the regime at the start of the Syrian revolution to uphold a public image. What is certain is that the current international operation in Iraq and Syria extends far beyond what is claimed. Reciting the US’ rhetoric only cements the overshadowing ambiguity of the matter and a more holistic reading is what the Muslim world is currently demanding.

The Free Syrian Army leader and founder Colonel Riad al-Asaad said in an interview with Aljazeera magazine that the US-led coalition came to support the Syrian regime and the interests of some other regional states. He added that anyone helping this coalition is in fact supporting the Syrian regime. He was amazed at how the coalition mourns over the city of Kobani and was desperate to support it, while it is inhabited by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, who fight alongside Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric, bloodthirsty regime.[21]

In brief, one of the main goals of this coalition’s campaign is to ensure that none of the Islamic groups—irrespective of how much they differ from ISIS—is able to win the war against the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Muslims should not be shallow in how they interpret the inflamed situation in Iraq and Syria but should rather extract the many lessons that can be learnt en-route to forming a holistic understanding of our state of affairs. Only a few were mentioned here. This worldly life is nothing but an on-going struggle, with Islām’s adversaries unceasing in their attempts to subjugate the faith and its followers and they will use all available means to do so. As the Arabic idiom goes: “victory is but the patience of a single hour,” and better than this are the words of Allāh:

“…and had there not been Allāh’s repelling some people by others, certainly there would have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allāh’s name is much remembered; and surely Allāh will help him who helps His cause; most surely Allāh is Strong, Mighty.”[22]

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/16/world/middleeast/how-isis-works.html

[2] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/08/07/statement-president

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/08/22/united-nations-syria-death-toll/14429549/

[4] http://www.channel4.com/news/syria-chemical-weapons-attack-evidence-video-rebels-assad

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/28/houla-massacre-survivor-boy-syria

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2150757/Houla-massacre-Syria-Victims-slaughtered-family-family-one-ELEVEN-HOUR-killing-spree.html

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/22/syria-sunnis-fear-alawite-ethnic-cleansing

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/25/world/meast/uae-female-fighter-pilot/

[9] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/10/iraq-sunni-protesters-government-negotiations.html##ixzz3HZFftkTZ

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/world/middleeast/clashes-at-sunni-protest-site-in-iraq.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[11] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-10/obama-s-call-for-new-iraq-government-suffers-setback.html

[12] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/09/us-syria-crisis-rebels-factbox-idUSBREA080SW20140109

[13] http://islamicsham.org/letters/824

[14] http://www.aljazeera.net/news/arabic/2014/10/5/

[15] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/06/us-mideast-crisis-ahrar-idUSKBN0IQ25L20141106

[16] http://abc7.com/news/us-airstrikes-against-isis-have-hurt-moderate-rebels/355806/

[17] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/18/us-syria-crisis-qaeda-idUSBRE9BH17820131218

[18] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/al-qaeda-linked-group-warns-us-led-coalition-2014927224526662127.html

[19] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-syria-the-united-states-is-bombing-friend-and-foe-alike/2014/10/02/28bac60a-499f-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html

[20] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/09/syria-us-islamic-state-cooperation-terror-assad-italy.html#

[21] http://www.aljazeera.net/news/arabic/2014/10/29/%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B6-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF

[22] Al-Qur’ān 22:40

About Shaykh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.


  1. Take it or leave it, the solution to Iraq was ISIS. The solution to Syria is guess who… ISIS again.

  2. Samy Merchant

    Very logical article, Mashaa Allah

    • Samy Merchant

      But it needs to be pointed out that ISIS are far worse than the disbelievers. Even when mass murderers like Ariel Sharon, Adolph Hitler, Benjamin Netenyahu and George Bush kill innocent people, they have enough decency to try to cover up their slaughter and hide their tracks. They know its wrong. Not like ISIS, which actually publicizes it! Unbelievably wicked!

  3. Fantastic article, we were is real need of some well thought out, unbiased analysis, now we got some.

  4. “Of course you do realize that those people are not really ‘Syrian opposition’. They are modern-day legionnaires collected from various Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, paid by western imperialist powers (and now they’re upset that their paymasters are not supporting them in the manner they wish). Some are members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Most are militant extremist Muslims. One could describe them as rogue elements hired to fight the Assad government.”

    Syria (even more so than Libya after Gaddafi) is a disaster and none of the groups currently fighting in Syria are any better than the Syrian regime. If they ever succeed in their takeover, we can only except the same brutality as the Syrian regime has shown, just with a different ideological orientation. All these groups have squandered their political capitol, their relevance, their humanitarian/Islamic credentials. Syria is now full of thugs and brutes battling for dominance – all the makeup in the world to put an “Islamic” face on the various conflicting groups, cannot hide the thuggish reality underlying them. Nobody is fooled by empty clichés and the twisting of religious and political language – the carnage generated in Syria and Iraq speaks louder than words about the deluded ambitions of the factions battling it out in Syria.

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