Developments in the Middle East are, to many in the West, confusing, opaque, and difficult to understand. Thus, the mainstream media in the United States and its allies have contorted themselves into pretzels attempting to frame a Middle East narrative that fits the mold their governments have so skillfully produced for public mass consumption. One of the key elements of the Syria portion of this regional narrative is the tale of the “moderate opposition.” In recent months, key western leaders like UK Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as stalwart supporters of the western-Saudi political line in the region, have made it their goal, contrary even to the statements of top military officials in the West, to tell the world that tens of thousands of “moderate rebels” are operating in Syria. But what is a “moderate” rebel? What is the basis from which this supposed moderation derives? What about those rebels who are not moderate? In order to separate the truth from the falsehoods, it is important to analyze the term “moderate” on its face.
In my opinion, the term “moderate” is just another one of those words that is bandied about without any real explanation of the message the term actually conveys. In order for someone to be moderate, there must first be an understanding of the basis of his or her moderation. As a result, if we were to call someone a moderate leftist, we would probably mean that this person is not a fundamentalist in how he or she approaches leftist ideology. A moderate “___” is thus someone who, although strongly adhering to that specific ideological perspective, is willing to compromise when needed to advance a larger goal. This is essentially how I would understand the behavior of a moderate “___.”
Now, if we move our analysis to the Syrian context, we are told that the opposition groups supported by the West and its allies are “moderates” and thus because of their moderation, are worthy of money, weapons, and logistical assistance in their struggle against the Syrian state. But what we must strive to discover is the term that naturally follows the description of these moderates. How do we fill in the blank? These Syrian rebels are moderate “___.” Well certainly they are not moderate leftists, willing to fight the Syrian government to create a Syria that is, at its core, ideologically left wing while still open to the views of non-leftists. They are also not moderate secularists, eager to create a new Syria that is as secular as the one they are fighting while still open to non-secular tendencies. Well then are these rebels moderate democrats? Certainly, if this were the case, they would simply be called “democrats” in an effort to glorify them as rebels fighting to install a multiparty “democracy” in Syria. No. The “moderate opposition” is none of these. At its core, the vast majority of the armed opposition in Syria is unflinchingly and unabashedly Islamist, fighting for a Syria that has as its foundation hardline Islamism, not the tolerant brand of Sunni Islam native to the Levant. This opposition would establish a Syria that would assist states like Saudi Arabia in exporting a sectarian and takfiri brand of Islam that is not only unique in the level of destructiveness it has achieved, but also utterly bigoted and intolerant. Syria would become yet another source of Islamic extremism, in line with the likes of the Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al-Qaeda, and yes, even ISIS. The only difference is that this Islamic State, like Saudi Arabia, would have a flag fluttering in the wind at the United Nations in New York.
When the West and its allies brand their proxies as “moderates,” they are simply saying that these rebels are toned down versions of ISIS, Islamists that may be willing to possibly accept a Syria that is perhaps open to those who do not adhere to a hardline Sunni Islamist ideology. Therefore, it is safe to say that many western governments and the think tanks that tow the western-Saudi line in the Levant, are openly supporting the rise of Islamism in Syria with only a veiled attempt at hiding their true intentions. By calling these rebel fighters moderates, these entities have somehow assuaged their populations, assuring them that the taxpayer money being funneled into opposition coffers in Syria is meant to support people who may possibly serve western and allied interests. The blowback from interventions in Iraq, Libya, and other places are still fresh in the minds of western citizens and thus new terminology is needed to describe the same pawns in a larger geopolitical game. In Libya, the West simply called the rebels “rebels” and did not see the need to label them as anything else. Now, rebels being supported in Syria are “moderates,” but that does not mean that they are secularists, nor does it mean that their vision for Syria is plural or democratic. They are staunch Islamists, no different from the Islamists that are running amok in Libya, armed to the teeth with enough weapons to wage an endless war against one another and the fragile Libyan state they helped create. For almost fifteen years, the interventionist policies of the War on Terror has produced a world that is more unstable than the one in which we lived the day before the September 11 attacks.
Christopher Dekki works in civil society-based policy advocacy at the United Nations, focusing specifically on sustainable development, humanitarian issues, urban development, and international finance. He is also a part-time professor of political science and law in New York.
You can follow him on Twitter: @CDekki