Reframing Daesh and Syria

by Berry Friesen

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The political elite frame discussion of the terrorism in Paris and the war in Syria by two consensus views and two matters for debate.

The first consensus (beyond debate, in other words) is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down. The second is that Daesh (pretentiously called “the Islamic State”) must be violently crushed.

The first issue we are encouraged to debate concerns what mix of violence the United States (US) should use in crushing Daesh. The second is whether the US should deny admission to all Syrian refugees on the off chance that a few are terrorists.

How should Jesus-followers season this discourse? We could simply add our two cents, assuming the matter has been framed accurately and constructively.

Or, we could be the “salt” Jesus asked us to be by reframing the discussion.

With his recent letter to Mennonite Church USA congregations, executive director Ervin Stutzman pointed in the right direction. He wrote: “In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it appears our nation and the global community will once again swallow the lie that only violence can put an end to violence. Yet that lie offers only the illusion of control while promising the false comfort of revenge.”

Stutzman’s letter relies primarily on the witness of Messiah Jesus, but his reframing of violence as a “lie” also rests on solid empirical grounds. In 2000, the year before the so-called war on terror was launched, the number of deaths worldwide caused by terrorism was 3,329; in 2014, it had increased nearly ten-fold to 32,727.

What other reframing would help bring the national conversation to a fruitful end?

1. Nearly all “Muslim terrorists” subscribe to the Wahhabi strand of Islam. This strand takes the traditional Sunni mantra “One Ruler, One Authority, One Mosque” as a mandate to impose conformity on all others (including Muslims of Shia or Sufi persuasion), even if that requires the use of violence. Moreover, Wahhabism seeks to replicate the purity of an ancient era when the Prophet Muhammad ruled from Medina.

Today, Saudi Arabia—a close ally of the US— is the primary promoter of Wahhabism. Ending Sunni terrorism will require a change in Saudi Arabia.

2. The US has engaged in an extensive effort to take down the government of Syria and break it into pieces. Planning toward this end was underway already in 2002 and became US policy in 2006. Amid Arab Spring demonstrations in March 2011, the plan was implemented covertly by inserting snipers into the crowds. After Syrian authorities responded harshly to the murders of numerous police officers and soldiers, insurgents within Syria took up arms against the government.

Western media generally call it a civil war, but 20-30,000 foreign fighters from across North Africa, Europe, Central Asia and the Arab world have flocked to Syria to join the fight. For Syrians loyal to their government (and most Syrian are), it is an invasion, not a civil war.

While publicly supporting United Nations efforts to end the war in Syria, the US has pursued its plan to take Syria apart. Reports in major US newspapers during the spring of 2012 described an extensive war-making effort coordinated by the U.S. and involving huge amounts of direct assistance to the insurgents from US allies in the region. That effort continues yet today.

3. With regard to Daesh, it’s important to acknowledge that already in 2012—when Daesh did not yet exist—the US expected “a Salafist principality” to take control in eastern Syria.

An August 2012 Pentagon intelligence report identified “al-Qaida in Iraq and fellow Salafists” as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” Most importantly, it stated that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” supported the Salafist effort to take control of eastern Syria.

Buoyed by the US-led network of supporters, events proceeded as predicted by the Pentagon report. In April 2013, radical jihadists from Iraq merged with al-Qaeda in Syria and took the name “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL). In the latter half of 2013 and early months of 2014, Daesh seized control of eastern Syria and established Raqqah as capital of its global caliphate.

Despite the many expressions of alarm about Daesh over recent months, it continues to enjoy state support. Funds continue to flow from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey’s border continues to be open to the truck convoys that resupply Daesh and export its oil. Weapons sourced to the US and Israel continue to make their way to Daesh.

To what changes in US policy would this reframing point?

First, it would reject the media-driven spiral of violence that makes Daesh so much more important than it is and enables it to attract an endless supply of money and recruits.

Second, it would stop using Daesh to mask and implement an imperial agenda of dominating and controlling other nations.

Third, the US and its allies would stop all support flowing to Daesh.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit,” Paul wrote in the assembly in Colossae (2:8). As we apply Paul’s words, we can help reframe the national conversation about terrorism and the war in Syria, a vital step in moving events there toward peace.

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at www.bible-and-empire.net

 

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