In my previous posts on al-Qaida scholars advising the Arab Spring (here, here, here and here), we have frequently come across the Syrian-British Abu Basir al-Tartusi. His advice to the people of the Arab world trying to overthrow their dictators has often been at odds with that of his fellow radical ideologues, as we have seen, since Abu Basir frequently encourages fighters to be lenient with others or even scolds them for using violent methods too recklessly. As we saw in my previous post on Yemen, other scholars have criticised Abu Basir for this. Similarly, when Abu Basir published a fatwa on his website in February in which he expressed support for the (non-Islamist) Free Syrian Army fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and not for the much more overtly Islamic Jabhat Nusrat al-Sham, he was criticised for this by Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti on the Shari’a Forum of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. In a fatwa of his own, al-Shinqiti states that Abu Basir’s endorsement of the Free Syrian Army, with its “democratic method” and his simultaneous criticism of a group that strives for “the implementation of the Islamic shari’a” shows that Abu Basir “has a major methodological shortcoming”. (For more on this issue, see this article).
Despite Abu Basir’s tendency to state things differently from his colleagues, nobody seems to question his commitment to the cause of the Arab Spring, particularly in his native Syria. He has written numerous articles and fatwas about the revolts in the Arab world and has even gone to Syria himself to support the people there, as others have pointed out (see here, for example). Moreover, Abu Basir’s nephew is said to “have achieved martyrdom” in Syria earlier this month and al-Tartusi himself has long been involved with the Facebook page “The Islamic Opposition to the Syrian Regime”, which shows some photographs of him, including one in which he is holding a gun, suggesting that he’s actually out there fighting the regime.
Perhaps Abu Basir’s most extensive sign of his commitment to the Arab Spring is his almost 500-pages long scrapbook on everything related to the revolutions in the Middle East. Entitled “The Scrapbook of the Revolution and the Revolutionaries: Words Written for the Arab Revolutions and Particularly the Syrian Revolution”, it contains Abu Basir’s daily (?) musings on what goes on in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and, as the title suggests, particularly Syria. Although many journalists may do similar things, Abu Basir is the only radical Islamic ideologue that I know of who does this.
Even in posts focussed on countries other than Syria, Abu Basir often finds a way to make a connection with the country of his birth. In his criticism of the former Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, for example, he apologises to his readers for the support the Syrian regime gave to its Libyan counterpart (contribution no. 6). He does state, however, that “al-Asad is more criminal than the criminal al-Qadhafi” since the latter “only started using weapons against his people after a week of demonstrations”, while the Syrian president did so “from day one” (contribution no. 53).
Abu Basir’s scrapbook abounds in conspiracy theories. In one contribution (no. 46), he claims that the reason the United States does not invade Syria to overthrow the regime there is that the country – unlike Libya – lacks oil on the one hand and, on the other, because Syria “has played the role of watchdog” for Israel for more than forty years. He also states that Syria is a “servant” of “its master”, the US and the international community (contribution no. 304).
Readers may wonder if such thoughts aren’t rather odd considering, among several other things, Syria’s long-time support for Hizbullah’s attacks on the Israel. They might be, if Hizbullah wasn’t part of another conspiracy, namely the “coalition between the Syrian sectarian regime, Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon” (contribution 35). He accuses the latter of contributing to the killing of Syrian demonstrators (contribution 231) and sees them as part of a Shiite plot, which has supposedly succeeded “through the Syrian secret service and the media” to brand all demonstrators as “Salafis”, which many see as a synonym for “terrorists” (contribution 226). According to Abu Basir’s logic, which he leaves largely unexpressed, such conspirators must apparently work hand in glove with those other countries allegedly pulling all the strings (i.e., the US and Israel).
Some of the contributions that appear in Abu Basir’s scrapbook are also available as individual articles. Still, there is a clear contrast between this book and his other writings on the Arab Spring. Whereas the latter are relatively careful and considered, the collection of short contributions to his scrapbook are often rather crude and shallow. This does not just apply to his accusations of conspiratorial plots and his cheap shots at Shiites – which, to be honest, can also be found in his longer writings – but also in his downright celebration of the death of al-Qadhafi: “God is great… God is great and praise be to God… Today the tyrant al-Qadhafi has been killed… The father of ignorance of this age has been killed… Musaylima [an early-Islamic false prophet] of this age has been killed” (contribution 688).
Perhaps such tendencies can be expected in a scrapbook, in which deep thoughts usually have no place. Abu Basir is also less likely to be criticised for saying such things, since some of these “arguments” go down particularly well with his fellow radicals. Still, Abu Basir might do the Arab Spring more good if he stuck to his genuine efforts – no matter how unpalatable these may still be to most – to help the revolutionaries find solutions to their problems rather than egging them on with hollow rhetoric that doesn’t do anybody any good.