Robin Yassin-Kassab

A Slaughter of Alawi Innocents

with 12 comments

For the first time there is proof of a large-scale massacre of Alawis – the heterodox Shia offshoot sect to which Bashaar al-Assad belongs – by Islamist extremists among Syrian opposition forces. In its context, this disaster is hardly surprising. It follows a string of sectarian massacres of Sunni civilians (in Houla, Tremseh, Bayda and Banyas, and elsewhere), the sectarian ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from areas of Homs province, and an assault on Sunni sacred sites such as the Khaled ibn al-Waleed mosque in Homs, the Umawi mosque in Aleppo, and the Omari mosque in Dera’a. It follows two and a half years of rape, torture and murder carried out on an enormous scale by a ‘Syrian’ army commanded by Alawi officers and backed by sectarian Shia militias from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, and by Alawi irregular militias. Assad and his backers have deliberately instrumentalised sectarian hatred more effectively than the Americans did in Iraq, and they must bear the lion’s share of responsibility for the dissolution of Syria’s social mosaic. Next, the counter-revolutionary forces in the West (chief among them the United States) must be blamed for obstructing the flow of arms to the Free Syrian Army, a policy which has inevitably strengthened the most extreme and sectarian jihadist groups (some of whom, such as the foreign-commanded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are actively fighting the Free Army). Human Rights Watch’s important report on the massacre of Alawi villagers is summed up in the video below. Sadly, HRW fails to adequately distinguish between Syrian and foreign, and moderate and extremist anti-Assad militias. The excellent EAWorldview critiques the report here. Its conclusion:

The HRW report illustrates the dangers of conflating the various factions of the insurgency under the heading “armed opposition groups”.

Coincidentally, that conflation is a tactic of the regime who seeks to portray the insurgency as extremist-led, largely foreign fighters rather than an extension of the indigenous protest movement that took up arms after Assad’s forces used violence to quash it from March 2011.

By this conflation, HRW (a fine organisation which has done great work in uncovering the truth of the Syrian conflict) veers dangerously close to the orientalist/racist stereotyping of the Syrian people’s struggle now dominant in both the rightist and liberal/leftist Western media.

It goes without saying that the crimes committed against Alawi civilians in northern Lattakia province are grotesque and idiotic, and constitute another strategic blow against the revolution and the survival of the Syrian state.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

12 Responses

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  1. Obama’s policy of not arming the Free Syrian Army and Assad’s policy of bombing schools and not ISIS headquarters in Raqqa is really paying off here. A very sad day for the revolution and the people of Syria of all sects.

    Not George Sabra

    October 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm

  2. […] was a war crime, a crime against humanity, a crime against the revolution, and a crime that can only benefit the […]

  3. Hi Robin – I’ve commented on this over on EAWV but I thought I’d repost a version here because I generally share your views on Syria, but think that this represents a crucial issue that needs serious and careful discussion:
    I’ve not had the chance to work through the HRW report in detail, and there may be particular judgements open to question – but even a quick read-through suggests that this critique is not well-founded: The accusation that HRW “conflates the various factions of the insurgency” is not justified. The report is both detailed and specific in differentiating particular groups, collating the evidence that links them to criminal acts, and stating explicitly where no hard evidence exists.
    Moreover it seems quite clear that Ahrar al-Sham was centrally involved in these operations: while they and the Syrian Islamic Front may not be part of the “FSA” pole, they are not some minor takfirist group but a major component of the armed opposition.
    Finally, we have seen several incidents, starting with Hatla, in which FSA-identifying units have worked with sectarian armed groups and, while perhaps not directly responsible for sectarian acts, have done little or nothing to prevent them.
    Support for the Syrian struggle is not served by going into denial over the very real problem of sectarianism in the ranks of the armed opposition.


    October 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    • I agree there’s no use in denial, and I agree that the armed opposition in general (reflecting sentiments on the ground, for obvious reasons) is becoming more sectarian. I still think it’s important to distinguish the FSA (especially the Saleem Idrees Supreme Command), as well as most of the components of the new ‘Islam Army’ (like the Islam Brigade and others), in other words the forces which the Saudis are now supplying, and the only forces anyone in the West may arm in the future, from the criminals which took part in this slaughter. Yes, Ahrar assh-Sham took part in the crime and yes, they are a mjor fighting force, and a real problem. I don’t want to deny that or cover it up. I expect the armed opposition (like the suffering people) will continue to become more and more sectarian as time goes on. It’s very sad, but also inevitable. Assad and his backers engineered this. The failure of the West and the Arabs to help the Syrian people have greatly contributed.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      October 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      • I’m glad to see that we’re in agreement on the main points. But I think the distinction you are trying to make between sectarian and non-sectarian groups is increasingly fragile. Whatever view one may have had of Idriss/SMC in the past (I think it has always been a basically paper operation) its fairly clear that with the declaration of the Jaish al-Islam the SMC is little more than a shell: if you strip out the Liwa al-Tawhid and the Liwa-al Islam from the FSA what are you left with? And that’s part of the problem: there’s really no buffer left between Islamist groups of various shades and the sectarian takfiirists, increasing the danger of a drift into sectarianism.
        I think the HRW response to this situation has been a measured one – not to jump on the liberal bandwagon of calling for a general arms embargo (which would only serve the regime) but to call for a selective arms embargo of those groups who have demonstrably committed sectarian crimes. It may be difficult to enforce that effectively – but it at least has symbolic value that may apply some leverage to pull these groups back from their sectarian drift.


        October 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      • if Tawheed and al-islam have not not committed sectarian crimes, then let’s not associate them with those who have. I agree with your last point. (Or do I? I’m still thinking it through. Say every militia committed sectarian crimes – what then? I still want the Assad regime – the instrumentaliser of sectarian hatred – to be defeated. I don’t see how the sectarian drift can be stopped until the regime is stopped. If you ask me if I prefer the regime or al-Qa’ida (of course the Jaish al-Islam etc are nothing like al-Qa’ida) I’d say al-Qa’ida. Nothing is worse than the regime. In the absence of the regime’s tortures, the people will soon pull back from this hatred.) overall, I despair. I don’t see how the drift to sectarianism can be stopped. If the West and others had worked properly with the Free Army, if the so-called ‘Shia’ powers had not joined in the assault on the Syrian people, we’d be in a very different place. At this stage, very many Syrian people (not just the armed groups) regard Alawis and Shia as Palestinians regard Jews. In both cases it’s wrong; in both cases it’s easy to understand why.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        October 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm

  4. This requires a lot of thought. How to fight a monster without becoming a monster? (I’m sure you know the tyrant’s family name was Wahsh – ‘monster’ – until Bashaar’s great grandfather won a wrestling match and took on the name Assad – ‘lion’)

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    October 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm

  5. http://www.ahraralsham.com/?p=3165
    Ahrar ash-Sham categorically denies involvement

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    October 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm

  6. Even that I strongly oppose civilian casualties from all sides, can’t help but feel sick the HRW reports for allawities came at the same time where they are blind on various massacres that are happening daily from Assad army and various allawities factions specially in latakiyya province. Being a native there with relatives in almost all parts of latakiyya, we never heard of such acts by sunnies since the sunnies are the weakest unarmed party in this conflict.
    In the video the women are wearing hijab which means they are sunnies since allawities don’t wear hijab. That’s what added to my believe that HRW are as usual getting half the information only.


    October 25, 2013 at 7:44 am

  7. […] burqas? Would they torture political opponents and activist-journalists as ISIS does? Would they slaughter Alawi civilians and destroy or seize churches to turn them into Islamic centers as ISIS has? Would […]

  8. […] السياسيين و النشطاء الصحفيين مثل ما تفعل داعش؟ هل سيذبحون المدنيين العلويين و يدمرون أو يستولون على الكنائس […]

  9. […] burqas? Would they torture political opponents and activist-journalists as ISIS does? Would they slaughter Alawi civilians and destroy or seize churches to turn them into Islamic centers as ISIS has? Would […]

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