The Rise of Belligerent Nihilist Tendencies in Syria
The remarkable thing in the Syrian context – and the Arabic context more generally – is the continuation of nihilist tendencies over the more extreme varieties of Islam, those varieties that reject the rest of the world. This article will attempt to clarify this point.
The withdrawal of values from reality is characteristic of revolutions, and all of them have a nihilist aspect. Because of this, we will speak sometimes of a revolutionary nihilism directed at the core of prevailing reality, or a belligerent nihilism that fundamentally depends on armed force.
Three factors stemming from the events of the last year and two months that contributed to the appearance of these nihilist leanings:
The first factor is the continuing aggressive violence from the regime: killing, torture, random shelling, forced expulsions, the burning of houses, rape, arbitrary executions, people burnt alive … this gives rise to feelings of anger and shock, especially in the Sunni Muslim community. They feel they are disproportionately targeted by the regime’s extreme violence, and have suffered the loss of life and the destruction of the basic conditions of life in dozens of locations across the country. These feelings spread the conviction that this violent regime, which knows no limits, will not fall except through violence. After a year of revolution and confrontation, without respite from the extreme violence, Syrian society has become a classic example of a brutalized society. It has been dealt with through force for a long time. It no longer trusts anyone, and the sections most exposed to this brutalization may already have decided to confront violence with violence and killing with killing. This is not just a fitting punishment for the aggressors in the eyes of those who suffer their aggression, nor a necessary retribution; it is an expression of honor and pride.
The second factor is connected with the deeply divided and generally weak Syrian opposition. The problem here is not the different directions and positions that divide opposition groups, nor the weakness of the spectrum of the opposition as a whole and its inability to accomplish change in the country, but two distinct things: the continuing infighting in the absence of convincing reasons for this infighting except for what is most likely personal reasons of self promotion; and the generally modest and often poor level of opposition spokespeople and their lack of a clear vision. The result of this has been the collapse of trust in the opposition as a whole, which has affected all opposition groups without exception.
At best, the opposition has been found wanting and of little weight; at worst they have proven unworthy of respect and deserving of contempt. This is when they have not been a mere disguise for the regime; it has not been uncommon for activists to describe some of them as such. The logical result of these judgments has been that revolutionaries depend on themselves. The path of the Syrian revolution over the last year has been the path of local communities taking over politics, discourse and public space, not just confronting the regime but also opposition groups. It has not been uncommon for this takeover to be expressed in terms of the language of politicized religion, which judges it to be dirty and corrupt, and politicians to be liars and self-serving seekers of power.
The third factor is the Arabic and international paralysis towards Syria over the last year. Arabic countries and international powers have spoken clearly and placed the blame on the Syrian regime for the killing of its people, repeatedly implying it is on their side of the struggle and that days of the Syrian regime are numbered. But after almost 15 months they have done nothing to contribute to ending this continuous killing, or acted upon anything they said. More than once the regime has concluded from their positions and speeches it has a free hand to act against its victims in the country. This has led to the widespread feeling among Syrian that they have been abandoned to their fate, that the world is not concerned with them, if not actually plotting against them. It is easy for Syrians to remember justifications for doubting the rest of the world, and especially the Western powers.
The mutually reinforcing effect of these three factors has come at the expense of the trust of Syrians for any organized power around them, and contributed to increasing negativity from them all. This reality is reflected in the signs and slogans Syrians have used that directly expressed their psychological state. On 17/2/2012, during the siege and bombardment of Baba Amr in Homs, citizens in the town of “Occupied Kafar Nabal” raised the sign “Or do you think we are stupid? Our blood flows in rivers, and you act out and exchange the roles of good and evil! The world is a liar and a trickster!” The word “occupied,” which Kafar Nabal used to describe itself, has become common on the signs of other regions, and has become part of a psychological and political race to accept a confrontation with power to end the occupation and become liberated.
The famous slogan: “Oh God, you are all we have, Oh God!” appeared in the summer of 2011, a month after the revolution began, and is connected to the extreme feeling of isolation and absence of support. On 17/3/2012, in a demonstration at a funeral for those martyred the day before, demonstrators in Raqqa shouted: “Your people are defenseless, Oh, God!” In one sentence they announced they were god’s people and defenseless, targeted for killing by an armed and aggressive regime. The combination of God and weapons is the result of “God’s people defenseless” in their weakness.
Before that, last autumn 14/10/2011, “Occupied Kafar Nabal” raised a sign that became famous as it combined originality and cynicism: “Down with the regime and opposition, down with the Arabic and the Islamic nation, down with the Security Council, down with the world, down with everything!” The village of Kafar Nabal was unknown, like all of Syria, and the general impression one has of its people and the governorate of Idlib as a whole tends to conservative religion. In the fundamental, total and leveling call to bring down of everything, the sign expresses the refusal to positively discriminate in favor of anything. All are evil or plotting, and there is no benefit to be derived from them. One year into the revolution, another sign calling for everything to be brought down was raised in the village of Binsh, which socially and culturally is the same as Kafar Nabal. This time it did not show originality but was more pessimistic and fundamental: “Down with the coordination committees and the councils, down with the traitors in the National Council, down with the mainstream press of the Syrian revolution, [there is a poll with all of their names on Facebook], down with the union of coordination committees and the General Organization of the Revolution.”
What distinguishes this sign is that it announces the fundamental loss of confidence in the opposition, the formations that were established under the revolution and connected with it.
This is not the despair of one who has surrendered, but the despair of one who is angry and willing to risk his life in battle; this is not the announcement of a withdrawal from the struggle as much as it is the withdrawal of trust from the names they had perhaps previously depended on. The dependency ends, but not the anger or the struggle. Many reports have indicated those who stopped demonstrating took up arms or tried to acquire them; they did not sit in their houses. The acceptance of the risking of life (a mix of anger and a fundamental determination to fight) and weapons can lead to the development of the struggle into a nihilist struggle, a total struggle, kill or be killed. The regime has embraced a struggle against the revolution from the beginning in this mindset.
If we put in our minds the extremely decentralized character of the Syrian revolution, generated by nearly half a century of disconnectedness and isolation imposed on Syrian society, from the regime’s employment through force of its hegemonic position over all social interaction, and the strategy of disarticulation it has used to confront the revolution since the beginning, this caused the well-known impossibility of protest activities in central squares, which would have permitted a meeting of the diversity of Syria, and perhaps a degree of discussion and exchange of opinions and the building of general trust. I say if we keep all of this in mind, it is obvious to us that the extreme and forced segregation of the activities of the revolution is an additional factor that contributed toward the facilitation of the spread of the nihilist mix: complete lack of trust, struggle and violence and deeply-rooted religious belief.
“Islam” makes it legitimate to respond to violence with what it calls Jihad (“a Holy struggle”) in which possible death means martyrdom. It also legitimates, through the concept of unbelief (Kufr), the stripping of a fundamental aspect from the regime.
However, it forms in itself the best way to balance severing, undoing and atonement. Jihadist Salafism itself provides an Islam that meets the requirements of these needs.
It is possible this will play to the benefit of any extremist groups within the Syrian revolution because of the fragmentation of militant groups and their lack of a united organization, effective leadership and a mass ideology.
As to what had been said about the overall lack of trust, and the fragmentation or multiple foci of the revolution, we may add the fragmentation or dissipation of vision, a sustained lack of clarity about the path of the revolution, its results and the nation’s future. This has been caused by the characteristic recalcitrance of the Syrian situation for more than a year, as well as the weak role of cultural and political elites and the lack of trust in them. This is justified, given the general performance of politicians and intellectuals on the one hand, and their constant quarrels and troubles on the other. Confusion and uncertainty increases that “action-oriented” trend, which scorns ideas, politics, programs, plans, politicians and intellectuals, and may be satisfied with a mixture of a minimum level of intellectual subsistence and pure effectiveness directed toward directly changing reality with violence. This combination is what is offered by Islamic militants. We speak about a minimum level of intellectual subsistence because the Islam of the extremists is close to a collection of practical prescriptions whose added intellectual value approaches zero, and it is known that particular Islam is hostile toward broad aspects of Islamic cultural heritage.
While Arabism pays the price for being the official doctrine of the Syrian regime, "Islam" alone gains from the lack of trust in the regime, in Arabs, and the world. A sign in the town of Tafs in Dera on Friday, 6/4/2012, says: "To hell with all the Arabs, the Lord of the Worlds [God] is with us!" This is not Arabs satirising Arabs anew, but part of a new context that truly depends on the “Lord of the Worlds.” It should be noted that the Friday was named "from the equipment of the aggressor we conquer,” a saying attributed to the Prophet which distills, as is apparent, the confluence of religion and violence – a “jihad” (seeking financial support from the wealthy of the Gulf states, as reported by some in the know).
And after the blaring alarm screaches “Where are the Arabs?” “Where are the Muslims?” “Where is the world?” in broad sections of the population the matter goes back to the their withdrawal of trust from everyone: all the bad, conspiring or corrupt political forces, all Arab and international parties, whether complicit or simply powerless. The regime is an unprincipled armed butcher, and consequently there is no way to confront its violence with anything but violence. Perhaps armed violence has not always been practised, but the belief in its necessity is now widespread.
This spreads political cynicism and suits violent tendencies and… dictatorial rulers.
And after cynicism of politics, the praise of arms is not long coming. At the end of the last year, the slogan from Hama was heard: “No peacefullness and no worthless watermelons! Bang and pow is wanted!” (the sounds of guns). The same was written upon the signs in the Jebel Zawiya region.
This tendency certainly grew, and escalated in broad sections of Syrian society, mainly the Sunni Muslim section, without being anyone’s original choice or the ideological or political preference of any group.
It should be noted here that we do not equate any resistance to the regime by force with nihilism. Indeed, the dominant form of violent resistance to the system is not nihilism. It is not linked to the systematic withdrawal of meaning from the world, and it is not a religious faith. It is defensive violence, organized to an extent and of a general Syrian nationalist intellectual orientation, even if it is likely that most of its practitioners are men of faith. The Free Syrian Army is the loose framework for this armed resistance, it is not a nihilistic organisation and does not resemble one in any way. Its leaders and batallions are also not that way inclined. More than that, we believe that because of the recognition of the Free Army’s legitimacy and the work to organize it politically and intellectually, this makes it a barrier against the ascendance of combatative nihilist tendencies and formulations. On the contrary if this operation, being carried out today with great hardship, falters, or if the Free Syrian Army fragments, the result will be the growth of an al-Qaida cocktail. Nihilism is not generated by violent and organised resistance to a violent regime, but from the possibility this resistance will fail.
A reliance on religion does not contradict nihilist tendencies, especially religion in its more extremist form, more restrictive for everyday life. This form of nihilism is likely in a society that no longer trusts any contemporary human intermediation; not politics, nor culture, nor laws and institutions, nor the "international community." The negation of intermediation and the direct connection with God and the Divine Word, in its literal understanding, is the hallmark of radical Islam in all ages. The appeal of Wahhabism, a fundamental denial of any form of intermediation and also of history, is inflamed by the degree to which we lose trust in the world around us. The Islamic concept of infidelity is generally easy to mobilize in Islamic thought, especially among the Salafi tendencies. It is an easy basis for the withdrawal of trust and the distancing of values from the world, and to find an Islamic and deep-rooted cosmic support for Nihilism and the negation of the world. Modern Islam (and to a certain degree Islam itself) is strongly receptive to nihilism, as it has been absorbed by the world not exiled from it, since the time the Muslim worlds were included in “Modernity” from a position of weakness and passivity. The constant struggle to lessen the value of reality to the interest of what is believed to be the essence of Muslims, which accords with their strength and the loftiness of their cause. The lessening of the value of reality is a constant aspect of every nihilism.
We may call our nihilism the nihilism of the overabundance of meaning (as opposed to the scarcity of meaning of the world, which is supposed to have generated European nihilism). But it is more relevant to us as a complete disengagement between meaning and the world. The contemporary world, as “worldly existence,” direct reality and international arena, represents for many of the inhabitants of its countries a burden that cannot be visualised and represented, or endowed with meaning, so because of this it is easy to reject it, to justify overturning it and working to destroy it. This suits Islamic ideologues thirsting for power, who monopolise meaning and make from autocracy – meaning Islam and its correct definition – a basis for the righteousness of their rule over contemporary societies.
Our nihilism, consequently, is a partner of every modern nihilism in its fundamental root, the fundamental meaninglessness of the world. The notable tendency for contemporary Arabic nihilism is that its Islamic ideology and tendency to outright violence or “terrorism,” means it is close to Russian nihilism at the end of the nineteenth century. What distinguishes Islamists in our age generally is the lessening of the value of all comtemporary cultural and political agencies, its response to established instruments and procedures and its restriction of the meaning of “Islam” itself. In reality, these are the constant wellsprings of nihilism. But God is far removed from modernity, and Islamic thought does not take knowledge seriously in this grand historical process of history, which excludes no one, whatever their opinion of it. From this perspective, the tendency of the Islamists generally is to violence. It is strongly related to their stripping of meaning from the world.
Since the concept of jihad joins violence and religion, and since Islam is the intellectual support for the withdrawal of trust from the world, Islamic nihilism is precisely embodied in the Jihadist movements. “Al-Qaida” is definitively the purest embodiment of Islamic nihilism, as it embodies the most fundamental withdrawal of meaning and value from the world (as not deeply rooted opposition to “a Jewish crusader,” and to distinguish Salafism from a corrupt age) and Jihad, that is Islam and war.
Because of that, it appears the emerging nihilist tendencies in Syrian society play to the advantage of the hard line Islamists, especially the Salafis, and not for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are poorly regarded, like others. It is known in any case that the Brotherhood’s inclination toward denial of intermediation is much less fundamental than that which distinguishes the Salafis and Wahhabis. It is possible consequently that the Brotherhood’s inclination itself will confront the rise of Syrian nihilism and be its victim, to an extent. Jihadi Salafis regard the Brotherhood’s inclination as secular.
The rise of nihilism has not happened without resistance in Syria. This tendency is reflected in and limited by the traditions of local societies, which are active, influential and sociable. Popular Islam, the source of these traditions, is more widespread and more connected with the life of people and their real presence than the more disciplined and hard line formulations of Islam. These formulations reflect expansionist tendencies, contrary to popular Islam, and depend on exciting feelings of guilt and inadequacy among the faithful, to weaken their resistance to these formulations and push them into their embrace. This is over and above the traditions of the local communities, which in Syria are now exposed to destruction with the destruction of these communities themselves.
This also limits the vitality of Syrian society, its perseverence in challenging the regime in various ways, civil and peaceful for the most part. The general spirit of the Syrian revolution, an earthy spirit accepting of the world and tending toward liberation and dignity constitutes in itself a guarantee against nihilism, even if it is pious and religious. I imagine that as long as the revolution continues, the opportunity to spread nihilistic tendencies is limited. Only the defeat of the revolution, including its military component represented by the Free Army in particular, can lead to the spread of Islamic nihilists.
The spirit of the revolution provides a space for the action of various inclinations, among which is non-violent sectarianism, non-violent Islamism and secularism … and all of these make influential contributons against nihilism. The secular contribution to the Syrian revolution is broad and very important, in terms of its size and role, even if this has resulted in the unsightly disarray of the secular community and the significant intellectual and moral deterioration of sectarian secularism even before the revolution, because of their alignment with the ruling regime.
Today our nihilism is still shallow, and can be reversed when the general atmosphere is relaxed and the daily shedding of blood and loss of life is reduced. But we reckon that as the three factors we observed at the beginning of the article continue, the insane violence of the regime, the weak performance of the opposition and international indifference to the Syrian tragedy, in addition to the geographical and intellectual dismemberment of the revolution, any possible resistance to the growth of nihilism grows increasingly weak, until nothing can stand in its way.
But why speak of nihilism, a revolutionary or combative nihilism, instead of the common concept of "terrorism" or "Islamic terrorism"?
The reality is that the circulation of the concept of terrorism in the West before 11 September 2011 and more so after, has corrupted it to the fullest extent, because of two interconnected factors. The first is the denial there are reasons for terrorism or the reduction of the value of causal explanations, under the pretext this would justify terrorism or bestow upon it a degree of legitimacy, so terrorism does not have justification other than the terrorist disposition of its practitioners or their fundamental moral corruption. We are not to investigate the social and political roots or the international context of this fundamentally evil practise. The second and complementary factor is the establishment of a fundamental link between terrorism and Islam, by which unjustified terrorism springs automatically from Islam. The expression “Islamic terrorism” is commonly repeated often enough in Western contexts to establish a firm and permanent link between the two concepts.
However, this bigoted proposition does not permit an understanding of this historic phenomenon which was practiced in Europe, at the hand of Europeans more than in any other place or in any other political-cultural context. It does not facilitate the development of effective policies to confront the nihilist tendencies that flourish from time to time in different places in the world on different cultural and intellectual soil. We need a sound explanation for the phenomenon to enable us to develop effective policies to confront it. We suspect the refusal of an explanation is akin to a state of deep-rooted denial in Western thought, absolved of any possible responsibility from any aspects of the problems of the contemporary Arabs and Muslims. That Arabs and Muslims employ the concept of Western responsibility to restrict the blame to the West, or to justify the corrupt condition of Arabs and Muslims, does not change the fact that Western powers caused major problems for Arabs and Muslims. While the argument rages over many things, Palestine is the continuing embodiment of a continuing Western crime.
The greatest burden for the link between terror in its Arab expression falls on Sunni Islam in particular as it is the most Arabic and historically hegemonic, embodied more than any other in the history of Islam and its global spread. Sunni organisations, and especially “al-Qaida,” are the most prominent embodiment of Islamic nihilism and the Islamic negation of the world.
If we work to reform the concept of terrorism we can say it is the practice of non-discriminatory violence, politically motivated, including in particular a sense of serious injustice, discrimination, disconnection from the world and hostility to it, and conviction in the justness of a cause. It is possible to speak about revolutionary or terrorist nihilist tendencies in Syria today. This is connected with random violent practices, capable of spreading, which happen in the context of the regime’s confrontation of the revolution with unlimited terrorist violence. They depend on the Islamic ideology that is the prop of a society without a prop, that has lost its trust in the supports of contemporary society, local and global.
In contrast, it is no error to describe the violence of the regime as nihilistic, and the regime itself as the most nihilistic force in Syria. This is not because the system extends its employment of indiscriminate violence against the civilian population the length and breadth of the country, but because the regime’s view of the world is built on the fundamental withdrawal of trust from it (its origins are in the Ba’thist formulation of Arabic nationalism, or pure Arabism).
The regime’s withdrawal of trust from the world constitutes the most suitable psychological and physical environment for its rule. If the world is evil, internal enemies are evil and agents of global evils, it is correct to get rid of internal enemies and isolate society as a whole from global contagion. This isolation does not need to extend to the country’s rulers, as they are the embodiment of pure patriotism and incapable of corruption. After focusing on values in the abstract Arab nation, the regime focuses totally on the person of the despotic ruler, Hafez al-Asad, and his family today.
The nihilism of the regime shares every nihilistic tendency to lessen the immediate value of reality to the advantage of an Arab essence or issues of national destiny, separated from the real life of the people. This permits the regime to control the general consciousness, and separate the ruled from the true conditions of their life. They are consequently deprived of the ability to influence it. It must be said it was successful in doing that, partly because of the feebleness of Syrian intellectuals in criticising the essential philosphy of the regime, based on the real condition of Syrians and their lives. Freedom is not based on an essential vision in itself, Arabic or Islamic or anything else.
The fake and morally corrupt nihilism of the regime lacks the impassioned faith that the world (as an international sphere or as reality) is truly corrupt, that political opponents are really agents, and that the society it rules is corrupt or backward and intolerant (as the doctrine of the Syrian intelligence services states). These judgements do not come from a real ideology, they do not have any but a functional value as tools that assist their rule, unlike the case with contemporary Islamic nihilism, and any currents of historical nihilism, practically (ie. terrorism), or philosophically. In any case, its explicit content appears in the slogans of the regime’s intelligence services and militias (Shabiha): “Asad or no one!” or “Asad forever or we burn the country!” Also because of that, the regime’s fascist terror, fundamentally reactionary, and the pure expansion of execution and genocide and destruction to preserve its hold on power. The practical nihilists – the Russians of a century and a quarter ago – and the Islamists today have a strong sense of the justice and righteousness of their cause, and their hearts are not dead as the regime of the Asad family alleges.
The fact that there are reasons for terrorist resistance (combatative nihilism) does not confer legitimacy upon it. Terrorism is indiscriminate violence. It not only causes the loss of innocent lives, but also fails to punish the truly guilty who deserve punishment. Terrorism may punish the guilty in a demonstrative fashion, but not in a necessary fashion, while the punishment will also include the innocent. Therefore, there is a criminal dimension to terrorism, whatever its reasons, motives and justifications.
Terrorism also never achieves its stated goals. But then it never has goals, unlike the common Western definition which links targeting civilians with political goals. By its very nature, it is practised under the burden of strong feelings of subjugation and denial of justice and meaning. Its “goal” dissolves in the rebellion against this condition and in the getting rid of enemies, without penetrating to wider goals like “freedom, equality and brotherhood,” or national independence, or ending poverty, or even punishing criminals among the rulers and their collaborators. There is no example of liberation or the achievement of any political goals through terrorism.
If we imagine a nihilist organization somehow came to power in a country, it could only establish a despotic regime. This is not only because it is accustomed to blind violence, or because the fundamental withdrawal of trust from the world provides the cultural and pschological conditions to prohibit division and opposition and eradicate any alternative or different voices, as we know in North Korea, in Ba’thist Syria, and in the Soviet Union and its successors.
Islamic nihilism itself is geared to the greatest extent toward terrorist rule, a mechanism to crush people and societies by reducing their value in comparison to a ideology that is by definition totalitarian, and their isolation from the world, as we have seen in examples from Afghanistan under the Taliban.
From the point of view of the Syrian national interest, Jihadism constitutes a danger as it imposes a supranational direction on a country, focusing on the conception of the imagined “Islamic Nation.” Jihadists do not have a problem demolishing the state in Syria or anywhere else. This is desirable in their view. They do not have a problem stoking sectarian conflicts, and even proudly work to that end. This is in addition to their hostility to culture and to modern social and political organisations.
The chances of belligerent nihilism appearing in Syria have increased, as the revolution is driven by the regime’s oppressive fascist terrorism to define itself and get rid of the regime. It does not focus on a positive goal, which is a free Syria. That is, to an extent the revolution is desperate.
We can make this path seem more reasonable or explain it causally, but we cannot attribute positive ends to revolutionary nihilism. This differs from the Western definition, which attributes political goals to terrorism. Contemporary revolutionary nihilists might announce goals in their statements, but this is to deny its causes. The opposite it true; terrorism is reasonable from the point of view of its causes, but not reasonable from the point of view of its ends. Terrorism expresses but does not produce.
Perhaps the “necessity” of terrorism, its very nature, consumes itself and does not go any further toward achieving its goals except for random violence. The attempt to link revolutionary nihilism in Syria to Islam is an additional justification as well as an appeal for support. “Islam” offers what is supposed to be loftier and more legitimate goals for human life, not just for a political struggle. This exempts contemporary Islamic nihilists from specifying more exactly their goals, which are in any case impossible to promise in the desperate conditions that their revolutionary nihilistic tendencies thrive in the shadow of.
We object to revolutionary nihilism in the context of the Syrian revolution, in the context of contemporary Islamic protests or in the Palestinian context, because it does not achieve anything. It comes at a high cost to those who employ it, and rarely damages the imagined enemies in a way that serves justice.
Therefore, in revolutionary nihilism there is a lot of nothing and little of a revolution. It cements in murderous aspect of the revolution, destruction and demolition, to the extent that it destroys the vital aspect of the revolution, that which is connected with the freedom of a tired people and a normal life.
We prefer the concept of revolutionary nihilism to the concept of terrorism, not just because the West has corrupted the latter concept and made it into a justification for aggressive policies that have cost a great deal in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for a long time in Palestine, but that is not to say it is only a characteristic of our contemporary terrorism. It belongs to one of the most legitimate tendencies in the modern world, the revolutionary tendency that regards the present social and political institutions as corrupt and works to change them. However, this has systematically failed to achieve its general goals, in France, in Russia and in Palestine at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s on a national and Marxist basis, and in the last decade of last century and the first decade of the 21st century on an Islamic basis. It fails because it seeks the essence and the “blessed” at the expense of the real, the becoming, and actual life. Islamic nihilism fails because it is alternatively pulled to an imagined past, and pushed to an imagined Islamic essence, in which the majority of Muslims would not recognize themselves.
Islam itself hardly privileges Islamic nihilism. It does not depend on an eternal Islam embodied in itself, but on the manufactured Islam modelled on the great modern political ideologies, nationalism and especially communism. It suited contemporary conditions and satisfied the demands mentioned above. This Islam is an ideological base to strip meaning and values from the world. And as the stripping was of the most fundamental kind, Islam was its positive support, and formed in a way that satisfied the demands directed against it, that is the withdrawal of trust and meaning from the world. Naturally, as the withdrawal was the most fundamental, the opportunites for political development after the revolution were harder and the possibilities of terrorism greater. The French and Russian revolutions provide eloquent examples of this.
In Islam itself, the nihilist tendency is easily activated, because of the reduced value of the “earthy,” the extreme emphasis on unity at the expense of the world’s diversity, and the elevation of the age in which Islam was established at the expense of subsequent history. This was reinforced by historic developments, most importantly western modernity, which has muddied the mix of Islam and made it an ideological base for objecting to the world, notably for objecting to the “progressive” governments after independence.
But in the original, historical Islam, what particularly limits the nihilist tendency is the reality of Islamic morality and its acceptance of the world. This realistic preparedness is most prominent every time the relations of Muslims with the contemporary world happens, or in Muslim circles that have good relations with the contemporary world (segments that are comfortable or ascending socially).
Especially in the Syrian context we are cautious about the concept of terrorism because of what appear to be political reasons. This is because the regime has used this idea to blemish the revolution, categorising its confrontation with it in the global context and bringing it closer to all other states, foremost among them Western and Arabic. This in the fundamental element in its policy for confronting the revolution today: they are pure terrorists, with no reason for their existence and without a cause. This always shades into “al-Qaida” and outright violence is the only acceptable policy to confront them with. It is no surprise the regime conflates cause and effect, without even mentioning the strong suspicion that the regime’s intelligence services are involved in what can be described as true terrorist operations.
We also have reservations about the concept because it is connected with three elements in the nihilist construction, whose convergence is limitied and capable of reversal, as previously stated. Operations that can be described as terrorist have happened in Syria, but there are strong and direct suspicions the regime organized them. While there is no doubt about the scope of the use of violence by perpetrators opposed to the regime in Syria, most of the violence is not nihilist. It is defensive in essence, connected with the revolution and peaceful protest to a large extent, and its employment even until the present is largely not indiscriminate. It is directed against the regime and its principle tools. There is armed chaos and unacceptable practises from the point of view of justice and human rights, some of which have been observed and warned about by international organisations and voices inside Syria, but these violations are limited compared to those of the regime. According to Amnesty International and the Special Session on Syria of the Human Rights Council of the General Assembly of the United Nations, they are the violations of a social resistance movement, legitimate in the full meaning of the word in both political and humanitarian contexts.
However, nihilist elements, the withdrawal of trust, indiscriminate violence and neurotic, extremist Islamism are candidates for widespread popular acceptance, especially with the regime’s embrace of terrorism and the persistence of the crisis. If the regime’s violence continues, opposing tendencies will not be apparent, the trust of Syrians in the world will not be regained and there will be no window of hope. While social violence is still generally disciplined by resistance to the regime and the revolution, for the most part by the link between other activities (demonstrations, self-defence, political opposition, aid …) and local communities. The distinguishing feature of terrorist violence is that it expands the discrepancy between it and local communities. Rooted in its own particular ideology, it may end up fighting society itself to force it to atone. It separates from the matter of the revolution and works to subjugate the revolution to it. From the incomplete evidence on religious groups, it appears their loyalty to their ideology varies depending on their ties to the revolution or to local communities. It is said that one of these groups in Jebel Zawiya permitted itself random kidnappings for ransom.
It is possible there are Jihadist groups similar to Al-Qaida, like “The Victory Front,” which announced is responsibility for the operations in Midan on 6/1/2012, supposedly targeting a group of security forces, the two explosions at the Air Force branch and the Criminal Secuirty Directorate in Damascus on 23/02/2012 and the operation in Qazzaz in Damascus on 13/5/2012. The lack of proof of the regime’s narrative is not sufficient justification to discount the presence of this group for which Syria today offers an increasingly suitable environment, so there is nothing to justify the belief it is purely the invention of the regime.
Practical conclusions follow from this analysis, some of which have already been hinted at.
One is that the longer the revolution and its violent confrontation with the regime continues, the nihilist and extremist tendencies may spread and grow. This hardline mix, which negates the world, is not an automatic, inscrutible result of Islamic extremism itself, but is a likely response of brutalised societies in the shadow of an Islamic ideology that lends itself to violence.
Another is that the possible nihilism is a specifically Syrian result, connected with the conditions of the rebellion and not the spread of the terrorist virus, as the regime would have it. The revolution’s victory may reduce the chance of nihilist elements emerging, or push it in very different directions, but if the brutalisation of Syrian society continues, that chance is increased. If the regime regains general control, we think it likely that among the thousands or even millions of assorted activists in the revolution today, nihilst groups will emerge and it is likely will be ideologically Islamic.
There is a general interest, Syrian, Arabic and global, in the liberation of Syrian society from the condition of brutalisation and ending organised terrorism. If this happens earlier it may be possible to stop further violence, but if it happens later then there is a possibility nihilist violence will separate completely from the revolution and gain its own momentum, and will not stop when the regime’s terrorism stops.
The Syrian opposition has a role in building trust and combatting nihilism, which does not necessarily require unity, just the end of meaningless disputes and generally poor performance, in addition to a degree of credibility and modesty. The problem is not that the Syrian opposition is weak, or not united. Its problem is that is does not give the impression of being serious and dedicated, and does not inspire feelings of respect among its followers.
It also falls to International and Arab powers to play the important role of reversing this nihilist trend in Syria by helping Syrians to end the regime’s terrorism. There is some give and take over the form of this assistance. However, the problem today is not that the relevant powers don’t want to intervene militarily in Syria, it is that phrasing this issue purely in terms of military intervention is impractical if not actually impossible, though forturnately what is required is reckoned to be less than that. What is required is the complete political boycott of the regime and the imposition of an effective seige that guarantees supplies of weapons will be cut, and directly helping Syrians bring the regime down by themselves. This in itself is hard, but it is less costly than military intervention and better for Syria and Syrians.
We live in a global world, highly interconnected, and the growth of nihilism in one country does not long stay within that country’s borders, as we know from Afghanistan. Therefore, Arab and international powers expend their usual efforts and help Syrians this once, to rid themselves of their nightmare. Nothing in this conflicts with the political mentality of nationalist countries, even if it requires a broader global and historical horizon.
However it is unlikely we will see generosity like this in the near future. All countries are selfish. This “meanness” is the highest virtue in nation states.
As to the currents of nihilism, whatever their ideology and to a degree that accords with their actual use of violence, these are the groups that prefer to deal with intelligence apparatuses around the world. In a way, these apparatuses require violent nihilist groups to justify themselves, their operations and large budgets, and this is true in dictatorships and democracies alike. Moreover, these organisations, from the Russian nihilists and the Red Brigades in Italy to the Abu Nidal Group and Al-Qaida, can be penetrated by intelligence apparatuses and directed as suits these various apparatuses, among them Syrian intelligence. This requires some explanation as to this strange attraction between the extreme opposite poles of the underworld: the pole of complete rejection of reality, a strong attraction to death and a fixation with a mysterious past or distant future; and the extreme worldliness, physicality and contemporariness embodied in the intelligence services. But as for the Al-Qaida groups in themselves, the weakness of their relationships with society, their aggression against normal life, their alienation from the world of work and production and their absolute parasitism facilitates their fall into the orbit of the intelligence services or their penetration by them.
Perhaps the various intelligence services, Arabic, Western, Iranian and Turkish, with the ascendency of nihilism in Syria, will find a suitable environment to employ them and settle scores with their enemies.
On this basis the Syrian crisis reveals the shortcomings of the global system and its deep contradictions. The hegemonic Western powers bear a historic share of responsibility for the suffering of the Syrian people from violations of the principles of justice in support of the aggressive Israeli entity, and this facilitated the withdrawal of trust from the world and reinforced the militarization of public life in Syria. Consequently, the international system is not the sublime location of morality and rights to the degree that it can uniformly condemn the Syrian regime. It is, without doubt, more advanced than the Syrian regime, but to describe it as less bad than a murderous regime, the worst in the world today, is not praise.
We consider it likely the international system will produce more general inaction, the concentration of states’ policies on security, and structural shortcomings in confronting the Syrian issue will continue. We must conclude from this the necessity of restructuring the international system to make it more democratic and humane.
This may appear to be utopian rhetoric, but it is just an attempt to state the matter more fundamentally.
 By August 2012, the signature of Kafar Nabel’s posters changed to “Liberated Kafr Nabel”
 I put the word Islam between quotation marks for this reason exactly, that is because Islam forms, in a way that obeys social, political and psychological demands directed at it from the Muslim masses who feel isolated, by the Muslim ideologues who are suited to an extremist formulation of Islam because it puts them in a position to direct religiously the holders of power.
 Refer to Kerman Bohkari’s article “Jihadist Opportunities in Syria” available on the link: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/jihadist-opportunities-syria
 Refer to my book: Myths of Others, a Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of its Critiques, first edition, Dar al-Saqi, Beirut, 2011, relevant chapter: “The Nihilism of the Abundance of Meaning,” pages 143-151.
 Possibly more strongly in Christianity with the influence of the ideology of the original sin, and in Buddhism, regarding the world as an illusion. Sufism is another form of Islamic Nihilism in that it shares in the withdrawal of trust from the world and despairs of this life, but it differs from militant nihilism in that it withdraws from it. The nihilism of holy war does not withdraw from the world, it withdraws meaning from it and works to destroy it. Sufism also has many intermediaries and mediators, unlike Salafism.
 Myths of Others, mentioned previously, relevant chapter: “Un-Islamism for the world as a Basis of Morality,” pages 122-143.
 It is not possible to conceive of atheist and anti-religious Arabic nihilism. Life over two generations in the shadow of “secular” dictatorial regimes has made Islam the power of revolt and protest, and completely negates the conditions for the generation of atheistic nihilism. In reality what resembles the nihilistic anti-religious Arabic inclination against Islam in particular is present today intellectually, but lacks intellectual dignity and is unproductive of new values. It is common for its representatives to be included under the wing of existing regimes, or live in the West, and have good relations with more extreme and racist right-wing inclinations there. But perhaps an atheistic nihilist inclination will appear because of the occupation of a wider public space by the Islamists in their countries after the Arab revolutions.
 Look, for instance, at Abu Naji’s book, Managing Savagery: The Most Dangerous Stage a Nation will Pass Through, where the Brotherhood is attributed a secular legitimacy. The book is available at: http://www.e-prism.org/images/idarat_al-tawahhish_._Abu_Bakr_Naji.pdf, page 2. (CANNOT FIND THIS LINK)
 Nir Rosen says in his article “Islamism and the Syrian Uprising” that one of the reasons for the absence of sectarian massacres of the Bosnian kind in Homs is the strong influence of opposition sheikhs. The article is available online: http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/08/islamism_and_the_syrian_uprising
 In Rosen’s article, referred to previously, it is related that Abu Sulayman, a drug runner who became a Salafi in Saydnaya prison, (a story reminiscent of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi) tried to establish his own emirate (principality) in Jabal al-Zawiya but the people there united against him. One of the leaders of the local fighters said: “When people heard that he wanted to establish a private emirate the entire mountain turned against him,” adding “we are all brothers from here to Der’a. We are revolutionaries first and last.”
 Freedom is the second of the three targets of the Ba’th party. But its establishment is based on a supposed Arabic essence, not on a tired population. Its reply to autarchy and isolation from the world is the billboard of national independence, with a high degree of authoritarianism and the deprivation of the masses of Syrians of their freedom and rights.
 Refer to the book Managing Savagery, mentioned previously. Savagery may be desired after the collapse of a state as it forms a framework for the work of Jihadists, and it is the most dangerous stage a nation will face.
 The organization’s report titled: “I wanted to die,” available at the link https://doc.es.amnesty.org/cgi-bin/ai/BRSCGI/MDE2401612?CMD=WEROBJ&MKLOB=30437270000
 Its report, published on 22 February available on the link: http://ohchr.org.Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-69.pdf