In the June issue, The Atlantic Monthly ran a short article on black humour in Syria, ‘Hard Laughs’. The writer suggests that even in the face of adversity and terror, human beings are capable of finding ways of mocking those who are responsible for their oppression. Nonetheless, the violence in Syria, for anyone with a minimum of humanity, is gut-wrenching. The conflict in Syria defies simple(istic) analysis. Recent reports comparing Syria to Bosnia, demonstrate a tendency to use previous analytic formula to try and understand what is occurring. Syria is not the former Yugoslavia, Syria is not Bosnia, even though the inability of the UN to stop the fighting resembles Bosnia. Syria is also not Algeria, despite the fact that the Houla massacre has parallels with the violence and collective massacres during the Algerian conflict.
Foreign fighter activity in Syria will not mirror Bosnia or Iraq. Local dynamics will impose their own logic on foreign fighter activity. Since mid-May there have been numerous articles about ‘jihadi’ activity in Syria as well as reference to foreign national travel to fight in Syria. A reading of them suggests that there have been attempts by French nationals to travel. Tunisian nationals seem to be traveling to Syria and some appear to have died in combat. There are large numbers of Lebanese, who appear, to come and go, and are reported to fight with the Free Syrian Army. In the Syrian context, how ‘foreign’ are the Lebanese given their proximity to Syria and perhaps long-term connections between individuals in Syria and Lebanon? One Jordanian when questioned about Syria indicates that they prefer Yemen. Foreign fighters have also become the subject of a Syrian government narrative to demonise the Syrian opposition and garner support by equating them with al-Qaeda.
Foreign fighter activity in Syria is a puzzle of many pieces defying simple categorization for both the intelligence analyst trying assess and evaluate and for the scholar seeking to understand. It will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Syrian security forces set off Damascus bombs blamed on al-Qaida – defectors, Martin Chulov. The Guardian, 18 May 2012
Why Bashar al-Assad stresses al-Qaida narrative: Syria has seen influx of foreign fighters, but regime has been spinning terror line since last March to help justify state violence, Ian Black, The Guardian, 18 May 2012
Radical mosques invite young Tunisians to jihad in Syria, al-Arabiya, 18 May 2012
Jordanians Fight with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Nephew of al-Zarqawi Dies First, Tamer al-Samadi, Al-Hayat, 18 May 2012 via al-Monitor.com
Young Tunisians Enticed by Promises of Martyrdom in Syria, Afifa Ltifi, Tunisia Live, 19 May 2012
Diplomats Say ‘Salafist Revolution’ in Tripoli Aim at Arming Syrian Opposition, Naharnet Newsdesk, 19 May 2012
La Syrie, nouvelle terre d’élection des djihadistes, Georges Malbrunot, Le Figaro, 22 May 2012 (Subscription required) also available here
Syria’s New Jihadis: Meet the terrorist group that’s ruining the revolution. Aaron Y. Zelin, Foreign Policy, 22 May 2012
The Evidence of Jihadist Activity in Syria, Brian Fishman, CTC Sentinel, 22 May 2012
Exclusive: Veteran Lebanese fighter trains new generation of jihadis – for Syria, Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, 30 May 30 2012