In various previous posts, I have paid attention to the Syrian-British Jihadi-Salafi ideologue Abu Basir al-Tartusi, for example because of his criticism of other jihadis and his support for the Free Syrian Army at the expense of Jabhat al-Nusra. His position, differing somewhat from that of other major radical scholars, was interesting because it was more conciliatory towards non-Islamists and remnants of previous regimes and also because it was less dismissive of the widespread calls for democracy that the Arab Spring showed.
The Arab Spring also pulled Abu Basir out of the semi-isolation that he was in when he was still living in Britain. Since the early protests against the Syrian regime, he has been very active in promoting the downfall of President Bashar al-Asad, with an unprecedented amount of footage of his speeches, lessons, etc. appearing on YouTube. Part of this greater exposure in the media was a Facebook page that al-Tartusi had, called The Islamic Resistance to the Syrian Regime. This “Islamic Resistance” also published a magazine that I have not heard mentioned anywhere and that I also could not find on Aaron Zelin’s Jihadology website, which probably means it’s not very well-known. This post looks at the topics dealt with in this magazine.
The first thing that you notice about the magazine, entitled simply “The Magazine of the Islamic Resistance, is that publishing it must have been a rather short-lived affair. The entire magazine numbers only five issues (here, here, here, here and here), with the first one appearing in March/April 2012 and the latest one – despite the fact that it was supposed to be published every fortnight – in May 2013. Given the long time period between the different issues, one could argue that no. 5 is not the last one and that no. 6 has simply not been published yet, although it has been over six months since the last issue, so that does not seem likely.
The second thing that is striking about the magazine is the fact that Abu Basir plays a very prominent part in it. (Parts of) his articles feature regularly in the magazine’s pages and the back pages of issues 2-5 explicitly mention al-Tartusi’s website, as well as the aforementioned Facebook page of the Islamic Resistance to the Syrian Regime. The magazine as a whole often features material that has been published elsewhere before and is also quite thin (12 pages), thereby giving the impression that not too much work has been put into producing it. One could argue that such magazines are made under less than ideal circumstances, what with the country being embroiled in a civil war, but that has not stopped other jihadi magazines from looking rather slick.
Information, Encouragement and Defamation
The magazine’s contents are diverse, but can basically be summed up by the words information, encouragement and defamation. Particularly at first, the magazine sought to inform its readers by giving them a list of attacks perpetrated by the Free Syrian Army (no. 1, p. 3) or a story about the history of Dar’a (no. 1, p. 5). This continued by posting bits from Abu Basir’s “scrapbook of the revolution and the revolutionaries” (for more on this, see here), yet as time went by these became less and less informative and more and more crudely anti-regime.
As I recall from my research several years ago on Saudi jihadi magazines such as Sawt al-Jihad and Mu’askar al-Battar, both published by Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula (and about one of which Nico Prucha has written a very interesting book, by the way), one of the things the editors of such magazines try to do is to encourage their readers to continue the fighting, to keep the faith and not to lose hope. (Such behaviour is often seen among social movements trying to ensure the support of their followers.) This can be done by celebrating victories, showing progress that has been made or pointing to goals that have already been reached, for instance. In this magazine, such encouragement is found in singing the praises of the people who actually go out and fight in Syria (no. 2, p. 7), lauding Syria as a country worth fighting for (no. 2, p. 8) or calling on people to help free prisoners (no. 3, p. 10).
The most “encouraging” aspect of the magazine, particularly in the later issues, was undoubtedly the increasing number of rather graphic photographs of dead Syrian children and gruesome wounds suffered by the people hit in attacks. Perhaps such photographs were simply published to show what the regime had done, yet it is tempting to see them as implicit (or sometimes not so implicit) calls for revenge. This dovetails with the third thing the magazine tries to do, namely to defame the Syrian regime and its ‘Alawi beliefs. Perhaps the most frequent theme of articles in the magazines is the crimes of the Syrian regime, which is quite understandable, and the supposedly deviant nature of the ‘Alawites in general.
Two things come to mind when flicking through the pages of these magazines: firstly, the increasing emphasis on defaming the regime and ‘Alawis seems to reflect the more and more radical nature of the Islamist groups fighting the Syrian regime; secondly, given the small number of issues published, the early demise of this magazine seems to mirror the fortunes of the Free Syrian Army and the moderate Islamist opposition that Abu Basir supported at the beginning. If recent reports are correct, these factions play a much smaller role than they did at the beginning, with groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) now calling the shots. As such, the magazine seems to be the epitome of the moderate Islamist opposition in Syria: it started out with plenty of ambition, but eventually seems to have been reduced to something small and relatively irrelevant.