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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    In Syria’s largest city, rebellion takes an overtly religious tone

    ALEPPO, Syria — Two months into the battle for Syria’s second largest city, the airstrikes have become a part of daily life. Sometimes they are deadly accurate, taking out the rebels for whom they are intended. Just as often, they seem to miss.

    A rebel headquarters in a former police station in the northeastern neighborhood of Hanano stands as testament to this. Though its windows are all broken, it has been missed at least four times, the intended strikes landing in a nearby park, an empty lot and destroying a five-story apartment building a full block away.

    The battle for Aleppo that began with a rebel offensive in mid-July has settled into a stalemate. The rebels control largely the same neighborhoods they took in the initial offensive. But there is something different — a distinctly religious tone absent previously elsewhere in Syria’s rebellion.

    “This is not a revolution, it’s a jihad,” shouted one man, angry, as he stood near the rubble of the apartment building mentioned above. Behind him, men worked with a bulldozer, trying to reach people they believed were still alive under the rubble.

    As the death toll in Syria continues to rise, and the end of hostilities seems no closer at hand, the words from February of a Syrian activist, who fiercely defended the democratic and non-sectarian nature of the rebellion, resonate.

    “If no one else comes to help, of course people will turn to religion. When you are dying, of course you will become more religious,” he said.

    The fight for Aleppo, much better planned and coordinated than perhaps any rebel offensive so far, offers a window into what things might look like after the Syrian government falls. Liwa Tawhid, one of the largest groups fighting here, had even made contingencies for policing rebel controlled neighborhoods and laid out plans to set up schools. Their plan for schooling includes religious instruction, and their council for making decisions about the fate of prisoners includes an expert in Islamic law.

    At a mosque being used as a base for fighters in another neighborhood, a sign warning civilians against entering was another sign of the religious drift. The sign referred to the men inside as “mujahideen,” which translates as holy warriors, as opposed to “thowar,” which means revolutionaries.

    Last Tuesday, at another rebel base, members of Ahrar al Sham, a group whose members describe themselves as Salafis, followers of a conservative strain of Islam some of whose followers also are thought behind last week’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, handed out leaflets delineating the difference between mujahids and other rebels. It used the perjorative term “shabiha” — a Syrian word that usually refers to pro-government militiamen accused of carrying out some of the war’s worst atrocities — to refer to non-mujahids.

    The leaflet had multiple aims, including criticizing rebels who might loot or use their weapons carelessly. But it also explained that a mujahid prays, and “Knows very well that God will give us victory if we apply his law by studying it and spread it between people nicely.”

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