The Identity of Victory
Salafist identity was set apart from all of the other identities in play within the country as it not only drew universal condemnation from all but also forced a choice on outside actors. The inability for the West to find a group not corrupted by Salafists allowed the Assad regime room to act; defying a “Red Line” set by the Obama administration, the regime went on to consolidated its holdings, secured allies, and Assad declared to the world that Assad was vindicated in his initial claims of Salafist infiltration. While it would have been hard to predict the rapid rise of the Islamic State, even by Assad, there are those who argue that even the fall of Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor played into Assad’s narrative at great loss of life to the regime.
Whether it came in the form of the Islamic State, or Jabhat al-Nursa, the non-negotiable identity of Salafist Islamist’s conviction towards jihad and traditionalist Islam proved to be the deathblow of the 2011’s uprising initial goals of reform and freedom. When used in conjunction with the latent fear of sectarian violence in Syrian society following the Hama Massacre and the observation of the Iraq Insurgency, the wielding and application of this identity would be the hallmark of the Assad regimes success in holding onto power. One only has to look at regimes in Tunisia or at Ghaddafi to see what a possible result would be had Salafism not been allowed to spread.
The Assad regime utilized the well documented and historically relevant identity of Salafism as a weapon, by not only allowing it to foster, but facilitating it’s spread throughout his political opponents, by orchestrating a narrative of fear. Salafist groups were portrayed as the core of the uprising from the start, and manufactured so this would come to fruition. The success of this tactic proved to not only divide and conquer the opposition, but prevent significant foreign opposition against Assad’s reign. Salafism once again had proved that it could be counted on for its fanaticism, violence and an unshakeable belief of its righteous goals. The once hopeful revolution that formed around democracy and reform was soon driven by terror and sectarian motivations. By 2014, and with the rise to dominance of the Islamic State, there was little trace left of the uprising. Assad had successfully corrupted his opponents with an identity he knew would see his country - and the world - accept him out of fear as the better of the two ideological options. While the war in Syria is far from over, and far from decided, his skillful manipulations in 2011/12 of Salafist Jihadist non-negotiable identity would be the moment Bashar al-Assad defeated the uprising.
“Simply put, the regime let loose the monster of fear…
— Rasha Omran