Why Jabhat al Nusra has divorced from al Qaeda

Sometimes it is best to separate temporarily so as to be able to join forces with others. It doesn't matter, just so long as each party keeps their eyes on the prize - in this case, Islam's global domination.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

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Eliran Aharon
Everyone is familiar with the ex‎pression a "marriage of convenience." This refers to the type of marriage that is not based love and affection but is undertaken in order to advance the financial, social or other interests of the couple.  Divorce, in contrast, is always a result of conflict and generally results in harm to both sides. A "marriage of convenience" can be used to describe organizational, political or other unions between two bodies who have little love for one another but wish to promote their own interests.

Sometimes divorces lead to an improvement in the status of one or both of the sides involved, and then one can talk of a "divorce of convenience" – whether the two sides are a couple or consist of organizations, political parties and states.

This week an incident of that ilk occurred between two Jihad organizations, al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusra, the first a global Jihad organization and the second operating only in Syria. Up to now, Jabhat al Nusra operations were directed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of al Qaeda, and the group was considered the Syrian arm of al Qaeda. This connection gave Jabhat al Nusra recognition as an organization with capabilities and the means to act on them, but the group paid a high price for being identified more as a global organization than as a Syrian liberation organization.

This week, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani,, the leader of al Nusra, appeared in a video clip broadcast in real time, his face revealed for the first time, and read the following proclamation (my additions are in parentheses, M.K.):

After the usual greetings, al-Jolani said; "My Muslim brothers wherever you may be, Salaam Aleikhim, the mercy of Allah and his blessings upon you. We give thanks to  all the Sheikhs of al Qaeda al Jihad (al Qaeda's full name) and especially Sheikh Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, may Allah protect him, and his second in command, Sheikh Ahmad Hassan Abu al-Khayr, may Allah guard him."

"We thank you for coming to the aid of the sons of al Sham (the classic name for Syria), for the help proffered both to  their Jihad and blessed revolution and to Jihad in general (worldwide). History will tell of al Qaeda's steadfastness with veneration and in letters made of light, because this blessed leadership (of al Qaeda) has granted and still provides the most magnificent model of how the interests of Muslims as a whole supersede limited organizational interests. They have carried out the words of Sheikh Osama (bin Laden), may Allah's mercy be upon him, who said that the interests of the Umma (Islamic nation) take precedence over the interests of every private organization, the interests of the Umma take precedence over the interests of any one Islamic nation, the interests of the nation take precedence over those of a group, and the group is of more importance than an individual.

Jabhat al Nusra's separation from al Qaeda is another step in the process of the privatization of Jihad and its becoming a local phenomenon instead of a global one
"We, the leaders of Jabhat al Nusra, in conjunction with the directives and general trends of the blessed  leadership (of al Qaeda) act from a feeling of responsibility for the good of the sons of al Sham and their Jihad, trying to ease their burdens without lessening the immutable demands of our religion, to guard the Jihad in the land of al Sham,, protect it and use all legitimate means to achieve the goals we have set, bridge the gaps between ourselves and other Jihad organizations, in the hope that a unified group will arise, as a result of our consultations and discussions to that end, and will unite the sons of al Sham, liberate their land, protect their religion and grant power to the word of the one God in their midst.

"In accordance with the will of the sons of al Sham to put an end to the excuses of the international community headed by Russia and the USA who use our connection with al Qaeda as the excuse to bomb and disperse the sons of al Sham while claiming that they are aiming at al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusra – we have decided to cease operating under the name Jabhat al Nusra and establish a new unified front called Jabhat Fatah el al Sham ( The al Sham Conquering Front) and keep this group from forging any connections with outside bodies.

"The new group will work towards achieving the following goals:

1. Actions for the religion of Allah, may he be exalted, strengthening Sharia law and the rule of justice between people, all people.

2.Actions aimed at unity with the other groups in Syria,  in order to have all the Jihad fighters under one roof, thereby able to succeed in freeing the land of al Sham from the rule of despots (the Alawites) and destroy the regime and its cohorts. Allah said: "Keep hold, all of you, to the religion of Allah and be not afraid" (Koran, Sura 3, verse 103).

3. Protecting Jihad in the land of al Sham, perseverance in that mission and using any and all legal means that can be of help.

4. Expending efforts to serve the Muslim populace, improve their ability to resist  and the conditions they live under and ease their suffering in every possible way.

5. Seeing to it that there is security, stability and a decent life for everyone.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe

Your brother, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani"

So ends al-Jolani's speech, now the leader of the newly-named "Al Sham Conquering Front." Most striking is the lack of any anger aimed at al Qaeda, and in fact there is much respect and admiration – perhaps in order to leave the path to future reunification intact, if circumstances allow that to be considered or force it upon the organization. It is clear that al-Jolani wants to create a wide coalition of Syrian organizations, especially those who do not want to be affiliated with al Qaeda.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, responded in a video in which he said "The affection of Islam that exists between us is stronger than all the temporary and changeable organizational ties, while your unity, coming together and joining one another are important and more dear to us than any organizational ties (with us). Your uniting and enhancing the unity within the ranks are above any party loyalty and organizational attachment. Unhesitatingly, we must sacrifice the political and organizational ties that are antithetical to the closing of the ranks between you, to your becoming one solid edifice that allows you to stand in the face of your secular ethnic (Alawite) enemies supported by Iran (here he used a derogatory term for the country), Russia and China, and the modern Crusade (meaning the West) to which they lend their support."

The leader of al Qaeda says these words as a father, leader, teacher and counselor, who derives pleasure from his student-sons who evince independence, wish to separate from him in order to unite for a goal in which he believes and which he inculcated in them so that they would succeed in achieving it. There is not an iota of anger in his words about al Jolani's leavetaking. On the contrary, he sees great importance in al Jolani's attempt to establish a joint front of local Syrian organizations, even if that means not being identified with al Qaeda, so long as this unity leads to achieving the supreme goal, ending the Assad Alawite regime. 

Al-Zawahiri is well aware of the intense suffering borne by the Syrians and the difficulties facing the rebels due to the intensive, merciless intervention of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in the Syrian maelstrom. The situation on the ground forces the rebels to unite, and al-Zawahiri understands the challenge and identifies with the rebel needs. He is willing to step aside and grant them his best wishes for a safe trip.

It is more important to him to be rid of Assad, defeat the Iranians, destroy Hezbollah and sweep out the Russians than to be organizationally connected to the Syrian rebels.

Jabhat al Nusra's separation from al Qaeda is another step in the process of the privatization of Jihad and its becoming a local phenomenon instead of a global one. Al Jolani's success in uniting the rebels in Syria will allow him to resist Islamic State more effectively – and that is the biggest challenge facing al Qaeda, despite the fact that both organizations are alumna of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

The big question is deciding what is preferable: local Jihad that is joined by non-Jihad groups, or global Jihad limited to Jihadists. That is the crucial question at the root of the debates about the character and scope of Jihad organizations. The goal – Islamic rule the world over – is the same for both, with the argument only over the question of how best to achieve that goal. Is it better to work locally or internationally? This question will continue to be raised in various Jihad organizations for the forseable future. The answer depends on continuously changing variables in each place and at each moment in time. That is why these organizations change their organizational strategy each time the situations warrants it.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.