Ryan Hendrickson, Staff Writer
For well over three years, Syria has been torn apart by a brutal civil war between the government and various rebel factions. When fighting began in 2011, those fighting the government did so in the name of democracy. However, over the past few years the rebel faction has continually been divided to the point where there are now dozens of separate entities fighting the government, as well as rival rebels. While the most notorious of these rebel groups is the Islamic State, many other rebel groups are just as radical and just as dangerous. One such movement calls itself Jabhat al-Nusra, and is referred to in the West as the al-Nusra Front.
While the initial reason people rebelled against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was to secure democracy, groups such as the al-Nusra Front have morphed the civil war into a fight between Assad’s non-religious government and radical Islamic Fundamentalists. This is because the al-Nusra Front is considered to be al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria. With this distinction, the rebel group fights to create an Islamic government in Syria by carrying out suicide bombings and public executions. As a result, the United States and the United Nations have designated the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization. Despite this, the group is considered to be one of the most effective and respected of the rebel factions by Syrian citizens.
The al-Nusra Front’s popularity amongst other Syrian rebel factions can be attributed to two key reasons. Firstly, the group has some of the best fighters. Many of the pro-democratic rebel factions, despite western support, are extremely unorganized and undisciplined. This lack of fighting ability has led to many rebels leaving the pro-western rebel groups in exchange for Islamist ones. In contrast to other rebel group’s lack of combat experience, the al-Nusra Front’s high level of discipline and fighting ability means that it is one of the only rebel groups that has been able to defeat the Syrian army.
The second reason why the al-Nusra Front is so popular is because of the rise of the notorious Islamic State. When the Islamic State started fighting in Syria it was considered to be a close ally of the al-Nusra Front. However, as the Islamic State became more powerful, it came into conflict with the other rebels. This would eventually lead to al-Qaeda’s leadership denouncing the Islamic State and, as a result, open fighting between the Islamic State and the other rebel groups including the al-Nusra Front. Now, since the civil war is between the government, the Islamic State and the rest of the rebels, the al-Nusra Front is considered to be the force most capable of defeating the aggressive Islamic State. This has led many other rebel groups to support the al-Nusra Front, despite the fact that they’re considered a terrorist organization.
For the west, the al-Nusra Front is viewed as a radical Islamist organization that considers itself to be part of al-Qaeda. For many Syrians, the al-Nusra Front represents the rebel’s best chance of defeating the even more extreme Islamic State. With this stark contrast in perspectives, the al-Nusra Front embodies the complexity of the Syrian Civil War– a war in which both sides commit atrocities and the difference between the good guy and bad guy is extremely gray.