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Social Media Buzz: Islamist Fighters Spur Fears as Rebels Advance

The Syrian revolution has been televised, tweeted and blogged. Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. We will highlight a few interesting conversations or videos in a weekly feature called Social Media Buzz.

Written by Mohammed Sergie Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

One entirely predictable consequence of giving the Assad regime almost two years to wage war against his political opponents is the rise of Islamists and the proliferation of jihadi fighters and ideologies. As rebels take over military bases and consolidate territory, the rhetoric used by Islamists and secular activists has become increasingly charged.

Less than a week after some fighting groups in Aleppo publicly rejected the new Syrian opposition coalition, a widely circulated photo (below) of a banner adorning the façade of a new security force in a small rural town in the province struck new fears that rebels want to establish an Islamic state in northern Syria. It appears that rebels decided to call their security bureau the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” which is the official name for the religious police in Saudi Arabia, a force that segregates the sexes, among other unnatural impositions, and is largely responsible for making the kingdom one of the most intolerant and dull countries in the world.

Many debates erupted around the veracity of the image, but it seems that most agree that the photo is real and is just another sign of looming religious battles in Syria. Further complicating the scene is a statement attributed to the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo which bans women from driving, echoing the fatwas used in Saudi Arabia to discriminate against women.

Although many conservative Muslims in Syria would welcome the ban, some of the more divisive Islamist proclamations have turned out to be hoaxes engineered by the Assad regime to paint its opponents as extremists. A state-owned radio station famously declared that terrorists established a Salafi emirate in Homs in May 2011 – an Islamic state that also ironically flies the Israeli flag, according to the radio report. In December, 2011, Emile Kas Nasrallah, a web designer from Aleppo, reportedly created a fake site for the Muslim Brotherhood that claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing in Damascus — a kind of digital false flag operation that cast a cloud over the rebels’ reputation.

Varying interpretations of Islam among Arab and Kurdish Sunnis has sparked some heated conversations between the ethnic groups, especially as fighting between Islamist rebels and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, has turned deadly along border towns with Turkey. A photo (below) of a female fighter with the PYD elicited the expected insults to women and an unexpected response from the subject herself.

Amid these tense debates about the future role of religion in Syrian politics and nestled in the seemingly endless stream of violence and destruction of the country, many Syrians who get their news from Facebook, more than 152 thousand of them, receive brief respites from a farcical take on events known as the Chinese revolution, an homage to the Syrian regime’s notion that protests are more likely to happen in China than in Assad’s Syria.

Below is a typical example of using a real event, the taking of an airport in eastern Syria, and poking fun at the regime’s response. The first three points are real and the final two are the jokes.


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