"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Virtues of Sham: The Place of Syria in the Muslim Sacral Imagination- Syria Comment

The nature of the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, has become overtly sectarian and ideological. Undoubtedly the foreign fighters who continue to trickle in are coloured by this. There is also enough evidence to suggest that the presence ofinformal recruiters, usually through friendship networks, play an influential role in the choices they make. There seems to be a confluence of humanitarian, political and ideological factors that has led to a situation that looks and feels apocalyptic. However, what has often been ignored is the unique position that Syria occupies within Islamic tradition.

Keeping our focus on Sunni foreign fighters, Syria has attracted foreign fighters in a way that no other conflict has. Burma or Central African Republic certainly have not attracted Muslim foreign fighters. Not even the lands of Afghanistan or Yemen or Iraq for that matter, have drawn so many men and materiél in from all corners of the Muslim world. Admittedly, their remoteness is certainly one of the inhibitors. Syria after all is easy to get to. But now with Turkey tightening its border and Europe being more vigilant and punitive, they still seems to trickle through. If it was simply Salafi-Jihadi ideology that galvanised men, then many of these ideological fighters would flock to the aforementioned countries; but they do not. They are choosing to travel to Syria. Whilst William McCants has tried to explain the Islamic apocalyptic narrative that ISIS has to an English speaking audience, it does not deal with the role of Syria within the Muslim sacral imagination. Rather Syria or Sham- by Sham I mean modern day Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, parts of Turkey and parts of Iraq- is the meeting point not only for geopolitics, a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also for Jihad within in the Sunni tradition.