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Islamism: Syria's Growing Cancer

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The kidnapping of the Libyan Prime Minister, the dreadful massacres in Nigeria and Kenya and August's genocide in Lattakia (categorized by Human Right's Watch as a crime against humanity) are all linked by the growing cancer of militant Islamism.

Islamism has long been associated with the poor and oppressed. But it is being fanned by influential clerics in Saudi Arabia and Qatar who loudly promote Jihad against Alawites, Shias, Christians and Jews. In Turkey, the more subtle 'creeping Islamisation' of Prime Minister Erdogan's regime continues.

Turkey, Saudi, Jordan and Qatar stand together in a Sunni-led axis that has invested approximately US$3.5bn funding, sheltering and arming the Islamist rebels in Syria. They stand against a Shia-led alliance of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters have bolstered the regime in Damascus.

These sectarian tensions have been fueled by the geopolitical enmity between the US and NATO on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Russia, with extremist problems at home and strategic interests in the Middle East, backs the Syrian regime in the world's most lethal conflict. The US has supported the opposition. Warships from both sides continue to gather close to Syrian waters. The US came extraordinarily close to intervening in Syria. Russia made no bones about the military support she would offer the regime and has threatened to supply sensitive weapons to countries in the region.

Two and a half years ago the Syrian conflict began with peaceful protests against a tyrannical regime. Those marches were hijacked by a convergence of extremists. The Turkish and Qatari-backed Syrian National Council was formed and later morphed into the Syrian National Coalition (also SNC). The SNC has, from the start been run by extremists. The majority of its leadership and two thirds of its 263 founder-members have been members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera's support may give the Brotherhood legitimacy, but it is an extremist organization. It's flag is a patchwork of Jihadist symbolism. Its offshoots include Hamas and Al-Qaeda.

This explains why the SNC has had no issue with the development of a largely extremist rebel force. The Free Syrian Army has long been aligned with Al-Qaeda groups such as the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' and 'Al-Nusra'. Its Supreme Military Council is made up of Salafist groups. General Idris has said he is happy to fight alongside Al-Nusra -- despite its being blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization, and back in August he joined the attack on the Alawite villages of Lattakia spearheaded by a number of groups linked to Al-Qaeda. 200 civilians were murdered and another 200 kidnapped. The three largest groups previously fighting under the FSA banner have subsequently joined the 'Islamist Alliance', calling for an Islamic State in Syria under Sharia Law. The 'Alliance' now controls Northern Syria, where six members of the Red Cross were abducted on the weekend.

Congressman Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee estimated its proportion of extremists at 50%. A new study by the defense consultancy IHS Jane's estimates that of 100,000 'opposition' troops 75% are of Jihadist or Islamist character. It believes the total force is split into as many as 1,000 separate bands. It is uncontrollable and extreme. There is absolutely nothing 'moderate' about these rebels.

On-going calls to jihad from across the region have accelerated the influx of imported jihadi fighters to the rebel cause. Michael Morell, Deputy Director of the CIA until August, says more foreign fighters are flowing into Syria than there were to Iraq at the height of its war. He cites Syrian extremism as the greatest current threat to U.S National Security. Geography suggests the threat must be exponentially higher in Europe.

This gathering of extremists has led to the murder of hundreds of Kurdish, Alawite, Christian and Shia civilians, women and children. But despite Friday's belated condemnation of the attack in Lattakia by Human Rights Watch, these incidents receive little coverage or condemnation in the West.

It is a sad consequence of this sub-human behavior in the name of the 'opposition' that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was able to claim at the UN General Assembly in New York that this is not a civil war, simply a war against terrorism.

This is a conflict devoid of morality. The US-Russian resolution on chemical weapons makes both sides accountable. Blame remains a grey area. As do the war's boundaries. Refugees pour out of Syria, as does violence. General Myers has already gone on record to categorize this as a "regional war."

In a throw-back to recent times, black Al Qaeda flags now fly across Iraq's border towns.

Hadi al-Amiri, Iraq's transport minister, has added that it would be impossible to "sit idle while the Shi'ites are being attacked". Meanwhile, shells have fallen in Jordan, militants have been gunned-down in Lebanon and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is a hotbed of Islamist militant activity. In Turkey, the government's unequivocal support for the rebels has led to al-Nusra fighters controlling border crossings between Turkey and Syria, leading President Abdullah Gul to turn 180 degrees and call for the global community not to abandon the Syrian people.

With geopolitical, sectarian and civil divisions honing in on Syria, there are currently three possible outcomes: a victory for the regime, a victory for the overwhelmingly Islamist opposition or an endless war leading to the disintegration of Syria as we know it. None is preferable.

Only democracy provides a long-term solution. And the road to democracy begins with inclusive diplomacy.

The pending Geneva 2 peace summit is a step in the right direction. But only if the Syrian people are truly represented. We are a beautiful mosaic of ethnicities and religions. 45 to 50% of Syrians are part of 'minority' groups. The SNC and the Islamist majority of the 1000 separate rebel forces on the ground represents none of them. And they certainly don't represent the 70% peaceful majority, which according to a NATO poll published in the World Tribune, are now supporting the regime, not because it is is popular, but because of the Islamist alternative. Democracy is neither on the agenda of the Arab League nor the 'Islamist Alliance.'

And so we must ask why the West is so loathe to recognize this. It cannot 'pick and choose' an opposition purportedly on our behalf. It has supported the SNC and Free Syrian Army despite incontrovertible evidence of their extremism. It took Hillary Clinton eighteen months to recognize that the SNC is not representative. Secretary of State John Kerry must not repeat her mistakes. Lessons must finally be learned from the support for 'rebel' forces in Afghanistan and Libya. And from Iran three decades ago, when a dictatorship was replaced with a theocracy.

With such a disparate and extreme rebel force, a ceasefire and peaceful election are pipe-dreams even if the regime was willing. Tens of thousands of Jihadists are simply not going to pack their bags and disappear. And so we must try to limit the damage.

The diminishing prospect of Western military intervention is a start. The United Nations Security Council must now ensure that the Syrian government fulfills its commitments. Russia, the United States and the International Community should agree to stop supplying any group with money, arms or supplies and must pressurize Turkey, Saudi, Qatar and Jordan to stop funding, arming, training, sheltering and encouraging the rebels. It must diffuse tension wherever possible and champion an inclusive diplomatic solution that can pave the long road to democracy. From this point on, financial assistance should only be used to supply medical aid through respectable organizations like the Red Cross and UNICEF.

I am a Syrian. I pine for peace. That dream will never become a reality until the advance of radical Islamism into my country is halted.