The British government is against the Assad regime and wants it to go. They are supplying non-lethal aid to the rebel movements and exerting at least some political pressure on the regime to end its oppression of its Sunni population. Given this, it seems very odd that there is a mounting campaign of vilification of those who go and militarily assist rebel movements in Syria.
Don't get me wrong, given the situation on the ground and the requests of the Syrian people themselves, I believe that there are much better ways to assist the Syrians than by going in person to fight and I would encourage those thinking of going to consider more effective alternatives. But that belief doesn't mean I label those who do go to fight as terrorists and make them pariah figures.
One such pariah figure is Abdul Waheed Majeed, who is said to be the first British “suicide bomber” in Syria. Majeed's case has jolted the government into action and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has come out and said that all those who are found to have been “involved in terrorism or terrorism-related activity will rightly be brought to justice.” These comments are backed up in the British media by images of Majeed standing in an Arab dress with a black band on his head next to what appears to be a truck bomb. Given our long exposure to the rhetoric of the British government and the UK media, we see all this, read the word “suicide bomber”, and Majeed becomes a target for revulsion.
But let’s back up a bit. Who said Majeed and his like are terrorists?
If we look at the moral picture, Majeed’s involvement in the Aleppo operation is ethically unambiguous. Majeed didn't murder innocents, he attacked a legitimate target as part of a military objective, and from what we know, he was the only person to have died in the attack. The Syrian rebels are fighting a just war against an oppressive regime that has resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians according to latest UN reports. Given that backdrop, attacking a jail which houses many of the captured rebel fighters seems a no-brainer strategically – and that is the reason why prison attacks are part and parcel of most wars. Indeed the UK military has a history of such attacks – Operation Jericho in WWII being one prominent example. Majeed wasn't killing innocent civilians. He wasn't terrorising populations. He was giving his life for a just cause, and it would be shameful of us were we to tarnish him and other Syrian fighters as terrorists for doing that.
Of course Brokenshire and Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, are concerned that those who come back from Syria may be coming back militarised and more prone to committing violence in the UK. This is a legitimate concern, but I would have thought that the thousands of active and ex-IDF members – including impressionable teenagers, the tens of thousands of British military veterans, 20% of whom have committed a violent crimes since returning to the UK, and the scores of unregulated private military contractors who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be more concerning to the wider public than a dozen Syrian veterans.
Indeed I personally am more concerned by the presence of military veterans from armies such as the IDF and the British Army who have been, and continue to be involved in illegitimate wars, illegal occupations, and unlawful detentions across the world. Those who fight with the IDF are directly responsible for defending unlawful settlements in the Occupied Territories and violate the laws of occupation, thus committing grave and serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The soldiers in these armies were told to do the horrific things that they did – and most of them did so without question or a batted eyelid. That there are people with such a callous unthinking approach to violence walking around on our streets is much more worrying for me as a British civilian than some young educated British Muslim who goes off to fight in Syria in a fervour of righteous indignation at the injustice being done by Assad. He may be naïve but at least the moral probity of his cause cannot be questioned.
The truth is Muslims are no more and no less prone to violence upon returning to the UK than any other military veteran. British Muslims have a long history of serving with freedom fighters over the last thirty years in places like Afghanistan against the USSR, and in Bosnia. In none of these cases was a single incident recorded where a returning fighter had been involved in violence in the UK. It was only when the UK government got embroiled in illegitimate wars which resulted in millions of Muslim deaths did we see a rise in politically motivated violence in the UK.
It is very easy to bandy around the “terrorist” label, but it would be an insult to the suffering of millions of Syrians and to the heroic work of the resistance movement to use it in the case of Britons fighting for justice in Syria.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)