Syria Islamophobia row exposes ideological fault lines - analyst

Videos posted on social media by Turkey’s rebel allies in Syria have exposed the ideological fault lines separating supporters and opponents of the Turkish military operation and sparked an online debate over the boundaries of Islamophobia, Jerusalem Post editor Seth J. Frantzman wrote.

A clip posted a group of Turkey-backed rebels sparked debate after the spokesman for their Kurdish-led opponents, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused them of using an Islamic State chant.

The rebels had recited the Arabic phrase “Allahu akbar,” meaning “God is great,” a phrase used by more than a billion Muslims during prayers. The statement linking the common phrase to extremist jihadists by SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali drew outraged responses on social media from regional analysts, Muslim commentators and supporters of Turkey and the Syrian opposition.

But Frantzman said critics had hit back saying that the phrase, while used by groups “while threatening to attack a Christian or Kurdish minority town like Tel Tamir in eastern Syria” was, in fact, extremist.

Since Ankara launched its Operation Peace Spring against the SDF and its allies on Oct. 9, a steady stream of reports has surfaced linking Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies to war crimes.

“Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups have been seen on video calling for murdering ‘infidels’ and calling Kurdish minorities ‘pigs’ and ‘atheists’,” Frantzman said.

While those videos have provoked widespread outrage, including among Washington circles that backed the SDF in the fight against ISIS, supporters of Turkey say it is the Kurdish-led group that should be equated with terrorists.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic group, but its mainstay is the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish armed organisation that is closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has led an armed insurgency for self-rule in Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed since 1984, and both Turkey and the United States consider it a terrorist organisation.

Yet labelling different sides terrorists oversimplifies a complex conflict and plays to different narratives on regional disputes that are “designed to bend ears that are already attuned to them,” Frantzman said.

“It creates a world view, the way communists once spoke of ‘fascists’ or the way ‘hard left’ and ‘far right’ are used. It conjures up past eras such as the era of ‘right wing death squads’ in Latin America or ‘Marxist revolutionaries’ or ‘right wing Christian militias’ in Lebanon. Each conflict has its terms that mean ‘bad’ and ‘good.’ Kurds are called ‘separatists’ and the rebels were called ‘revolutionaries.’ For some ‘atheists’ are bad, for others it is those shouting ‘God is great.’”