On April 14, the 10th issue of the Minbar al-Sham al-Islami (Islamic Pulpit of Greater Syria) appeared on the internet forums. The biweekly magazine emerged from the internet publishing group Minbar Suriya al-Islami (Islamic Pulpit of Syria), which also produces the Risalat al-Mujahidee (Message of the Mujahideen) (Terrorism Focus, March 31, 2005). In step with the tendency of jihadi groups to repudiate nation-state terms, the magazine and the publishing group changed its name last January to Minbar al-Sham al-Islami (al-Sham being the traditional term for a geographic area that included present-day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan). The appearance, and fate, of the publishing group gives an indication of the tightening conditions for the militant mujahideen in Syria. Since its maiden issue on July 15 last year, it is much reduced in size—the present newsletter amounts to only six pages down from an average 20—but retains even more importance in maintaining morale now that its sister jihadi website, http://www.nnuu.org, is closed down.
The jihadi group (unnamed) responsible for the publication is distinct from the more famous Muslim Brotherhood that clashed with the regime of Hafez al-Assad after a failed assassination attempt on the leader in June 1980. The Brotherhood has since ostensibly chosen the path of promoting political reform on the model of the Egyptian Brotherhood, and campaigns under the existing legal structures for the repeal of the July 9, 1980 “Law 49” that makes membership a capital offense. It has recently issued a joint statement with Syria’s exiled former deputy president Abd al-Halim Khaddam calling on Syrians to stand up to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Brotherhood’s own site, http://www.jimsyr.com, continues to flourish.
Eschewing such an approach, the Minbar al-Sham al-Islami magazine maintains unequivocal hostility to any structures based on non-Islamic models. The preoccupations of the present issue underline this feature. It begins with a succinct statement analyzing the anti-Islamic starting point of the Syrian constitution—in which Sharia is merely “one of the principal sources” of legislation, and not its only source”—and highlights the opposition to Islamic teachings inherent in the document. The group takes issue in particular with the Syrian opposition party Islah (Reform). The party, in its view, is “an infidel secularist party, calling for the separation of religion and politics and the setting up of a state according to the secular, Western, democratic model.”
The text charges that the party is supported by the United States (where it is based), in that its agenda “attempts to implement equality between men and women according to the Western concept” and “calls for the cancellation of the doctrine of jihad.” It then goes on to detail the significance of democracy and secularism as an ideology, “which imprisons faith within the conscience of the individual,” and therefore forbids cooperation with the party. The editors also take issue with the intention voiced by Islah leader Farid al-Ghadri to approach the Golan Heights issue on the basis of negotiations, in that this implies future official relations with the Jewish state. The rest of the edition is taken up mainly with news reports of the fate of imprisoned mujahideen, the pressures on the detainees’ family members, and the ongoing arrests by the regime of Muslim youth. The inescapable impression is one of a movement that is severely reduced in capability from its position one year ago.