Posted by Rafiq A. Tschannen
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)
Several months ago when I wrote about the looming danger of the growing strength of Salafist-takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria, I focused on the threats that thousands of their fighters, bombers and terrorists posed to those countries and also to other lands where they would travel in due course.
Both the scale and threat of the Salafist-takfiri enterprise in the Middle East are now much more significant, because they control more territory, they can assault many foes across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq as a single operational theater; they have expanded to comprise tens of thousands of adherents; the conditions that brought them to prominence persist; and they have yet to face an enemy that is willing or able to eradicate them.
I wondered months ago whether we would soon see some coordinated action by regional and foreign powers to redress the danger posed by such groups as the Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Ahrar al-Sham and many others that were both locally anchored and also pan-Islamic like Al-Qaeda. Some focus on fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, Hezbollah and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Iraq, while others are content to carve out territory that they can transform into their imagined pure Islamic society. This is an ever-changing universe of identities and allegiances among Salafist-takfiri groups that evolve over time, as some merge into larger umbrella coalitions. More recently, some such organizations have also fought each other, especially as some Syria-based groups have pushed back the aggressive expansion of ISIS.
The frightening thing about the growth of these groups is what they tell us about the condition of societies in the Levant and other Arab countries. Beyond the immediate and real security threat these groups pose to everyone in the region, we should also see them as a frightening symptom of erratic modern Arab statehood. These groups did not just suddenly appear over the past three years as war raged in Syria; rather, they have been incubating for much longer because of the slow deterioration of conditions in Middle Eastern countries over the past quarter century or so