How an Islamist militia spokesman gets to a European university

The fact that things were different at the University of Provence Aix-Marseille leads to a longer answer, which is more difficult because it is politically sensitive

Source: RFS Media Office

The previous spokesman for the Syrian militia, Jaish al-Islam, was arrested in Marseille last week. Amazingly, he had an “Erasmus visa” in his pocket. This asks a couple of questions, for example: How does it come about that a high-ranking member of an extremist, Salafist-oriented militia has been accepted by a French university, and all of the indications as part of the Erasmus Plus funding program?


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The short answer with a bitter-bizarre aftertaste: The right label opens funding programs. Majdi M. Nema, aka Islam Alloush, presents himself in his application, which has now been released to the public, as “a researcher who specializes in Syrian affairs, with a focus on security and terrorism issues”.

However, Majdi M. Nema was open enough to refer to his “important role in the ‘Syrian Revolution'”, his “revolutionary key role” and his continuing connections and activities in the application. That should have made the addressees of the application sit up and take notice. This was the case at a British university (“major UK University”). She rejected the applicant because of his role in the Salafist militia Jaish al-Islam and its history.

The fact that things were different at the University of Provence Aix-Marseille leads to a longer answer, which is more difficult because it is politically sensitive.

Promotion of the Syrian opposition as a maxim

Because, as the French historian, publicist and Syria specialist Fréderic Pichon (who played a leading role in the Syrian edition of the Cahiers de L’Orient in summer 2018) addressed in a cautious and at the same time snappy tweet: It could well be that the “Syrian specialist of Jaish al-Islam” met a sponsor at the French university, who was also often used as an advisor to French diplomacy:

“That would confirm the total poisoning of the French administration in Syria.”

It doesn’t take long to find names at the Institute of the University of Provence for Research into the Arab World and Muslims (IREMAM) on which the suspicion of Pichon is based – specialists who support the cause of the militant Syrian opposition with Verve and For example, there was no doubt that the allegations of poison gas attack, which were very much based on information from the White Helmets, are true.

Now it is the case that Pichon was subjected to violent criticism even in France, since in his article on Syria he often contradicted the widespread representation that the opposition militias were “moderate groups” and therefore not infrequently in the polemical corner of the “Apologists of the Assad regime” was asked.

Now, using the Islam Alloush case, Pichon points out that the “Toran Center for Strategic Studies” – in which the man from Jaish al-Islam was appointed deputy director of the Syrian department – was associated with “some researchers from the French university” and This was shown, for example, in an article from 2016 that argued for the “deradicalization” of the Ahrar al-Sham militia. This has become a “revolutionary group”, without links to jihadism.

As a reminder: Ahrar al-Sham was in a fighting community with the al-Qaida offshoot al-Nusra-Front for a long time, albeit in jealous competition for questions about Sharia rule in the “Emirate” Idlib after both groups in the alliance Jaish al -Fatah had conquered Idlib in spring 2015. There are also connections between Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaida.

In the period after the conquest of Idlib, Ahrar al-Sham tried to improve his image. They had very good contacts: The “foreign policy representative” of the militia was allowed to do PR in its own cause in the Washington Post in July 2015: “We consider ourselves a Sunni Islamic mainstream group that is run by Syrians and fights for Syrians.”

PR work and systematic violence

This PR strategy continues to this day in variations. Her aim is to hide atrocities committed and will be committed in the course of the “Syrian Revolution” and to downplay to Western representatives and the public what is most important internally and in Syria: that the revolution in Syria internally as ” Jihad “and wants Islamist rule, not democracy, but the law of Sharia as a basic order. Which is connected with the question of whether brutalities are not committed systematically, not only in the “excess of war”.

It can be assumed that Hayat al-Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor to al-Nusra, who prevailed over Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib, will again play through the pattern with his contacts in the coming weeks and tries to establish an image that has nothing to do with “terrorism” and “jihad”, but focuses on “being led by Syrians and fighting for Syrians”.

University of Provence staff are said to have previously argued against including the al-Nusra front on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

This is the broader political context for the Islam Alloush case. The brutality committed by the Jaish al-Islam militia at the time when Majdi M. Nema was still its spokesman is remarkable.

The militia is accused of the disappearance of four actually political and non-armed and militarily active opposition figures (“Douma4”), the notorious exposure of captive Alevitees as “human shields” in cages, mass kidnappings and a systematically brutal handling of dissenters from their course, the is called “totalitarian” – and not by an Assad government medium, but by one that is close to the opposition.

When the French Syrian specialist Pichon speaks of a “poisoning” of French official politics in the case of Syria, he is aiming to deal with the Syrian opposition, which was or is far from being critical of the actual situation, and instead supported the PR work of groups such as the White Helmets with receptions in the Elysée Palace with great pomp.

The way across Turkey

Upon closer inspection, there was enough evidence from Erasmus student Majdi M. Nema – and, as mentioned at the beginning, also from himself – that it was a man who should absolutely not be given a place at a French university in order to assume responsibility Dive into war crimes and get financial support as a “specialist in Syrian affairs.

Apparently, this was made possible by the route via Turkey and the Turkish Think Tank Toran Center (with good connections to Islamist groups), and Majdi M. Nema was also allowed to study at another European university in Hungary. Incidentally, it was not the painstaking work of the police or secret service that led to his arrest last week, but the message from Syrian activists who did not feel comfortable with the matter.

The author of the article is Thomas Pany. Thomas Pany studied political science with Kurt Sontheimer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, plus modern history and Semitic studies. The original article has been published in Telepolis. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.

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