Archive for October, 2014

What does the establishment of a new judicial entity tell us about Nusra’s evolving disposition and its relationship with other rebel courts?

Left: the Dar al-Qada flag. Right: a Dar al-Qada facility on “the coast,” likely in Bidama or elsewhere in the Latakia countryside.

Left: the Dar al-Qada flag. Right: a Dar al-Qada facility on “the coast,” likely in Bidama or elsewhere in the Latakia countryside.

On Saturday, Sam Heller (@abujamajem) wrote a highly recommended post about a Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar jurist’s rebuttal to criticisms from pro-Islamic State (IS) figures that salafi-jihadis in other areas have not sufficiently established Islamic governance. In it, Heller details how the jurist, Mu’tasim Billah al-Madani, points to a new judicial entity, the Jabhat al-Nusra-linked Dar al-Qada – roughly translated as simply “the judiciary” – as an example of how jihadists in non-IS-controlled territory are in fact living up to their credentials and applying a form of unadulterated Islamic law, particularly through implementation of the hudud, harsh punishments such as stoning.

But what is Dar al-Qada? Below we see the judicial body’s foundational statement, released last month, which offers some insight into Nusra’s developing interest in governance and how it views its relationship with other rebel courts and judicial commissions.

Dar al-Qada first appeared to outside observers in August 2014 when a video was posted showing Nusra members lashing a man accused of cursing religion. The video identified Dar al-Qada as the source of the ruling and came out a month after Nusra announced its withdrawal from the Aleppo Shari’a Commission, a joint body that it had previously backed with Islamic Front factions, to form its own judiciary.

Since then, Dar al-Qada has opened a number of branches in northern Syria in areas where Nusra is strong. While it appears that the body is mostly linked to Nusra, al-Madani’s defense of the organization shows that other salafi-jihadi groups have shifted their support to the new, more ideologically “pure” project and away from other courts linked to the Islamic Front and other more nationalist-oriented factions. The statement also reveals Nusra’s specific grievances against judicial bodies it had previously supported.

Two points are worth highlighting. First, the group decries the institution of factional quotas in previous shari’a commissions, where armed groups that backed the commissions would stock them with a certain number of their own members. This system, according to Nusra, created a situation where the powerful factions did not subject themselves to the Islamic legal rulings that they claimed to be implementing.

Second, the statement obliquely warns that Dar al-Qada will not accept the support of western-backed factions, calling them “enemies of God.” It is not clear if the statement also refers to Islamist groups that have received support the G
ulf, as it only condemns “sellout” factions. In either case, it is clear that Nusra views the support of some factions for the Aleppo Shari’a Commission and other judicial bodies as polluting the purity of the law applied in them.

The statement tells us a few things. Mainly, it demonstrates how Nusra’s competition with IS is being expressed in the creation of new governance mechanisms and in the rupturing of relations with others. As the group has scaled back tactical cooperation with other rebel groups and ramped up criticism of its heretofore allies in the Islamic Front, so too it is carving out physical spaces and instituting mechanisms of control that exclude less “sincere” groups. The move, which is meant to head off the threat that its members will continue to defect to IS for its demonstrated “success” in establishing Islamic governance, is a tacit admission that battlefield success is no longer enough for Nusra to demonstrate its credentials or its relevance to both current members and potential recruits.

So, in contrast to IS efforts to build governance institutions, which were mostly established from a position of strength and have served as an important symbolic resource for the group, Dar al-Qada appears to come from a position of weakness and vulnerability

But the establishment of Dar al-Qada goes beyond the dynamics of competition between jihadis and IS. First, Nusra’s growing paranoia that other non-jihadi – and perhaps even other Islamist groups – will eventually turn on it seems to be an important factor.

Second, the establishment of Dar al-Qada reveals that doctrinal considerations may be important drivers of Nusra’s behavior in their own right. The group, or at least the part of it that has won the argument in favor of less cooperation with other groups, appears to be having serious reservations about its past inclusivity. These misgivings revolve around the extent to which Nusra has cooperated with “apostate” factions and allowed less committed groups to influence governance in rebel-held Syria.

Translation follows.



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