We are always in need of funds to help the civilians of cities that have been destroyed or to purchase arms and munitions. Funding is the key to this war, and it’s one of the disasters of the revolution. But every time you try to raise money, the first question you’re asked is, “Where do you situate itself within Islam?” or “Will you give your brigade an Islamic name?”
Often, when these potential funders realise that ours is not a Salafist brigade, they stop funding us. That’s why, in the videos made by our brigade, we like to recite verses from the Korean and to include Islamic symbols in the background… We are all salesmen, in a way: we must bend in any direction to fit our potential donors, whatever our actual beliefs, and the donor is always right.
“If our donors want us to rename our brigade ‘Syrian soldiers for Madonna’, we’d do it!”
Once, I was with a soldier from the Free Syrian Army brigade who was on the phone with his girlfriend. Right afterwards, he got a call from one of the brigade’s donors. His tone changed completely: he was speaking like a radical Islamist, like someone who would never have had a girlfriend. When he hung up, I asked him, “Doesn’t it bother you to have to put on this kind of act?” He answered, “If our donors want us to rename our brigade to the ‘Syrian soldiers for Madonna, we’d do it!”
There is a huge number of moderate fighters that are now part of Islamist brigades. For instance, many have joined Liwa al-Islam [an Islamist group that is now part of the Army of Islam] because they can pay fighters a regular salary, which the Free Syrian Army is unable to do. But I know these people: once the war is over, they’ll stop this charade and go back to normal. Once Bashar al-Assad has fallen, the real threat will actually come from Al Qaeda’s influence and from the real Islamist leaders within these groups, those that have a political agenda.
“I’m afraid that my son will grow up believing that this is a normal environment”
I am not religious, which all my brigade comrades know, even the most religious ones. Nonetheless, we still fight side by side. But it’s just a question of time: if the war goes on for a long time, I think the fundamentalist influence will really take root here. I have a son who is now growing up in this context. I am afraid that he may believe this environment is normal, and that I will have a hard time clearing his head from such beliefs.