Syria's Rebels Really Hate the Jews

09.21.12 9:16 PM ET

Kapil Komireddi writes on a disturbing feature of Syria's revolution: a general absence of pluralism and respect for religious diversity. This illiberalism is a challenge for Christians and non Sunni Muslims, but is especially toxic for Jews.

"We have to build a society of respect and brotherhood in accordance with the Prophet's commandments," he told me in Urdu. "We will treat non-Muslims kindly, but we have a big fight against the Jews ahead of us. We will take that up, God willing." This manifesto for the future was identical - almost word for word - to what Yahya Mujahid, a senior leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based outfit charged with carrying out the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, told me in Lahore in 2009: that the LeT would take up the "fight" with the Jews after "liberating" Kashmir from Indian rule. One was a Kashmiri, the other a Pashtun; neither had met a Jew in his life. But both were united by a deep hatred, completely alien to their richly syncretic native cultures, exported by a distant Wahhabi monarchy that has suffused countless young minds in Islamic seminaries across South Asia with a fervor for jihad against non-Muslims.

This evangelical effort is now being replicated on an even more ambitious scale in Syria. The result is that a once-pluralistic society has descended into sectarian chaos. In the province of Homs alone, rebel fighters have driven some 80,000 Christians out of their homes. The opposition fighters have even carried out beheadings, a phenomenon unknown to Syrians. Young Shi'ite and Christian women, who mix freely with men in Damascus, told me they had to cover their faces and assume fake Sunni identities when traveling through rebel-held areas.

The man currently being groomed by Saudi Arabia as a possible replacement for Assad is Manaf Tlass, a high-ranking official in the Syrian army and a once-close friend of Assad's, who fled Syria in July with the help of French intelligence. Tlass has now adopted the vocabulary of the "moderate," but his family history should be of concern to Israelis. Tlass' father, Mustafa, a former Sunni defense minister who wielded tremendous clout under Hafez Assad, is something of a scholar. I came across one of his best-sellers, "The Matzah of Zion," in Damascus this summer. Complete with a lurid cover depicting ravenous Jews draining the blood of a Christian priest into a large bowl, the book attempts to revive the blood libel.