Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Bizarre story of the day

My pick for most bizarre foreign story of the day is the tale of Eric Haroun, a former U.S. army private from Arizona who's under arrest for fighting with Syrian rebels seeking to topple the Assad regime.

Bizarre story of the day

 

My pick for most bizarre foreign story of the day is the tale of Eric Haroun, a former U.S. army private from Arizona who’s under arrest for fighting with Syrian rebels seeking to topple the Assad regime.

Keep in mind that the United States backs the efforts of the Syrian rebels. But Haroun, who says he set out to join a unit of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group that Washington supports, wound up fighting with the most effective Syrian militia, the Nusra Front which is allied with al-Qaeda.

His odyssey is similar to that of many Syrian opposition fighters, who are drawn to the Nusra Front, which seems to have no trouble getting money for weapons from rich Gulf Arabs, unlike the non-radical groups America supposedly supports, who’ve often had trouble getting bullets and guns.

Syrian opposition fighters who are not jihadis have told me they’ll join with any group that appears successful in fighting the Assad regime, even if they dislike the group’s ideology. An FBI agent on Haroun’s case has said the agency has no evidence he holds fundamentalist views. He told the agency he “hates al-Qaeda” and refused the Nusra Front’s offer to make him their English language spokesman.

Now Haroun appears to be something of a wild man. He had brushes with the law in Arizona and violent conflicts with his father, and he came to the FBI’s attention because of his frequent posts on YouTube and Facebook about his Syrian exploits.

But his current situation – facing charges of fighting with a terrorist group - underlines the contradictions of the U.S. policy on Syria. We back the Free Syrian Army in principle but not sufficiently in practice, thus opening the door for Islamists to take the lead in the struggle to overthrow Bashar al Assad.

In Syria, non-jihadi youth are drawn to the Nusra Front because it has the right stuff to fight Assad, whom we want out of power. But when a seemingly unbalanced American youth follows that course, he faces the possibility of life in jail.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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