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Sponsoring Sufism

And Its Problems as a Counterterrorism Strategy

People take photos near the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, September 2013. Akhtar Soomro / REUTERS

With the Syrian civil war in its fourth year—and now with Russia’s direct intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—Washington is more keen than ever to push back the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). And at least when it comes to that mission, the Assad government is looking to join in. Just over a year ago, Assad government spokesperson Mohamed Jihad al-Laham reached out to the U.S. Congress to ask for support in the fight against ISIS and to criticize the rebel forces that the United States supports as being just as radical as the larger group. In his letter, Laham also suggested promoting Sufism—a mystical branch of Islam—as a mechanism to alter the violent behavior of terrorist actors.

The inclusion of Sufism in Laham’s plea for military support might seem out of place. But since 9/11, such sentiments have become

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