A sharia committee in the rebel-held region of the Syrian city of Aleppo has banned croissants as symbols of “colonial” oppression. Syria is a former French colony, so some there apparently associate this culinary symbol of Frenchness with France and with imperialism more generally. They specifically targeted croissants, al-Arabiya reports, because the pastry’s “crescent shape celebrates European victory over Muslims.”
Go ahead, laugh -- a fatwa against croissants might seem ridiculous, particularly in a time and place where bread shortages can be common. But there's a serious side to the edict. Rebel-held regions of Aleppo are increasingly dominated by extremist elements, further marginalizing more moderate rebel groups and putting some Syrians at the groups' mercy. In some areas, hardline Islamist groups have moved off the battlefield and begun setting up administrative councils and other governing and charitable bodies.
Two groups in particular -- Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both affiliated with al-Qaeda -- have begun to dominate rebel-held areas of the city, bringing with them a strict interpretation of sharia law. Jabhat al-Nusra recently beheaded a 14-year-old boy for making a comment they saw as insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, according to Syrian rights groups. The ISIL, an affiliated group, claimed responsibility for breaking hundreds of insurgents, including several senior al-Qaeda detainees, out of prison in Iraq.
It goes without saying that the rise of these groups is good for virtually no one, as the Post’s Max Fisher has discussed before. The extremist element in previously moderate Aleppo threatens to further divide Syria’s rebel factions, which are fractious enough already. And the West is unlikely to send much-needed aid to rebels who mix with al-Qaeda -- particularly when those al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are condemning even the most tangentially Western things.
In recent weeks, sharia committees in the area have also banned make-up and tight clothes for women and threatened a year in jail for anyone who fails to fast during Ramadan.
The much-repeated legend that seems to be behind the anti-croissant fatwa -- that a baker in Budapest invented the treat after the city repelled an Ottoman invasion -- has been debunked by food historians several times over. Most agree the bread migrated to France by way of Austria in the early 1800s. And while France did rule Syria for a period before World War II, Austria obviously never did. Then again, Syrian extremists aren’t exactly known for their nuance.