The peaceful protest movement in Syria wanted political and constitutional reform so that all Syrians are included and that the Syrian people have the final say in who governs and on the source (constitution) of their authority to govern. Salafists do not believe in a constitution that is derived from the will of the people. They believe in imposing a particular and specific interpretation of Islamic traditions from the top down.
For militant Salafists, the imposition of sharia, as they see it not as seen by the majority of Muslim scholar, was the end goal. The presence of many religious, sectarian, and ethnic groups in Syria made that vision incompatible with a Syrian society that is too diverse to reduce to a single monolith. These diverse communities knew that their struggle is existential, since Salafists framed the conflict as one between “Sunni Muslims” (Salafists), on one side, and apostates (murtadd), Alawites (nusayris), Shias (rawafid), and crusaders (salabiyin) on the other side. Salafists’ actions in Syria reflect this framing of the conflict. They accused residents of towns that are predominantly inhabited by these communities of supporting Assad and they forced them out or placed them under siege. Members of the security forces were summarily executed. In most cases, these acts were videotaped and posted on social media to frighten civilians and force them to submit to their rule. Recently, the chief religious mufti of one of the largest armed groups in Syria admitted to committing war crimes by killing prisoners based on their religious affiliation.