Husseini, over dinner in the Turkish city of Iskenderun, made the case for a moderate interpretation of Islam. He noted that the Quran prohibits sectarianism and stressed the need for a general amnesty after the fall of the regime, arguing that forgiveness is a central tenet of Islam. Husseini also expressed his vision for a civil state and pluralistic government after the fall of the Syrian regime, proposing a bicameral system that gives each religious or ethnic community's leaders an opportunity to be heard in government. "Everyone should get a say, no matter how small his group is, even the atheists," he told me.
The National Bloc attempts to bring together 100 of Syria's most prominent, pro-revolution public leaders -- including tribal chiefs, intellectuals, religious clerics, and scientists -- to advance a message of national unity and reconciliation. The idea is that such elites can use their standing in Syrian society to push the country away from radicalism and revenge. The bloc advocates a return to Syria's 1950 constitution as a starting point for the post-Assad period.
Husseini is looking over the horizon to the post-Assad transition to expand the bloc's role. "There is too much fighting now, too much blood. It is hard to talk to battle-hardened fighters and tell them a message at this time," he said.
Impromptu courts established to dispense Islamic law might seem a prime vehicle for advancing radical ideas, but sometimes in Syria, they do just the opposite. In two sharia courts -- one at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing and the other in the northern province of Idlib -- these bodies are an antidote to the idea of collective sectarian revenge.
"There is no crime in Islam called being an Alawite," Sheikh Abu Jamal, head of the sharia and law division of Idlib Council, told me. "As religious leaders we have the important role of being against vigilante justice, and we have spoken out against many of the youths taking matters into their own hands. Most people listen to us."
Abu Jamal said that the purpose of sharia courts is to make sure that no one is punished without a trial. In his court, the accused is innocent until proven guilty; both a human rights activist and Islamic cleric are witnesses at the trial to advise and object to irregularities; and each accused is offered the right to a lawyer.
Still, the sharia courts are plagued with problems. Not all such courts are created equal, and the protections Abu Jamal offers may not be present elsewhere. There is no appeals process, and the system of choosing and electing judges is biased toward revolutionary justice. At the same time, however, the courts' role in supporting due process and rule of law has acted as a counterweight to sectarian vigilantism in this transitional period.
Some militant groups are also hostile to the growing radicalization of their anti-Assad brethren. In the northern town of Azaz, I met Capt. Bewar Mustafa, head of the Kurdish Salah al-Din Brigade, which largely fights in Aleppo. "We believe in democracy, equal rights for all, and representation," he told me. "This is automatically against sectarianism. We are the Free Syrian Army for all Syrians, not just for one group, and the Kurds in this are a moderating force."
Mustafa, a defected army captain, is afraid of the rising popularity of extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. He also distrusts the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the Turkish insurgent PKK, whose leadership he says holds extreme separatist views and cooperates with the Assad regime. While there might be a need for temporary alliances with the radicals now, he said, Kurdish fighters are determined to stand up against sectarianism when the regime falls.
"Now we Kurds are in the fight, fighting alongside even al-Nusra in Aleppo, and the day after, we will defend all Syrians," he said. "I swear to God, if some radicals want to go kill the Alawites, we will fight with our guns and die to defend the Alawites because we are the army for all Syrians."