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Life under ISIS
Promised Heaven, But Given Hell

The longer ISIS is in control of territory, the more it becomes clear to ordinary Syrians and Iraqis that underneath its promises of a return to the Age of Mohammed lie corruption and abuse of a sort with which they are all too familiar. The AP reports:

“It’s a criminal gang pretending to be a state,” [refugee and former prisoner of ISIS Mohammed] Saad said, speaking in Turkey, where he fled in October. “All this talk about applying Shariah and Islamic values is just propaganda, Daesh is about torture and killing,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Syrians who have recently escaped the Islamic State group’s rule say public disillusionment is growing as IS has failed to live up to its promises to install a utopian “Islamic” rule of justice, equality and good governance.

Instead, the group has come to resemble the dictatorial rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad that many Syrians had sought to shed, with a reliance on informers who have silenced a fearful populace. Rather than equality, society has seen the rise of a new elite class — the jihadi fighters — who enjoy special perks and favor in the courts, looking down on “the commoners” and even ignoring the rulings of their own clerics.

Despite the atrocities that made it notorious, the Islamic State group had raised hopes among some fellow Sunnis when it overran their territories across parts of Syria and Iraq and declared a “caliphate” in the summer of 2014. It presented itself as a contrast to Assad’s rule, bringing justice through its extreme interpretation of Shariah and providing services to residents, including loans to farmers, water and electricity, and alms to the poor. Its propaganda machine promoting the dream of an Islamic caliphate helped attract jihadis from around the world.

Instead, they wound up with an unbridgeably wide gulf between what the group promises and what it delivers. ISIS’ brutality extends from its much-hyped executions down to savage abuses for even banal offenses:

One sign of the distance between the claims and realities is a 12-page manifesto by IS detailing its judicial system. The document, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, heavily emphasizes justice and tolerance. For example, it sets out the duties of the Hisba, the “religious police” who ensure people adhere to the group’s dress codes, strict separation of genders and other rules.

A Hisba member “must be gentle and pleasant toward those he orders or reprimands,” it says. “He must be flexible and good mannered so that his influence is greater and the response (he gets) is stronger.”

Yet, the escaped Syrians all complained of the brutal extremes that the Hisba resorts to. One woman who lived in Raqqa said that if a woman is considered to have violated the dress codes, the militants flog her husband, since he is seen as responsible for her. When her neighbor put out the garbage without being properly covered, she said, the woman’s husband was whipped.

Delusional, ignorant bigots and thugs somehow fail to build paradise on earth? Color us shocked. This is something we’ve been covering for a while, but really can’t be stressed enough. The Middle East is in a grave cultural crisis, and it’s not altogether surprising that a group that promised a magical return to the Age of the Prophet, enforced through violence and strict readings of scripture, might have been given a hearing by some. But it is for the same reason vital that ISIS fail and be seen to fail by the peoples of the Middle East.

No, failures of governance won’t in and of themselves kill off the Islamic State. Force will be needed for that, very much including someone’s boots on some ground at some point. But it’s also vital that the idea of the Islamic State die. And failures of implementation have discredited more than one utopian dream.

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  • lukelea

    Something similar with Al Qaeda in Iraq. We should empower local clan and tribal sheiks to kick them out. Encourage a Congress of Sheiks to come together and form a new Sunni government of a new Sunni state? Work with, not against, existing clan/tribal institutions? Of course I’m no expert.

  • Beauceron

    What nonsense.

    I think ISIS has done quite a credible job of returning life to the time of Mohammed. What did they think it was actually like– going around fighting and conquering everyone, killing, enslaving and raping and forcing people to convert? I suppose, depending on your style, it might be great to go around fighting and conquering everyone, killing, enslaving and raping and forcing people to convert, but if you’re on the wrong end of such god-inspired enlightenment, I think it would pretty much suck.

    • Dan

      Did the prophet prefer facebook or twitter to get his message out? =)

  • Jim__L

    “No, failures of governance won’t in and of themselves kill off the
    Islamic State.”

    True. See the other states in the region.

    “Force will be needed for that, very much including
    someone’s boots on some ground at some point.”

    Eventually those boots must be the boots of local boys using their strength to implement a social order that really is successful — for them and for their families.

    “But it’s also vital that
    the idea of the Islamic State die.”

    Well, it was relegated to the recycling bin of history 100 years ago when the Ottoman Empire fell. What’s a good way to kill it, other than letting the sickness run its course?

    “And failures of implementation have discredited more than one utopian dream.”

    Sometimes. Temporarily, anyway. It’s easy to find opportunities to use the phrase “recycling bin of history”.

  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s possible that the greatest service the West can perform for Islam is to not kill ISIL. The only boots which belong on the ground are those of other Islamic men and women who have had enough of either their religion “in action” or their religion “perverted” (whichever of those best describes what ISIL is and does.)

    No, I am not against the American air strikes. I am against American service people being referred to as “boots” and I am against sending them again to try to redeem a false religion. At SOME point, the people of Islam are responsible for either conquering their own half-a$$ed “caliphate” or planning to just live as slaves to such butchers for the rest of their lives.

    This approach has its risks, but so does the approach tried last decade where we spent too much treasure and too much sacrifice from the military families for the benefit of a bunch of people who hate us for trying to keep them out of the seventh century. Maybe we could have better results telling the region that the infidels have decided to have better sense than to keep playing though Islam is really anything OTHER THAN what is seen in ISIL. If it is, it will be up to the people of Islam to fix it and show the rest of us something which is not a muddled mess.

    • Anthony

      This is your most recent commentary; so here’s something to “read” carefully: prospect.org/article/can-democrats-channel-americas-discontent

      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. Not to be a “broken record”, but I still believe the biggest issue for people to believe or not believe is whether tax cuts do or do not create jobs. If the Dems cannot counter the Republicans’ claims to that effect, the Dems lose.

        • Anthony

          You’re welcome and you are not coming off as a broken record – it’s not the bottom that has been falling out of the American economy; it’s the middle. So, keep going on (someone may inadvertently realize you have a point).

          • FriendlyGoat

            You know, I sometimes think that “inadvertent” may be a key word in this. Straightforward arguments, I’ve found, mostly are met with the standard indoctrination that “everybody knows tax cuts create jobs” when “everybody” has no means at all to “know” such things. We are the mostly just victims of repetition.

          • Anthony

            Other factors have weighed more than tax cut argument FG; a number of them you’re aware of without me enumerating. They (factors) have been skillfully played since 1980 if not before. What you (we) are up against is societal shifts (economic, social, demographic, etc.) that unnerve – anxiety plus fear plus resentment = what. Scapegoating is easier than weighing numbers (tax cutting) so inadvertent, inadvertent my friend.

    • Andrew Allison

      I (are you sitting down :<)} ) couldn't agree more. This has got to stop (both meanings).

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, thankfully I always sit at computer. This is fortunate, because your announcement could have otherwise caused me to become disoriented and possibly fall over.

        • Andrew Allison

          Grin. Although you have difficulty with the concept, I really am ecumenical.

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