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.