The Islamic State’s caliphate turns one year old on June 29, and few inside its domains, aside from the true believers who have traveled all over the world to live in the Islamic promised land, are likely to be celebrating. Like all totalitarian states, it has swiftly established for its citizens an environment of oppression and fear, supported (in a new twist) not by a personality cult centered upon the specter of a ubiquitous, all-seeing, all-knowing leader, but by the guilt-manipulation of religious duty. Obey the Islamic State’s dictates, no matter how egregious, or else you’ll not just be tortured and brutally murdered, but you’ll burn in hell besides.
And so those deemed to be ideologically deviant are not labeled “counterrevolutionaries” or “imperialist running dogs” or “capitalist roaders,” but “heretics,” and are made to carry “repentance cards.”
A repentance card is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, however. Everyone in the Islamic State must show signs of his or her repentance and devoutness in Islam every day, or else. Breaking the law in the Islamic State can get you lashed or even beheaded – even for “infractions” such as these, many of which are classic Sharia provisions and thus are found in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere as well:
- Women must cover their entire body except face and hands. (According to some reports, they must cover their faces as well.)
- Women may not leave the house without a male accompanying them.
- Only women may sell clothing to women.
- Women must not wear high heels, but only flat-soled shoes.
- Not only drugs and alcohol, but cigarettes are forbidden.
- Those who leave Islam are to be killed.
- Graves and shrines are forbidden, and are to be destroyed.
There are other rules as well – many recalling Woody Allen’s Republic of San Marcos. Women may not wear makeup or sit in a chair. Men may not cut their hair, put gel in it, or wear it in a “modern style.” Men may not wear low-hanging jeans (okay, for that one I’m booking my ticket to Raqqa now). Just as postwar Vietnamese were forbidden to utter the name “Saigon,” in the Islamic State no one may refer to the ruling group as “Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for the group’s former name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Those wearing soccer jerseys will receive 80 lashes. And several weeks ago, Islamic State clerics banned pigeon breeding: the sight of the birds’ genitals as they flew overhead was un-Islamic.
That’s right: this is a state that legislates about pigeon genitals. But no one is laughing, as it commands respect at the point of a gun.
That’s also how it inspires Islamic piety. A deserter from the Islamic State has recounted that Islamic State prisons in Raqqa are filled with people were not sufficiently reverent during prayers or who have uttered the name of Allah in a way that Islamic State authorities deemed blasphemous. Their Islamic State captors torture them with sticks and cattle prods, and occasionally even burn prisoners to death.
And there is no recourse within the Islamic State itself. No political parties or armed groups are allowed other than the Islamic State. The ruling elites exert control over their people so tightly as to arouse the envy of Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot: inside the caliphate’s capital of Raqqa, in the experience of one man who lived there, “the once colorful, cosmopolitan Syrian provincial capital has been transformed…Now, women covered head to toe in black scurried quickly to markets before rushing home. Families often didn’t leave home to avoid any contact with the ‘Hisba’ committees, the dreaded enforcers of the innumerable ISIS regulations.”
Raqqa’s central square is now known as Hell Square, as it is where the Islamic State carries out public executions, often leaving the dead bodies on display for days, as a warning to the living.
There is no end in sight. “People hate them,” said one man whose family lives in the Islamic State, “but they’ve despaired, and they don’t see anyone supporting them if they rise up. People feel that nobody is with them.” In fact, lots of people are with them: Barack Obama, who has vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, but done little to make good on his vow; the Iranians, the Shi’ite regime in Baghdad, the Assad regime in Damascus, the Kurds, and a host of others. None of them, however, have the will or the means so far to deliver the knockout blow to this evil state. And so the citizens of the caliphate are in for, at very least, a second year of misery.
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