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IS Double Standards Sow Growing Disillusion
International

IS Double Standards Sow Growing Disillusion

Mohammed Saad, a Syrian activist, was imprisoned by the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, hung by his arms and beaten regularly. Then one day, his jailors quickly pulled him and other prisoners down and hid them in a bathroom.
The reason? A senior Muslim cleric was visiting to inspect the facility. The cleric had told the fighters running the prison that they should not torture prisoners and that anyone held without charge must be released within 30 days, Saad told AP.
Once the coast was clear, the prisoners were returned to their torment.
“It’s a criminal gang pretending to be a state,” 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 IS group’s rule say public disillusionment is growing as IS has failed to live up to its promises to install a utopian rule of justice, equality and good governance.
Instead, the group has come to resemble the dictatorial rules. Rather than equality, society has seen the rise of a new elite class—the militant fighters—who enjoy special perks and favor in the courts, looking down on “the commoners” and even ignoring the rulings of their own clerics.

  IS Propaganda Machine
Despite the atrocities that made it notorious, IS 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 government, 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 militants from around the world.
In Istanbul and several Turkish cities near the Syrian border, the AP spoke to more than a dozen Syrians who fled IS-controlled territory in recent months. Most spoke on condition they be identified only by their first names or by the nicknames they use in their political activism for fear of IS reprisals against themselves or family.
“Daesh justice has been erratic,” said Nayef, who hails from IS-held eastern Syrian town of Al-Shadadi and escaped to Turkey in November with his family. “They started off good and then, gradually, things got worse.”
The group has recruited informers in the towns and cities it controls to watch out for any sign of opposition.
“We were also afraid to talk against Daesh to anyone we don’t fully trust,” said Fatimah, a 33-year-old whose hometown of Palmyra was taken over by IS early last year. She fled to Turkey in November with her husband and five children.
IS has also become less able to provide public services, in large part because military reversals appear to have put strains on its finances.
US and Russian airstrikes have heavily hit its oil infrastructure, a major source of funds. Over the past year, the group has lost 30% of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, according to the US-led anti-IS coalition.
Abu Salem, an activist from the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, said public acceptance of IS rule is eroding. “It has made an enemy of almost everyone.”

  Claims and Realities
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.
Abu Manaf, a 44-year-old from Deir el-Zour, said some clerics challenged the group’s enforcers over their wanton use of strict Shariah punishments like beheadings, stoning to death, flogging and cutting off limbs.
More moderate clerics in IS complained about their custom of displaying bodies of the beheaded in public as an example to others, violating Islamic tenets requiring the swift burial of the dead.
“Many of those moderate clerics disappear, are killed or jailed for crimes they did not commit,” said Abu Manaf, who left Deir el-Zour in November, then stayed in IS’s de facto capital, Raqqa, for three weeks before he reached Turkey.
Saad’s account of his imprisonment in his home city of Deir el-Zour reflected the tensions between the fighters and some clerics.
On another occasion, a cleric and a judge visited and spoke to the prisoners in their cells.
Saad said they told him to write on a piece of paper his name, why he had been jailed and whether he had been tortured or made to confess under duress. He wrote that he had not been beaten, because he knew the guards would punish him if he said he had been, Saad said.
After five months in custody, Saad said he secured his release by agreeing to do media work for IS. For three months, he helped put together videos and other propaganda before escaping to Turkey.

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