“A Trip to the ‘Caliphate’: Oppressive Justice under ISIS,” By Omar al-Wardi

A Trip to the “Caliphate,” Oppressive Justice under ISIS
By OMAR AL-WARDI (a pseudonym for a Syrian who was brought up in the Jazeera region of Syria, where ISIS now rules and who has visited the region many times since.)
For Syria Comment, Nov 21, 2015

Translated by Richard Hanania, a political science PhD student at UCLA

Many believe the subjects of the Islamic State (ISIS) live in a constant state of terror. Some may also think that there is no such thing as normal life in these areas. I myself have written a great deal about the crimes and inhumane acts carried out by the group in its territories in Eastern Syria, particularly Raqqa and Dar al-Zour. Indeed, most of what has been written on these topics is true. But most authors have written from a narrow point of view and with one eye closed. Many of these authors haven’t spent time on the ground and only imagine the reality. They accept the stereotypes repeated ad nauseam by the media. I grew up in the Jazeera and have traveled their a number of times since ISIS took over, spending time in different cities in order to explore the attitudes of acquaintances and relatives alike.

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Region around al-Bukamal

When I traveled to al-Bukamal the first time since after had been conquered by ISIS in the summer of 2014, I believed that I was traveling to hell. I was terrified. At any moment, I expected to be picked out on my vehicle, manically and tortured. I thought I would never return from ISIS-controlled territory alive. I had internalized the notion that ISIS rules only through terror. I nearly passed out from fear at the checkpoints along the way. But, aside from the natural intensity of security barriers and checkpoints, I did not see a picture that fit with the ISIS stereotypes that I had accepted and which had been propagated by the media.

In al-Bukamal, I found a city that was surprisingly safe; one where individuals are unable to attack others, defraud people in the market, or festoon the streets with cigarette butts. Indeed, the city looked cleaner and seemed healthier than I had ever seen it; smoking has disappeared completely, as did any appearances of people sitting around wasting time in cafes as they used to do. It was a city completely different than the one I knew at the outbreak of the Syrian crisis. A consensus among its inhabitants, which number around 400,000 in the city and its surrounding towns, has emerged regarding ISIS rule. Perhaps the biggest proof of this is the fact that ISIS areas are among the regions of Syria from which young people are least likely to flee to Europe, a point that many seem to have missed. For if life were truly hellacious in this city and its surrounding towns, everyone would have migrated to Germany, Austria, or even Turkey. Yet most people have stayed put; they do not abandon their homes and land.

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I disregarded the well-known question: Do you hate ISIS? This is because I already know the answer of why some people hate this group, and the question I had come to answer was how others can love such a bloody and criminal organization, which cuts off heads and drags people in the street after killing and cutting them up. The answers I was given were realistic and coherent, converging on a single theme: ISIS had brought “justice” to the city.

With my own eyes, I saw how the people of al-Bukamal are not as oppressed as they had been in the past. In al-Bukamal most of the people that ISIS have imprisoned are ISIS members themselves. The ISIS regime does not hesitate to punish its own members when they break the law. Even an ISIS emir was prosecuted and thrown in prison by the local governor when it was found that he had abused his power and assaulted innocent people.

This is the model of justice that ISIS is strives to bring the residents of al-Bukamal as well as to Raqqa. The cities of the region have embraced ISIS and ceded their right to use violence in order to punish those who commit crimes or do wrong. They forfeit the use of violence willingly in order to live a life of greater justice and equity. The strong are not permitted to dominate the weak, nor the rich exploit the poor, nor tribal leaders their tribesmen. All live under ISIS law equally, without “wasta” or exception.

The single most important factor that has persuaded people to accept the “Caliphate” is the fact that citizens can go out at any time of day or night without being harassed by the Free Syrian Army or being robbed blind by men claiming to be from Jabhat al-Nusra. This is most true in the tribal areas of the province.

More than one person has told me that the honor of women is never violated. Even the enemies of ISIS in the region concede this. They admit that since ISIS assumed authority, not a single incident of assault against a woman or young girl has occured. This is contrary to the desultory state of social life when Jabhat al-Nusra ruled al-Bukamal. Then, brothels operated openly. Today, you can rest assured that traveling from Dar al-Zur to al-Anbar, a distance of some 350 kilometers, you will not be harmed as long as you obey the law.

One of the main reasons ISIS has been accepted by a vast majority is that corruption was rampant in the area during the first years of the uprising against Assad. First, the militias that called themselves the Free Syrian Army ruled. They disported themselves no differently than thieves and bandits. Civilians lived in a state of anxiety that their possessions would be lifted from them one after the other and fear that they would be harassed and possibly killed. Then came al-Nusra, which was concerned only with power and gave little care to justice or good government. Between the Free Army and Nusra, society was lost. No one dared approach the authorities to resolve disputes. Once the Caliphate established control over the region, however, people have breathed easier and feel less oppressed.

In fact, the residents of al-Bukamal cannot hate members of the organization and those who work with them when they see them trying to deliver water and electricity to the people at affordable prices. Nor can they hate the organization when prices are set at reasonable levels. The ISIS fighters are vigilant on their behalf and up into the night in order to provide for them. This reality destroys hatred, and although some people in the area may not want the organization to remain in power, the weak do, as do the poor who have no one else to fend for them. It is true that some fighters have special privileges, but these are a minority and do not compare to those enjoyed by the officials who were previously aligned with the government, or the fighters of the Free Syrian Army or al-Nusra.

ISIS has all the moral and material capability it needs in order to rebuild the cities it controls. More importantly, it possesses the will to provide a better life for the people. It is still unable to adopt the modern techniques necessary to improve the lives of its people as it promises, but it strives to attain them.

The planes that fly over ISIS-controlled territories have had only one real victory. It is not the killing of fighters or the obstruction of the movement of the organization. Rather, they have simply prevented the group from delivering services to the community, and this is the only real achievement of the coalition fighting ISIS.

I seek to draw a realistic image of ISIS, one that can be compared with and contrasted to the picture of a bloody organization. For it is impossible for a bloody murderous regime to rule without inducing physical and societal security. But this is rarely mentioned in order to tarnish the image of the organization, one that does not need any more than the truth to do so.

The question is, has there developed an ISIS society, meaning has the organization integrated into the larger community? Until now, the group cannot speak of an “ISIS society” in any real sense; in that it is fear and terror that still rules the community. But with the passage of time, if the regime stays in power at least three more years, I expect that there would be a real ISIS society, and this is the biggest fear with regards to the Eastern regions. From this ISIS society will be born extremist and terrorist ideas.

In the next report: How ISIS exploits societal contradictions and historical grudges.

Comments (163)

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151. Erin said:

Any blame of Russia, is in question. No one knows who bombed the plane. it even could be the CIA to steer trouble.
it could be the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, they are known for such actions.
Syria is doomed country, nothing is going to save Syria, bc as the professor JL said in his interview; Syria is not important for the USA.
well, if this is true then why the USA is middling in Syria politics since the 1950 of the last century.
The American embassy in Syrian is the biggest embassy in Syria ( that was a fast trick the USA played against France) at that time and got the best location and size of an embassy in Syria.
USA never stopped messing with the politics in the Middle east doesn’t matter what country it is.
Iraq, Syria, Libya all have had CIA agents inside the government.
It is a joke that anyone believe this is about Assad, who ever killed the brother of Assad is the same one who is running this game in Syria
as Ghufran always said: this is a failed nation, can’t be fixed.

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December 2nd, 2015, 10:07 pm


152. omen said:

well hello there.
someone spotted evidence of russian special forces in isis.
the mind boggles. (see photo)

this validates experts who’ve been making this case:

Russia Is Sending Jihadis to Join ISIS

Penetration of ISIS by Russian Intelligence

how dirty and lowdown is putin? world governments would have to be criminally negligent not to know this. yet they and msm keep it hush hush despite all the lives being sacrificed. govs play along because they profit off the charade somehow. certainly arms sales have skyrocketed. not to mention having isis as an excuse justifies turning countries into a police state. how will this end?

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December 2nd, 2015, 10:23 pm


153. Ghufran said:

KSA wants to own the syrian opposition and has given the SNC an ultimatum to choose its reps to the conference or risk letting KSA decide who will represent the SNC. KSA also picked 15 militia leaders to attend the conference.
The SNC is now in chaos after Khoja hand picked the reps (Khoja’s chosen people have a number of certified ikhwanji figures) and Kilo called him a Basthist.
The whole thing is a piece of black comedy.

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December 2nd, 2015, 10:53 pm


154. Hopeful said:

#148 Ghufran

This is the product of 50 years of Bathist/Mafia rule – Syrians killing each other’s and cannot agree on the simplest things and cannot reach any compromise. Sad!

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December 2nd, 2015, 11:35 pm


155. Hopeful said:

#146 Erin

The mother of all “conspiracy theories”!

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December 2nd, 2015, 11:39 pm


156. Majedkhaldoun said:

Defeating ISIS in Syria is half way to get rid of Assad,

Putin knows he needs Erdogan, Turkey has a trump card against Rusia, Putin is nothing but bombastic conceited midget, he is a liar , Russia is no more super power

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December 3rd, 2015, 5:15 am


157. SimoHurtta said:

143. omen said:

A Trip to the “Caliphate”

what this article is missing is acknowledgment regime officials and isis members consult, cooperate and work together to keep city services (like lights, water) running.


Hmmmm indeed Omen, the mother of modern developed thinking. Well lets assume you Omen are working as a professional toilet cleaner in a large federal building in Los Angeles. Then comes Mexico with its Pope’s herds (Catholic extremists) and establishes the Heavenly Kingdom of California (HKC). You continue to work as the toilet cleaner in the building used now by the Crusaders in order to feed your family and finance your Syria hobby and activities around that. Could we now assume that the US government is in secret co-operating with HKC because you as a (former) US civil servant continue polishing the toilet seats the crusaders now use?

Of course the civil servants who keep cities and their services running continue their work under the new rulers command in most cases. Those cities are their home towns where their families and people live. Did Americans in Iraq or Afghanistan keep the water, light etc services running after occupation started or did the local people whose job it was take care of that in the best ways they could do after Americans demolished much of the infra? The locals kept the services running and still hated deeply the occupiers. So it is always.

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December 3rd, 2015, 5:38 am


158. SANDRO LOEWE said:

The international war taking place in Syria is taking shape and offering a clear picture now:

Rusia, Iran, Assad and ISIS trying to develop the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut with political and militar assistance from Moscow.

Turkey, Jordan, Gulf countries, US, France, Great Britain trying to break the terrorist axis once they have got to the conclusion that ISIS is the creation of Rusia, Assad, Iran for covering their shoulders.

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December 3rd, 2015, 6:43 pm


159. SANDRO LOEWE said:

The international war taking place in Syria is taking shape and offering a clear picture now:

Iran, Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS trying to develop the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut axis with political and militar assistance from Moscow.

Turkey, Jordan, Gulf countries, US, France, Great Britain trying to break the terrorist axis once they have got to the conclusion that ISIS is the creation of Rusia, Assad, Iran for covering their shoulders.

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December 3rd, 2015, 6:43 pm


160. omen said:

i am sure there is a perfectly innocent explanation, mr unicorn rainman, as to why the very criminals assad released from prison continue to do his bidding. so why keep it out of the article? and how often do you hear assad/isis collusion admitted to on cnn or msm if this set up is so legit?

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December 3rd, 2015, 10:41 pm


161. omen said:

I hate to complain but I’ve been wanting to read the feedburner thread since last week or so but it remains wildly wobbly. Looks like a bug. could someone address? gracias! ☕️

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December 3rd, 2015, 10:59 pm


162. omen said:

i like how rainman infers being an apologist for assad is the height of “modern developed thinking.”

like it’s backwards of you not to tolerate ethnic cleansing.

shades of you-know-who. what year is this again?

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December 4th, 2015, 7:45 am


163. SANDRO LOEWE said:

As I said one hour after St Bernardino attack it is a terrorist attack by Isis / Assad / Rusia as a punishment for Obama politics not allying with Russia to recognise Assad.

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December 4th, 2015, 11:50 am


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