Life in the ‘Islamic State’

In this five-part project, the Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan reports on key aspects of daily life in the so-called “caliphate,” including the failing economy, the devastated education system, a justice system based on violence and fear, and the constant terror faced by women and girls.

Life in the ‘Islamic State’: Spoils for the rulers, terror for the ruled

The white vans come out at dinnertime, bringing hot meals to unmarried Islamic State fighters in the city of Hit in western Iraq.

A team of foreign women, who moved from Europe and throughout the Arab world to join the Islamic State, work in communal kitchens to cook the fighters’ dinners, which are delivered to homes confiscated from people who fled or were killed, according to the city’s former mayor.

The Islamic State has drawn tens of thousands of people from around the world by promising paradise in the Muslim homeland it has established on conquered territory in Syria and Iraq.

But in reality, the militants have created a brutal, two-tiered society, where daily life is starkly different for the occupiers and the occupied, according to interviews with more than three dozen people who are now living in, or have recently fled, the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

Women in the ‘Islamic State’: ‘Till martyrdom do us part’

Somewhere in Syrian territory controlled by Islamic State militants, a jihadist from the Netherlands posted a cheerful photo on Twitter, showing off an Oreo cheesecake that she had made.

It was a fizzy propaganda moment that she shared with others who might be thinking about traveling to Syria to join the cause. It also had a very Islamic State twist: The cheesecake was photographed next to a grenade.

About 200 miles to the south, in an oven-hot refugee camp in Jordan, Rudeina, 17, said her life under the Islamic State in northern Syria, which she fled in April, was miserable. She said she stayed inside her house near the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State capital, for more than a year, terrified that if she went outside she would be abducted and forced to marry a foreign fighter.

“They cut the Internet, but we didn’t even want it anymore,” she said. “If we looked at the Internet, we would see people living in the outside world. That made us sad. Seeing the outside world was just another sorrow.” [Continue reading…]

Justice in the ‘Islamic State’: A climate of fear and violence

Islamic State militants dragged the blindfolded man into the main square in a town near the city of Raqqa, their self-proclaimed capital in Syria. It was Friday, right after prayers, when the market was filled with people. The fighters loudly announced that the man was a government spy, and they pulled off his blindfold so that everyone could see his face.

Nabiha, a 42-year-old woman who fled the town in April and now lives in a refugee camp in Jordan, recalled her disgust as she watched the militants force the man down on a wooden block normally used to slaughter sheep, then raise a heavy butcher’s cleaver.

“It was just one swing,” said Nabiha, who asked that her last name not be used, fearing for her safety. “His body went one way, and his head went the other. I will never forget it.”

The Islamic State uses its brutal and often arbitrary justice system to control the millions of people who live in its territory. By publicly beheading and crucifying people suspected even of disloyalty, the militants have created a culture of horror and fear that has made it virtually impossible for people to rise up against them. [Continue reading…]

Economy in the ‘Islamic State’: Where the poor starve and the tax man carries a whip

Before the Islamic State captured Faten Humayda’s town in northern Syria nearly two years ago, a tank of propane gas for her stove cost the equivalent of 50 cents. But as the militants settled in, the cost shot up to $32, forcing Humayda, a 70-year-old grandmother, to cook over an open fire in the back yard.

“It used to be paradise,” she said, describing her former life along the Euphrates River, while sitting in a metal hut in the Azraq refu­gee camp in Jordan, where she arrived in May with the help of smugglers.

The Islamic State has tried to do what al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups never attempted: establish an actual state, with government institutions and a functioning economy. Although the militants have had some success at governing, millions of people under their control find food, fuel and other basics of daily life either impossible to come by or too expensive to afford. [Continue reading…]

Education in the ‘Islamic State’: For boys, God and guns; for girls, God and cooking

War closed most schools in Yahyah Hadidi’s home town in 2013, as battles raged between Syrian rebels and the government.

Hadidi, a recent college graduate with a passion for education, decided to do something about it. He started conducting impromptu classes in an abandoned school in his neighborhood, drawing more than 50 boys and girls each day.

Then the Islamic State arrived in early 2014 and ordered all schools closed.

Hadidi was crushed, and he asked for permission to reopen his school, in the village of Manbij between the northern cities of Raqqa and Aleppo.

He said a large, bearded fighter from Saudi Arabia told him that if he wanted to teach, he could conduct religious education classes at the mosque, for boys only, under Islamic State supervision. [Continue reading…]

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