How the Islamic State Makes Terror Palatable to Those It Rules

Apparently, the Islamic State is almost completely devoid of corruption. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Apparently, the Islamic State is almost completely devoid of corruption. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Is there an upside to being a subject of the Islamic State? In the New York Times, Tim Arango explains:

The Islamic State uses terror to force obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery and turned children into killers.

But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes, and in that way, at least, it has outdone the corrupt Syrian and Iraqi governments it routed, residents and experts say.

“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said [a man] who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and insisted out of fear on [sic] being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

Furthermore, as you may have heard, the Islamic State “is putting in place the kinds of measures associated with governing: issuing identification cards for residents, promulgating fishing guidelines to preserve stocks, requiring that cars carry tool kits for emergencies.” Such initiatives, writes Arango, “may demand that the West rethink its military-first approach to combating the group.”

Arango solicits a comment from Stephen Walt, one of whose Foreign Policy columns was titled “What Should We Do If the Islamic State Wins?” Walt said, ““I think that there is no question that the way to look at it is as a revolutionary state-building organization.” He cited atrocities committed during the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and in China when the Communists took over. All went on to become states accepted into the world order.

Returning to the, uh, advantages of residing in territory seized by the Islamic State, Arango, at the risk of sounding patronizing, writes:

In Islamic State territory, the group’s violence is regarded differently than it is in the West. In the communities it controls, citizens have already grown inured to violence. In Iraq, citizens have lived with war for more than a decade, including the days of sectarian civil war when a signature act of some Shiite militias was to drill Sunnis’ heads. And before that, they lived under the police state thuggery and corruption of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

A “ limited sense of order, and cleaner streets,” may be “a low bar, perhaps, but a reality amid years of war and anarchy.”