Life under the Islamic State

By: Luiz Brasil

The Islamic State group, famous for distributing images and videos of beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions is now providing water and electricity, paying salaries, controlling traffic, and running public institutions in northeast Syria, where the group has succeeded in making itself a part of nearly every aspect of daily life.

While much of the groups press comes from the massive atrocities they are committing against religious and ethnic minorities in the region, residents say that much of its power comes from its efficient and pragmatic governance, providing stability, in other words.

The Syrian province of Raqqa provides the best example of their methods. Members hope that their way of life under the Islamic state will one day spread as far as China and Europe as did the old caliphate before it collapsed shortly after the First World War.

Almost every institution or public service once offered in Raqqa’s provincial capital, which housed upwards of a quarter million people before the war began, is under the group’s control.

“Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work. It is impressive,” said one activist from Raqqa who now resides in Turkey. Residents, Islamic State fighters, and even those opposed to the group have described how the Islamic State has built a structure similar to a modern government under their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Western powers are alarmed at the group’s advancement.  Last month, President Barack Obama called the group a cancer that must be erased from the Middle East.  The United States continues to attack the group’s Iraqi positions from the skies, bombarding key points.  However, with the way that the Islamic group has rooted itself into the very lives of those who live in Raqqa, it is unlikely that force alone will be substantial enough to remove them from power.

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Life under the Islamic State may be short, nasty and brutish, but residents say at least Baghdadi is providing a stable government for the first time in years for war-weary Raqqa


The province of Raqqa was the first to fall to Syrian rebels in the battle to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, it has been held by various rebel groups ranging from hardline Islamists to religious moderates. Within a year, the Islamic State Group had achieved control of the city, violently eliminating any competing rebel factions.

In Raqqa many of those critical of the group disappeared or were killed, with some escaping to neighbouring countries such as Turkey. Alcohol was banned, shops are closed by the afternoon, and streets are emptied by dusk. Communication with the outside world, even neighbouring towns and cities, was permitted only through the groups media centre.

Those who remained in Raqqa “repented”, a process that involves pledging loyalty to al Baghdadi, and being forgiven on their “sins” against the Islamic State. From then they either remain confined to their homes or join the states military ranks.

From this brutal takeover a state of order eventually emerged. It is clear that the group wants a stable province, from which it expand the borders of their ‘Islamic State’.

“We are a state” a commander in the province said. “Things are great here because we are ruling based on God’s law.” “The civilians who do not have any political affiliations have adjusted to the presence of the Islamic State, because people got tired and exhausted, and also, to be honest, because they are doing institutional work in Raqqa,” said one resident opposed to the group’s actions.

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