It’s a tyrannical theocracy, crucifixions and decapitations are routine, women are shrouded and intimidated, the grim religious police are all over the place. It’s your Islamic State.
How do we know? Basically from defectors, now as during the Cold War the most valuable sources for Western intelligence services. Some of these ex-IS followers are free in the West, others are standing trial, as in the case of the 46 Belgians who returned from the IS and are accused of crimes ranging from torture and murder to extortion and terrorism. These men returned to Belgium from Syria, for the most part deny involvement in IS’s numerous crimes, and run the gamut from disillusioned one-time jihadists to devout believers. To be sure, the tiny handful who have publicly spoken about their experiences have been threatened by IS, and il Foglio‘s careful reporter, Daniele Raineri, appropriately reminds his readers that we’re not likely to hear from as many future defectors.
One of these confessed upon discovering that Belgian authorities had some incriminating telephone intercepts, as when he told his girlfriend:
Today I killed a man. An infidel…his family had collected only thirty thousand euros for him, but the price was seventy thousand. I killed him with a shot in the head. Bang! I wanted to make a video but my camera didn’t work right…
Young men are excited by the chance to murder, but when you sign up with IS, you have an excellent chance to lose your own life, and this is often an eye-opener for some of the bourgeois European believers. After seeing their comrades drive off in suicide vehicles, they sagely reconsider. But getting out is much harder than getting in; the religious police constantly patrol the streets, looking for unreliables, enforcing their instructions to reward virtue and punish sin, and young men who suddenly have second thoughts are jailed and tortured. Sometimes killed. Even if they escape, they are often captured by IS enemies, and it isn’t easy to convince their new masters that they’ve changed their minds.
For the most part, they stay in the Islamic State, and are subjected to constant indoctrination–compulsory mosque attendance, interrogations in the streets, and, if they are in automobiles, they must prove their mastery of prayer at the many check points.