No Fun in the Caliphate. Just the End of the World
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.
The motto of the caliphate is "Baqiyya wa Tatamaddad" (remain and expand), and as La Stampa's Maurizio Molinari reports, three institutions have been created to accomplish this: the recruiting offices to enlist local and foreign volunteers, camps called "Zarqawi's chicks" (named after the iconic founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq) for teenagers, and the Office for Tribal Affairs, in Aleppo, which represents the Arab tribes to the caliph.
The considerable wealth of the caliphate derives from the cash they took from the banks, from oil sales, from ransom payments, and of course taxes of the Islamic sort, collected from local dhimis, and from trucks and cars transiting their territory. All these seem to be rather well managed.
But good management, and indeed "good" government--according to the caliph's strict standards--is beside the point. The point is the apocalypse. If I had a Pulitzer to award, I'd give it to Nour Malas of the Wall Street Journal for his thoughtful "Ancient Prophecies Motivate Islamic State" in the November 19th paper. He reports, with plenty of evidence, that IS invaded and occupied a small and apparently unimportant northern Syrian village called Dabiq because it "appears in sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (hadith, ML) as the location of an end of days drama in which a Muslim army is to defeat its enemies, including a foreign army."
Thus, when the U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded, an IS video declared "Here we are, burning the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly awaiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive..." The IS spokesman on the video described the anticipated defeat of American forces as "this final and last crusade."
They think Armageddon is in Dabiq, and they are indeed eagerly awaiting the End of Days. Right there.
Breaking the enemy's military codes has long been a key to victory in war. We seem to have been offered their most secret battle plans. Properly used, it could be a real miracle. For us, irony of ironies...