Aymenn Al-Tamimi, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, reports that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has established a bureaucracy to grant birth certificates and medical care to its residents.
The Islamic State has long claimed to be a government and not a terrorist group, though its attempts to function have rarely succeeded. The ISIS Health Department operates hospitals for the ill, pregnant, and wounded. Al-Tamimi showed CNN a birth certificate stamped with the group’s official insignia. Unlike the Taliban, ISIS manages a mobile vaccination unit.
“This is one thing that distinguishes ISIS from groups like the Taliban, which forbids vaccinations,” he explains. “Polio is a problem in Pakistan because the Taliban believes the vaccines are a forbidden substance. But ISIS is not that primitive. This is also reflected in education: The Taliban, forbids all girls’ education. But ISIS allows girls to go to school, albeit in a segregated environment.”
ISIS closed down the University of Mosul and the public libraries after they captured the city in June 2014. In the last few months, they raided the libraries and destroyed all non-Islamic books. The library was “the biggest repository of learning the northern Iraqi town.” More than likely, the terrorists destroyed “Iraq newspapers dating to the early 20th century, maps and books from the Ottoman Empire, and book collections contributed by about 100 of Mosul’s establishment families.” After that raid, the militants targeted the library at the University of Mosul. They burned science and culture textbooks in front of the students.
They reopened the university on October 18, 2014, but restricted the curriculum. Militants banned democracy, political thought, hotel management, tourism, and archaeology classes. The teachers are the same, but they must partake in classes about ISIS and Sharia law.
“The banning of archaeology is not a surprise,” said Al-Tamimi. “We see that reflected in ISIS destruction of ancient artifacts. ISIS regards pre-Islamic artifacts as relics from the ‘period of ignorance’, jahiliyah. Their main concern with archaeology is that it would become a subject turning to idol worship, which is strictly forbidden in Islam. Hotel management and tourism may seem strange as first. But there are no hotels under ISIS. They have all been taken over and shut down, either rented out or become places to house families.”
ISIS even controls what people do to relax. Gambling is outlawed, but a fatwa allows other games such as chess and billiards “if they do not distract from religious obligations.” Jihadist patrols forced shopkeepers to place veils on the mannequins since “the human form is not depicted in statues or artwork.” The law applies to male mannequins, too. Their morality police, known as Hisbah, attacked a woman in Syria because her eyes were exposed. After that, ISIS told women to wear double-layered veils and be accompanied by a male guardian at all times. Women must also keep their hands and feet covered and never wear clothes that hug the body.
“One of ISIS’s goals is to present this very religiously learned image, showcasing their knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence to justify to their following that they are the moral authority,” said Al-Tamimi. “It’s clear that ISIS and their religious clerics and scholars are extremely familiar with religious texts and use them to convince and persuade ISIS followers, which also makes them impervious to any religion-based counterargument.”
ISIS is never shy to show the world what happens within their caliphate. They released a series of videos with British hostage John Cantlie. In one video, the group attempted to portray life in Mosul “as business as usual.” They used him in a similar video for Aleppo, Syria. In March, the group released a travel brochure advertising the alleged high quality of life in Mosul.