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The social strategy of ISIS


Aleppo, October 2013, more than 150 pro ISIS loyalists arrived in the region from Kazakhstan. Kazakh fighters with their women, children and some of their elderly, decided it’s time to immigrate to “Darul Islam” or the land of Islam, whereas any other land according to them became Darul Kufr, Land of disbelief; they weren’t the first or the last to do so.
According to numbers issued by the United Nations 15000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic state and other extremist groups from 80 countries, and that more than 1000 foreign volunteers join the fight on monthly basis. Those aren’t only fighters whose role after being killed, they are indeed the seeds used to grow new societies in regions under the state, a pure society of mixed origins whose loyalty isn’t a matter of question. This is part of a wider social strategy adopted by the proclaimed state.
According to Dr. Mohammed Alouch, a Lebanese academic and author of “ISIS and its Sisters,” the Islamic state is following the footsteps of the founding fathers of Saudi Arabia and Israel together, he told Al-Monitor “the new state is cleansing any future threats, mainly the minorities, they are also pushing those who oppose its rhetoric to leave the area by mounting pressure on them.”
According to Allouch IS’ strategy involves a notion to replace non loyal local, and even those whose loyalty is a matter of questions by young immigrants “they bring them, provide them with a place to live, arranging marriages with local women whereas such marriages will result in a strong family, and finally pay a salary good for one to survive.”
But what about IS’ continuous power show? “The Islamic state needs now to impose security and stability so that it could be seen as a real state,” suggested Allouch “they have to convince the society that they are able to keep the situation under control, beside sending clear messages to neighboring countries, even if enemies, that they are the only guarantee for calm borders, they have to convince Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, yet this is impossible, it means the official end of the Sykes Picot agreement and no one wants this at this time.”
Implementing such a social strategy prompted IS to choose tribal areas in Syria and Iraq to pose as their bases, for they have been working in such areas for years in Iraq and they know well how to win tribes’ allegiance.
“ISIS has been operating in tribal areas for over a decade, in Iraq then in Syria. So it knows how to reach out to tribal figures, and has also learned from its mistakes in 2005 and 2006 when it alienated the local communities in areas where it operated” said Hassan Hassan, an analyst at Abu Dhabi based Delma institute, “they managed to neutralize tribes through a combination of intimidation and incentives but also by presenting itself as a vehicle for ending Sunni grievances in those areas.
Many of those who oppose its behavior and ideology consider fighting it as either too costly or not a priority.
Hassan suggested in an interview with The Levant News that since most of the tribes are divided over support of ISIS, that means the idea of rebelling against ISIS will further fracture the tribe, “even tribes that suffered from the group’s extreme violence, such as Albu Nimr and Sha’itat, are divided and some of their members took part in the killing, which emboldened ISIS because that clouds the issue of whether the killing was targeting the whole tribe.” On this he concluded “tribal rivalries also play in favor of ISIS.”
Back in November, media reports quoted locals claiming skirmishes between foreign fighters in the city of Raqqa left six of them dead, according to the story fighter from Uzbekistan who were sent to Iraq to fight along with their families returned to the city to discover that their villas are being occupied by Arab and Chechen fighters with their households, they Uzbek fighters tried to warn their comrades asking them to leave, but they didn’t, so they used arms to solve the problem and who survived were taken to the Islamic court to issue its sentence.
This behavior intimidated many of the locals who became very sensitive with the issue of foreign fighters especially that those are being treated as first class citizens. “, “Foreigners, while they are usually praised by locals for their good behavior and devotion, have some financial privileges over locals and usually occupy buildings temporarily deserted by their owners because of the war” stated Hassan Hassan, “the fact that foreign fighters settle in some areas certainly intimidate some in the local community, a perfect example was when Aamer al-Rafdan, a former Jabhat al-Nusra member who defected to ISIS after the split in April 2013, brought in foreign jihadists to his home town and helped them settle along with their families. Although his town had deep tensions with al-Nusra, locals were not happy about the fact that foreign fighters were building settlements in their town and they eventually helped expel al-Rafdan and his group of fighters.”
It’s obvious that restructuring the society according to IS’ agenda might help it achieve its goals easily, yet people in these areas aren’t giving up their silent struggle, in Raqqa there are still some young activists trying to make their voices heard, we reported about them previously, in Mosul and Anbar some are looking for support to facilitate their resistance, though this notion might be aborted if it was left to grow on its own as people, despite ISIS extreme ideology, see it as better organized than previous armed groups that ruled their areas, and better than the regime in Syria and the government in Iraq, and therefore under the current circumstances, the rewards would be low and the casualties would be high.

* Ali Hashem is a non resident fellow at Beirut Center for Middle East Studies. He is an Arab journalist serving as Al Mayadeen news network’s chief correspondent. He is also a columnist for Al-Monitor.Until March 2012, he was Al Jazeera’s war correspondent, and prior to that he was a senior journalist at the BBC. He has written for several Arab newspapers, including the Lebanese daily As-Safir, the Egyptian dailies Al-Masry Al-Youm and Aldostor and the Jordanian daily Alghad. He has also contributed to The Guardian.

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