Whether they are religious or secular in nature, ideological movements are always characterized by a very rigidly defined world view and a utopian longing to build that one, ideal society. The problem they all face, however, is how to implement their ideals once they are in power. The tactics initially employed come down to efforts to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the population they have conquered, but in practice these exercises soon deteriorate into suppression and violence because most people’s ideas on how things should be organized tend to differ from those of the ones in power.
In the Reports from the Islamic State series, the split between ideology and practice is the central theme. ThePostOnline has come into contact with bloggers from the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State (IS) since January 2014. These bloggers include 23-year-old medical student Ibrahim al Raqawi, one of the people behind the Facebook Page Raqqa is being slaughtered in silence. Based on interviews with Ibrahim and other bloggers, this series paints a picture of daily life in ISIL-conquered territory, each time focusing on a different theme or issue.
The editor of the series is Jan Jaap de Ruiter. ThePostOnline has copies of all the chat sessions, which were conducted in English and in Arabic. Today we are presenting Episode 1: Education in the Islamic State.
Nobody can escape a totalitarian movement once it has come to power, and children and youngsters naturally are the prime targets for indoctrination. After all, if a movement manages to get the support of the younger generation this will ensure continuity. In this respect, Islamic State (henceforth referred to as IS) is no exception. In the interview with Ibrahim that took place on Sunday 31st August, he describes the current state of affairs in education in Raqqa. Education came to a standstill after ISIL had conquered the city in January 0f 2014. However, the organization is now undertaking to get it going again: but this time on the basis of its interpretation of the Sharia
No state without bureaucracy
The fact that even terrorist movements cannot do without organization and bureaucracy became apparent in a statement issued at end of August by the Islamic State’s ‘Educational Bureau’ titled Proclamation No. 1, aimed at all educational institutions that are now ISIL educational institutions, from elementary to university level, signed twice, looking very official and even bearing its very own ISIL stamp. The contents, however, are baffling.
Education ISIL-style: empty and dry
The document contains 12 directives, the most salient elements of which are the following. History, music and art education, sociology, sports, philosophy, and knowledge of Christianity are subjects that will no longer be taught (directive 1). The Arabic equivalents of ‘fatherland’/‘motherland’ and ‘Syria’, and all other words with identical reference are to be replaced by the term ‘Islamic State’ (directives 2, 3, and 8). In math classes, no arithmetic examples are to be given in which reference is made to interest, democracy and elections (all three of which are rejected by ISIL; directive 9). In natural science classes, no reference whatsoever must be made to Darwin’s theory of evolution (directive 10). Directive 11 beats all: “Teachers are to tell their pupils that all physical and chemical laws are part of God’s laws and His creation.” The latter is not surprising, as the notification bears the following supplication as a subtitle: “(Please) God, increase my knowledge.” A Second Proclamation obliges all teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education in the Islamic State to take a course on the educational principles adhered to by ISIL, to be taught by Syrian ISIL teachers. Those who fail to complete this course successfully will no longer be allowed to teach. Needless to say, the course is taught to men and women separately.
But, so Ibrahim tells us, there is not much of a chance that parents will be sending their children to the new-style schools. The reason for this, he says, is that:
“The schools have no legal basis and they are not recognized in Syria or in the rest of the world.”
But that is not the only reason:
“The parents also fear bombings by fighter planes.”
Because the city of Raqqa and the surrounding area are still targeted by dictator Assad’s air force.
Collecting one’s salary: a dangerous undertaking
As was already indicated above, education came to a standstill after the city fell in January 2014. Nevertheless, teachers undertook the dangerous journey to the city of Deir el Zoor, some 200 kilometers to the south-east of Raqqa, the center of that city still being in the hands of the Syrian regime, to collect their salaries there and subsequently return to Raqqa. This, however, Ibrahim states, was no picnic:
“And on their way down there they’re of course confronted with the worst kind of humiliation and torture.”
Teachers and pupils in secondary education are organizing clandestine classes and surprisingly enough pupils initially succeeded in making the journey to Aleppo or even to Damascus to take their final exams there, but it was not long before trips like that were forbidden by the Islamic State.
No game: real soldiering
Besides trying to gain control over the ‘regular’ educational system, ISIL has also started ‘recruiting’ children and has established an army barracks for children under the age of 16. In the photographs supplied, we see children sitting at a table wearing helmets, children taking part in an obstacle course, and posing as young soldiers for a group photo.
It will be clear that education as advocated by ISIL will be destructive for young people and will at the same time succeed in brainwashing at least part of them into warriors that will stop at nothing to realize the (fundamentalist) ideals instilled in them at school.
Staring at corpses
But young people are not spared otherwise either. In central squares in Raqqa, people are crucified and their bodies are left hanging from the crosses for quite a while, as day-to-day life around them goes on as if nothing happened. An environment like that cannot but be utterly harmful to children, as is testified by the photograph showing a boy looking up with fearful curiosity at a crucified man wearing a ‘WhatsApp t-shirt.’
ISIL has installed a reign of terror intent on brainwashing children and young adolescents. Many of these will put up opposition, but others will yield. What is certain is that they will all get severely damaged and become deeply frustrated, a heavy toll to pay for the future Raqqan society.
Translated by Hans Verhulst