Middle East studies in the News
Lecture Series Covers Governance Policies Within ISIS
by Pranav Shivanna
News regarding ISIS frequently covers atrocities and military affairs. A UW lecture on Monday, however, explored ISIS from an entirely different angle: their tactics of rule.
ISIS is, after all, a self-proclaimed state, and has millions of residents. States have laws and charge taxes, provide public transportation, law enforcement, and utilities. States have administrative documents like paperwork and identity cards. And ISIS does too.
The lecture was part of the UW Middle East Center's (MEC) Fall 2016 "Voices in Middle East Studies" series.
Thomson Hall 317 filled up quickly, and some attendees had to stand against the back wall. Stephanie Selover, an assistant professor and member of the MEC, remarked that turnout was higher than usual.
Titled "Little Explored Details of the Tactics of Rule Employed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq," the talk was delivered by Michael Degerald, a UW Ph.D. candidate in Near and Middle East Studies.
Degerald's interest in the Middle East began after 9/11. He was curious about why anyone would want to attack the United States. His interest burgeoned with time and led to a two-year stint teaching English in Jordan. Now, Degerald's passion for and expertise on the modern Middle East is apparent in his ISIS-centric blog.
Degerald opened the lecture with a disclaimer.
"I'm not trying to legitimize ISIS as a government, but adding to our collective knowledge of them," Degerald said.
He also dedicated the lecture to the many victims of ISIS, particularly the Yazidi women, whom ISIS considers spoils of war and uses as sex slaves.
The rest of the lecture shined a light on banal, everyday aspects of the state that are often overlooked.
A map of ISIS-controlled territory revealed they do not actually control entire regions. They control cities and the roads that connect them, leading to a somewhat spider web-shaped state. What's more, ISIS offers bus services for citizens to travel between its cities.
ISIS has written out punishment codes for infringements of its law. For example, if a man is caught harassing a woman, he is held in custody for three days and flogged 30-50 times. ISIS has also banned cigarettes. They initially tried to reinforce this with whipping, but now charge a hefty fine of two grams of 24-carat gold.
"I don't know what that entails for people who don't own gold," Degerald said.
In mid-2015, ISIS announced that it would print its own gold, silver, and copper coins. However, in October 2015, Turkish authorities seized a secret ISIS printing press on Turkish soil, which might prove a significant setback for their plans. ISIS otherwise relies on currency from Syria, Iraq, and the United States. However, they recently banned circulation of newly issued Syrian currency notes.
"It seems like a crude attempt at controlling inflation," Degerald said.
ISIS has agricultural policies, internet monitoring policies, and even welfare policies. For example, orphans in the state are entitled a share in the spoils of war.
Degerald also talked about a foreign-local split among ISIS citizens. Foreign fighters and their wives are afforded privileges that locals are not, including higher flexibility with laws. There are even different residential districts for foreigners and locals. Michael emphasizes that the state has a "machine-like quality centered on war" where the fighters are the most important component.
"It was interesting to see ISIS as not just an ominous, terrifying organization, but also an organization clogged with bureaucratic problems," student attendee Calvin Paulsen said.
Degerald's sources are eclectic, but anyone can access them on the internet. They include journalist reports, interviews with people who fled ISIS, and ISIS administrative documents stored in The Tamimi Archives.
Degerald'slecture brought together this scattered information, and provided insight that is crucial in today's political climate.
"There's a tendency to assume that this is Islam and it's just been waiting to come out," Degerald said. "This is not true."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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