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Inside the Dar al-Islam

Above is part 1 of a VICE documentary on what it is like inside the Islamic State. Listening to what seem like the sincere voices from within the domains of the Islamic State I am struck by how detached from reality they are. And yet the fact is that a few months ago we would have thought the idea of a polity spanning eastern Syria and northwest Iraq, and leaning upon social-political paradigm notionally from the 7th century, was pure delusion. From the perspective of those who believe that they have the only access to truth, and whose victories defied the expectations of their opponents, it seems natural that dreams of grandiosity would ensue. They believe that they have the mandate of heaven.

It has been expectation that with the conquest of the northern part of Iraq the Islamic State would recapitulate the overreach by its predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq. In short al Qaeda’s brutality toward those under its rule resulted in a rebellion of the people who it purportedly aimed to liberate. But the Islamic State has already forged a path which is different al Qaeda in Iraq. It has won victories on the field of battle, and created not just a shadow state, but the outlines of a true state. Social conformity is a powerful human instinct.

Update, part 2:

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Islamic State 
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22 Comments to "Inside the Dar al-Islam"

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  1. CredibleHulk
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    These guys are taking their LARP convention way too seriously…

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  2. Razib Khan
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    couldn’t have said it better myself. i had that thought, but hadn’t made the connection to LARPing specifically. there’s an air of unreality and role playing here. here’s a video where people are holding aloft what looks like a beheaded 4 year old girl (i don’t know much about this stuff, but if she was decapitated due to mortar fire it seems like it would have been less localized in terms of the world)

    http://www.barenakedislam.com/2013/04/03/proof-that-the-photo-of-the-beheaded-little-girl-in-syria-was-not-photoshopped/

    this is just not the stuff of the reality we live in. anyway, i know that the internet has been filled with this material for years.

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  3. simplicio
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    A journalist on Fresh Air a while back likened them to WWF wrestlers. Apparently a lot of grandiose role-playing, costumes and colorful nom-de-guerres is an essential part of the gig.

    And while its easy to make fun of, it does appear to be working, at least in terms of their short term military success. In retrospect we should’ve taken all that money we put into state-of-the-art training and weapons for the Iraqi national army, and just bought them some goofy props and maybe hired Michael Bay to write cool backstorys for their officers.

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  4. CredibleHulk
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    @RazibKhan

    Jesus. Well, you did give warning. I searched on live-leak for that same video and the girl appears to have died sometime around the start of hostilities in Syria. It most probably was a mortar that took her head off. This seemed to be in regime-held territory, so it was probably fired by somebody affiliated with FSA/al-nusra, I don’t think they were purposefully aiming at residential areas, but they probably didn’t give a fuck.

    But the people standing around her body and that of others were probably not her family, since there was no loud wailing or weeping in the room. There’s really something morbid about displaying bodies this way on camera for propaganda purposes. I come from a muslim background but I can’t put my finger on what exactly encourages it.

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  5. With a few thousand lightly armed fighters ISIS routed half of the 200 ooo well-equipped soldiers of the Iraqi army. If these jihadis were realistic they wouldn’t even tried, but morale is a hell of a weapon so when these fanatics showed up the Iraqi units that couldn’t be bothered to die for Maliki disbanded with 90 000 soldiers deserting.
    Their problem starts when they meet other fanatics who don’t run away and there are plenty around in the Middle east like the Alawite divisions of Assad and Hezbollah volunteers in Syria, the kurdish peshmerga and the Iranian Quds Force in Iraq.
    It seems to me that lots of ISIS men look funny in the hydrocephalic kind of funny.

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  6. Razib Khan
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    what is with the hydrocephaly? i noticed that too. mostly among the fighters

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  7. Hepp
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    Sorry if this is a pedantic point, but “dar al-Islam” should not have an article in front of it. Since “al” means “the”, you can’t have another “the.”

    I remember once reading Christopher Hitchens deriding Joseph Smith as ignorant because he said “the al-Quran,” and I remember thinking what a jackass Hitchens was.

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  8. Sean
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    A couple observation on IS. Chopping off heads in mass is an ancient tactic that really works in weakening the morale of opponents and getting people to at least nominally join with you. When the choice is having your head chopped off or running around acting like a fanatic the choice is clear. Second, one of the most important aspects of IS is probably the least reported and that is order and taxation. They came about it seems in a highly disordered, corrupt, high tax environment. I have read their territory shows higher order, and lower corruption and taxes for the region.

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  9. toto
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    “With a few thousand lightly armed fighters ISIS…”

    And the highly trained, highly competent officers of the old Baathist army, who seem to be providing the brains behind the IS army. As well as the local Sunni tribes, who also provide much of the muscle.

    Apparently these guys seem to think that any allies will do to get rid of the Shia regime, or at worst create a semi-independent Sunni region. Then (in their minds) they’ll get rid of the foreign loons.

    This kind of calculation has backfired before.

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  10. Open Thread « Econstudentlog
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    […] then I read posts/watch videos like this one and I’m reminded that things are, […]

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  11. Noniente
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    I am surprised by your surprise. How did you expect them to act?

    They are a successful conquering military that is willing to die for their cause, they seem about as fanatical as I had imagined.

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  12. What I find striking is cerebral Westerners who keep saying this can’t be real, and yet this bit of unreality that has forced the cession of large chunks of two populous states just keeps on being real.

    Westerners have been in the realm of ideation for too long. This is old fashioned blood-and-soil conflict–actually, that’s what it’s always been, and always will be.

    Westerners are about to get a serious re-education in what it’s all about.

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  13. pseudoerasmus
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    “Sorry if this is a pedantic point, but “dar al-Islam” should not have an article in front of it. Since “al” means “the”, you can’t have another “the.”

    You are wrong and Razib wrote just fine. There are two nouns in “dar al Islam” and the first one has no article. Not the same as saying “the al-Qur’an” which is wrong of course.

    If one wanted to say “people of the abode of Islam” it would be ahl al-dar al-Islam but al-dar would be contracted (in pronunciation) to ad-dar.

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  14. ahl al-dar al-Islam is absolutely incorrect, and would not appear in any grammatically correct modern standard arabic sentence.

    “people of the abode of Islam” = ahl dar al Islam
    “peple of the house” = ahl ad-dar

    I can’t be bothered to figure out the correct grammatical terms, but you should imagine that the goal of the article is to determine whether we are referring to a specific instance of a given concept or a general one. The word dar=”abode” in ahl dar al Islam does not require an article because al Islam tells you which abode is being referred to.


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  15. pseudoerasmus
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    I stand corrected. Can you by the way explain to me the occurrence of ad-dar al-Islam ( الدار الإسلام ) in this link http://iucontent.iu.edu.sa/Shamela/Categoris/التفاسير/تفسير%20الماتريدي%20=%20تأويلات%20أهل%20السنة/2813.html I don’t detect an implied copula so the phrase itself must be ad-dar al-Islam.

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  16. CupOfSoup
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    One of the more unfortunate consequences of the internet is that previously isolated nut cases are able to band together online and reinforce each other’s beliefs. What before were harmless cranks are now, in the extreme case, able to band together militarily and form a state.

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  17. nano
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    There’s more to this than currently meets the eye imo. I think they were created – or rather rebooted from a moribund state – to fight Assad and it has partially back-fired (back-fired for some sponsors but not others).

    Part of their strategy guide is the “Management of Savagery” which prescribes atrocities to provoke a media response. I guess the provocations need to be worse now because the willingness to intervene is so much lower.

    “This is old fashioned blood-and-soil conflict–actually”

    For the Sunni tribes maybe (but they mostly aren’t doing the head-chopping part). For the Takfiri it’s almost completely *not* about blood and soil.

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  18. KA
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    Islamist believe that they have answers to the ills of the society only this time they have to try harder ( and nastier) . This comports with your observation that these guys are absolutely detached from the reality. They also have a dream they think everyone will embrace .
    How is this belief different from any mass political belief of 20 th and 21 st centuries?
    Bush 2 has effectively showed how he could wage war for 5 yrs destroy whole civilization,and mount most vicious sexualized violence at group and individual levels under the guise of nation building and promoting democracy without being condemned in the same language which we reserve for more primitively armed Islamist .
    Islamist have no answer .Neither has the liberal interventionist or conservative policy of present time . But they keep on trying to shape the world using the philosophical tools they have .
    The girls death is just another death that have visited so ,any children in Iraq,Afghanistan,,Yemen,and not that long ago Vietnam.

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  19. I assume you are referring to this:
    “… فاللَّه الملك والدار الإسلام والبيت الجنة …”
    For poetic effect (the arabic word would be البلاغة) the author is using ellipses (I guess this would count as an implied copula). A more standard way of writing this would be
    “… فاللَّه هو الملك والدار هي الإسلام والبيت هو الجنة …”
    which can be translated as follows:
    ” … for God is the king, and the abode is al-Islam, and the home is Heaven … ”
    I tried to be as literal as possible, to clarify that this is a different grammatical construction. If you care about the meaning, the point is that there is only one (proper) king/abode/home which are respectively god/islam/heaven.


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  20. Thank you very much for placing these documentaries in your blog showing how these people actually view the world. We can all preach to the choir about what is wrong with them but what good does that do. I found it telling that the jihadists said that only the children smile at them, that the parents look at them with fear. Those poor poor people that live in that part of the world, they are fucked. The people with the resources to leave, have, overpopulation is continuing, water resources are ever shrinking, and crazy bastards are running things. Here we sit in our nice homes and selfishly think, “are they a threat to us?” No Virginia they are not. Bulldozers the size of your home are scooping up oil drenched sand up yonder in arctic Canada so if these wackos blow up the oil wells we will still have a supply until the navy seals go in there in the dead of night with their night goggles on and waste these fools. Cynical of me to say but probably true. What can we do, I have no answers. It seems that if we interfere we feed their cause, and if we do nothing than the misery of these people just continues to grow.

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  21. CredibleHulk
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    @dave chamberlin

    Yeah, but Dave, remember one thing. The US can achieve all the energy independence it wants and say “fuck the ay-rabs!!” – but what will it do with it? Fill up even more voluminous gas tanks of even more gigantic four wheelers so bored housewives in New England can road trip across the country and hike in the cascades? Build even more suburbs? Can comfort really be a society’s ultimate goal?

    Eventually even that oil will run out, and then what?

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  22. SFG
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    I do kind of wonder if the guy’s just mugging for the cameras–’we will plant the flag of Allah in the White House’ sounds more like getting the crowds pumped and giving the finger to your enemy than any real statement of intent.

    Also, lots of young men like to play war. Here in the West where you know you’ll make it to 70, we settle for World of Warcraft and paintball. Out there where you’ve got nothing to lose…

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