How flexible is Islamic State in winning heart and minds?

This is perhaps just an episodic thing, but according to this report ISIS reverts smoking ban in Kirkuk ‘to gain popularity’. But would you say that the Islamic State is relatively adaptable in terms of “winning hearts and minds” to keep some territorial gains? Read few comments.

Mia Bloom, Professor, Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, Criminal Justice, Security Studies , Massachusetts University Lowell

I just discussing this smoking ban with my colleague Mubin Shaikh on Friday as being untenable n place like Syria (or the larger Middle East) given the popularity of smoking.

The idea stems from the Qur’an where the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) enjoins his followers to treat their body like a temple, and avoid all things considered bad for you.

The Prophet, is reported to have said, ‘Do not harm yourselves or others.’ Furthermore, tobacco is unwholesome, and G-d says in the Qur’an that the Prophet, ‘enjoins upon them that which is good and pure, and forbids them that which is unwholesome'” (Fatwa, Saudi Arabia).

While one cannot find a verse of Qur’an, or words of the Prophet Muhammad, saying clearly that “cigarette smoking is forbidden.”

It does say in the Quran, “…he [the Prophet] commands them what is just, and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good, and prohibits them from what is bad…” (Quran 7:157). It is not a complete surprise that this ruling forbidding smoking made ISIL unpopular, especially given that alcohol and mixing of the genders is forbidden as is TV, movies, and card playing. So 7th century rules and regulations are not an easy fit in the 21st century.

That said, all terrorist groups tend to be flexible ideologically when they are losing support because of doctrine. Thus is is also not a surprise that smoking bans will be among the first things that ISIL will be flexible about. I suspect other issues of doctrine (e.g., the role of women) will also be adjusted depending on instrumental reasons and when it will be expedient.

Groups need the population, the quote often is about the sea and the fishes (Mao) but ISIL in trying to found an Islamic state NEEDS the local people’s support and thus will have to be flexible in the future.

Christopher Anzalone, Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University

Generally speaking, a number of militant groups, particularly those who are not only “jihadi” but are also full-fledged rebel/insurgent organizations, have proven to be more pragmatic and, relatively speaking, flexible, than is often thought.  In territorially widespread organizations/groups composed of a number of constituent parts (local administrations, localized military command and control, etc.) there may very well be a difference from locale to locale with regards to the implementation of certain rules and regulations the overall group has put in place, such as the ban on smoking and Al-Shabab’s ban on qat.  In the case of Al-Shabab, the qat ban has tended not to be implemented in the same way in every area under Al-Shabab’s control, particularly in its earlier days in 2007 and 2008.  When the rebel/insurgent group is in need of local support or, more likely, acquiescence to its continued presence and governance of territory it may indeed choose to be more “flexible” on certain rules and regulations.  This is less likely to occur with the legal code/”laws” that the insurgent leadership has implemented, which is meant to crack down on murder, theft, highway robbery, and activities deemed to be a threat to insurgent governance (“hiraba,” an Arabic legal term that in jihadi-rebel usage refers to “rebellion” or other seditious activities aimed at insurgent control).  This is because the implementation of these “laws” has other purposes beyond ideological, chiefly economic and social stability (again, relatively speaking).  Reducing banditry, theft, and robbery and cutting down public violence benefits the local community/locale, which in turn benefits the rebel/insurgent group due to “taxation”, etc.  It is entirely possible that the Islamic State’s regional Kirkuk administration has chosen to be more “lenient” in the enforcement of its smoking ban and perhaps other relatively minor rules/regulations as a way of maintaining some local support, particularly as it faces a U.S.-led military onslaught from the air and a U.S.-backed push by Kurdish Pesgmerga militia and Iraqi central government forces and Iraqi Shi’ite militias.

It is unclear why the Islamic State would choose to “revoke” its ban in Kirkuk and not in other areas of Iraq and Syria where there continued rule has also reportedly led to tensions with segments of the local populace.  If the report is true, it may be because of the more diverse residents in the governorate of Kirkuk.

One Response

  1. There is nothing new with the atrocities that the Islamic State carries out in the name of Islam and religion, for so-called Christians according to history have committed genocide as well. Indeed the history of humankind is continually full of genocide and torture on a barbaric scale. What appears to be the reason for this barbarism is that humankind has a darkness that resides within itself that shows its extremes against its fellow man or women if certain ‘triggers’ are unleashed. The irony of these triggers to this inhumane action that emerge in so-called struggles appears to be the suffering and suppression of those close to you, overridingly in the poor world. But the cause of these ‘triggers’ can using basic common sense be traced back to the vested interests of the minority, whose decisions in other regions of the world create all this poverty and inequality. In many ways they are psychopaths who have no empathy with their fellow humans as the Horizon programme ‘Are you good or evil?, clearly showed. Therefore the root cause of all genocide is not religion as most try to blame, but the economic model that we in the West use to the extreme. Capitalism at its base is good for creating the wealth of the people but where unfortunately those controlling the mechanism corrupt it so that they get richer and richer through greed and the vast majority get poorer and poorer. They therefore inflict the seeds of genocide through greed and power over others and where they do not really care about the suffering that their actions bestow upon humanity. Indeed presently nearly 4 billion people live in abject poverty and more add to these numbers yearly. Therefore capitalism is failing humankind in the interests of the few. So much so that after the global financial meltdown the rich got even richer than ever before (last year the top 100 richest people increased their wealth by $240 billion and where OXFAM stated that this would have solved dire global poverty that year), but where 90% of the global population have got poorer and poorer and are continuing to do so. This is the first time in the history of financial meltdowns and global recessions that this has ever happened. The reason and irony of this is that this has been due to the taxpayer (the people) supporting the rich and powerful so that no harm whatsoever financially comes to them and allowed through the actions of our elected governments. Never before has this happened either and where one can only come to the conclusion that governments, the rich and powerful are all in it together – corruption has therefore been elevated to a whole new level over the past quarter of a century and the reason why entities like ISIL will continue to emerge indefinitely unless we change our ways of economic development for the very few. For that is how it really is –

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