All's not well in the Caliphate: Western ISIS Members Complain About Life In The Islamic State. (MEMRI).
It is hard to gauge the full reality of life in the Islamic State. The dominant narrative, presented by ISIS, is carefully honed; the group meticulously controls what their official media outlets distribute online. ISIS champions its state as the only place in which Muslims can fully adhere to their faith and enjoy shari'a-compliant Islamic life. ISIS fighters often take to social media to boast about the benefits provided by the state, among them no taxes, free housing, and stipends for families.
ISIS promotes the notion that it is helping to restore order and to bring normalcy to the Syrians, who have long been oppressed under the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. It is, it claims, positively impacting the lives of local Muslims by bringing them back to Islam.
Some activist groups based in the Islamic State are vocal online, and they try to dispel the glossy images that ISIS is projecting, by chronicling the horrors under ISIS hegemony. In general, members adhere to the group's media policy and do not stray from its messaging points, and do not publicly express doubts or disagreements. However, sometimes ISIS members have been overly candid in their postings; when this happens, others often quickly step in and ask that the dissenting post be removed. Such grumblings provide glimpses into Western ISIS members' discontent with life in the Islamic State.
This report will examine some examples of ISIS members' complaints about aspects of life in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. A few examples from fighters from other groups are also included, to show how these fighters' attitudes differ from those of ISIS fighters. They indicate that other groups can be more open to locals and their customs than ISIS, and perhaps that the feeling is mutual – the locals like them better than they do ISIS.
Judging by the social media posts shared by ISIS women members, the Western women form tightly knit cliques, and do not appear to mingle with the native Syrian women.
In the past, Western women in the Islamic State have complained that the quality of clothing is not on par with what they are accustomed to in the West. One curious woman wrote into a blog maintained by a few women in the Islamic State to ask: "Aslamu alakuum sister I want to ask you are their salons..Don't be mad at me and say u will come for Allah why u need salons but sis I know we will come for ALLAH SWT but no harm if we go to salons beauty ourselves init."
The reply was: "Wa' Alaykum Assalam, There are salons but trust me you're better off getting a sister here to do your hair/make-up etc, For two reasons: The style here isn't really that nice and their makeup most of the time goes towards the clowny look. I would advise not to go because although Dawlah does da'wah [preaching] on these specific places, most of them do pluck brows for people and add hair extentions etc so I would not give my money to them, Allahu A'lam."
Syrian women cannot risk appearing insolent towards these Western women, for it has been reported previously that the Al-Khansaa Brigade, the Western all-female policing brigade, has brutally punished women accused of deviant behavior and various misdemeanors.
Women emigrate to the Islamic State for different reasons; they are not a monolithic group. Often, these women are widowed shortly after marriage. Numerous posts by ISIS members have been circulated in the past assuring women that they are under no pressure to remarry; however, one tweet by a Dutch ISIS woman member, Haarith, indicates otherwise.
On May 20, she wrote: "When you're in your iddah [mourning period] and the first thing people ask is 'Do you want to marry if ure finished?' #GettingTired! Let it be clear. NOHO!!."
These complaints seem innocuous, but voicing unhappiness with the treatment of women in the Islamic State is forbidden. On August 10, 2015, a Swedish woman called Muhajira Umm Hamza lashed out, in a series of tweets, at the treatment of women in Raqqah by male foreign fighters (muhajirin). Moments after her tirade, the tweets were deleted.
In the tweets, she had said: "Seriously I am getting so tired of many men muhajirin now. I feel harassed so often now. Women can't do this or that. What is the point?"
She continued, "It's not sharia that men scream or talk to us in the street. Its not. I feel more and more sad here now. There is so little respect for us.
A user called UmmNutelaLioness asked, "Where?!" Muhajira Umm Hamza responded: "here in Raqqah sister and its not only me sadly." UmmNutellaLioness asked: "What do u mean sister?! What's going on?!" The reply was: "That is sad and feels very oppressive as we left the west and one reason is to get rid of rude behavior."
On October 27, UK national Sally Jones, the widow of prominent British ISIS hacker Junaid Hussein, complained about ISIS fighters leisurely hanging out at Internet cafes instead of standing guard and carrying out their military duties. She wrote: "They all sit there gassing [gossiping] in internet cafes when they should be out on Ribat [guard duty]..wallahi its me I don't care I'm here to release my pastebin." She was referring to the personal details of U.S. military personnel that she publishes on Pastebin.com. It should be noted that it is very rare for an ISIS member to criticize fellow ISIS members, particularly fighters.
ISIS fighter Abu Malik Al Qatari responeed to Jones's post, writing, "and you needn't be so rude. I do [did] my share of fighting for the last year and 7 months. This is my ijazah. I just thought I hd 2 point out before I'm accused. We all know who never fired a bullet on [an] enemy [a reference to Jones's deceased hacker husband]."
Jones replied: "who lol he went on ribat in al bab a week before he got shaheed.
Al Qatari answered: "The status of 'wife of shaheed' is overstepped by some people with their rudeness. We all know who never went to fight. Let's not start."
This exchange is notable for two reasons. Firstly, the status of a martyr's widow is highly honored in the ISIS caliphate, and secondly, Junaid Hussain was very respcted and revered. Pointing out that the late fighter had not been active on the battlefield but merely on the keyboard is extremely insulting. Again, such disuptes amongst ISIS members seldom play out in public. Read the full story here.