Piety Is in the Eye of the Bureaucrat: The Islamic State's Strategy of Civilian Control.

Author:Vale, Gina
 
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A collection of 24 internal Islamic State documents--many of which are released for analysis here for the first time --highlights the group's preoccupation and presentation of its 'caliphate' as an ideologically superior and pious society. In its own records, the Islamic State consistently framed its commitment to an extreme and 'pure' interpretation of Islamic doctrine in opposition to the malign influence of its 'apostate' or 'infidel' rivals. The documents indicate that through the imposition of policies including strict behavioral codes, educational reform, or forced 'conversion' of captive populations, the Islamic State sought to translate citizens' compliance with pious ideals into long-term acceptance of the group's ideological legitimacy and governing authority.

The establishment and governance of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate from June 2014 marked a multifaceted victory for the group. It demonstrated supremacy over its rivals in military prowess, administrative and bureaucratic capabilities, and fulfillment of ideological commitments. In recent years, scholars and analysts have furthered understanding of the Islamic State's myriad governance activities --from the functioning of its treasury and finances (1) to the foundations of its judicial system (2) and even its provision of goods, aid, and services. (3) While the Islamic State governed through unrelenting authoritarianism, conformity of civilians was vital for the functioning and legitimacy of its proto-state project. (4) As the Islamic State now seeks to recover from its territorial collapse, it is important to understand how the group sought to engender a--practically and ideologically-compliant population.

This article seeks to highlight an area of Islamic State policy that underpinned many of its governance practices: piety promotion. For the Islamic State, piety and devotion to its sharia translated into commitment to the group's ideals and authority. The promotion of piety through behavioral strictures served to encourage the populace's internalization of its ideology and rejection of rivals --whether local 'apostate' or foreign 'crusader' governments, or 'infidel' traditions and customs. Much of the Islamic State's propaganda has focused on a 'clash of civilizations' or a 'war against Islam.' (5) The group's battle for local hearts and minds came in the form of regulations to 'correct' and ensure uniformity of behavior. Most importantly, this was not limited to one sector of its society. Though afforded varying degrees of freedom within the 'caliphate; the Islamic State's focus on (its interpretation of) 'Islamic' piety ran across its policies for its members, governed civilians, and even captive 'infidel' populations. Close examination of such directives can shed new light on the Islamic State's strategy of civilian control and the ideological legacy left in its wake.

Data for this study is drawn from 24 internal Islamic State documents dated between December 2014 and October 2016. These documents were obtained by U.S. military forces operating in Iraq and Syria and declassified through the Combating Terrorism Center's Harmony Program, and many are released here for analysis for the first time. The full collection, including English translation, is now available on the CTC's website. The documents include a number of previously unseen fatwas, marriage contracts, official letters, public notices and memoranda, and administrative forms. Documents included in the collection reveal four key tenets of the Islamic State's vision of ideological piety: shari'i attire, travel restrictions, sex segregation, and religious 'education: Though interdependent within the caliphate society, these will be examined in turn for analytical clarity. The examination of these primary sources provides rare insight into the Islamic State's efforts to convert, coerce, and control individuals under its rule and discredit the practices of its enemies.

Shari'i Attire

The introduction of conservative dress regulations, which preceded its caliphate declaration, was among the first signs of the Islamic State's governance activities. The group's aim was explicitly to end "debauchery resulting from grooming and overdressing" and manifested as a series of public information billboards as early as 2013. (6) As the group continued to develop its bureaucratic infrastructure, a series of fatwas and policy notices were issued on official Islamic State stationery to formalize its parameters for what it considered pious behavior. Importantly, these regulations had an overt and disproportionate focus on women's bodies and through them, from the group's point of view, the protection of collective honor.

On December 18,2014, four fat was specifically concerning women's shari'i attire were released among a series of edicts from the Islamic State's Research and Fatwa Issuing Committee. (a) These documents reflect the group's imposition of an increasingly strict and conservative female dress code, evolving from a niqab and abaya to include long gloves, socks, and a burqa with a thick, twin-layered veil covering the entire face and eyes. (b) Even exposure of women's eyes, particularly if eyeliner or make-up on the cheeks is used, was completely forbidden, and according to Fatwa 40 (Item D), it was necessary "to cover her eyes with even a light fabric to avoid temptation." (7) The seven required "characteristics of the legal hijab" were outlined in Fatwa 44 (Item H, see Figure 1). (c) These include full body coverage of the face and hands; thick and loose-fitting material without adornment or colors to avoid attracting attention; and the prohibition of perfumes when women "go out and pass by men." (8) Most importantly, it stipulated that the attire "should not look like [clothing] that the infidel females wear." (9) Thus, through the introduction of 'correct' shari'i attire, the Islamic State sought to distinguish itself from communities deemed indecent or impious, and avoid shameful 'temptation' by obscuring women's bodies.

The accompanying three fatwas issued in December 2014 provide further justification for some of the most important characteristics of the shari'i hijab. Fatwa 39 (Item C) stipulates that "colored abayas, especially those of tempting colors, shiny, velvet, or stretchy [fabric], are prohibited." (10) Interestingly, the document refers to hadiths that observe female companions of the Prophet wearing black headscarves. (11) (d) Rather than solely doctrinal citation, this newly released edict is the only Islamic State document (known to the author) that provides the group's independent justification for its black dress code: avoidance of shame. Black is viewed as the color of least adornment and therefore the one that attracts the least attention from onlookers. (12) Once again, the responsibility of avoiding 'forbidden things' and 'tempting others' is transferred to women through the imposition of full and unappealing coverage, eventually resulting in their visual erasure from the public sphere.

It is important to note that men were not exempt from the Islamic State's dress code. Edicts issued in January 2015 point to the group's wider concern with societal decency and rejection of impious customs. Fatwa 56 (Item M) prohibits 'Western clothing" that is viewed as revealing and "mimics the ways of the infidels." (13) Similarly, Fatwa 55 (Item L) forbids "outfits that are low-hanging and drag below the heels." (14) This edict reinforces multiple Islamic State pamphlets and propaganda videos that emphasize the necessary short length of men's trousers and dishdashas. (e) However, though the group directly controlled men's attire, it did not place emphasis on regulating male sexual desire. (f) Instead, the Islamic State sought to eradicate illicit sexual interaction through control of women's bodies and behavior. As such, Fatwa 44 (Item H) also specifies six "characteristics of immodesty." These include a woman showing a part of her body or undergarments to a male stranger; flirting and associating with men; swaying, strutting, and walking seductively; and "making sounds with her high heels in order to show off what is hidden, which enflames passions more than looking at the ornaments worn." (15) In this way, women's dress becomes a physical barrier to intermixing and zina (fornication or adultery), which are offenses under Islamic State rule punishable by...

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