Medyan Dairieh, a VICE journalist and filmmaker, spent three weeks alone embedded in the Islamic State in June 2014. The product of this dangerous venture was a documentary called “The Islamic State” that revealed what life was like inside the capital of the Islamic State, Raqqa.
The documentary primarily follows enforces of Shariah law in Raqqa. The documentary opens up with a man saying that Shariah can only be fully enforced through the use of weapons. It was Ramadan at the time that the documentary was filmed, so the rules were held to more scrutiny due to the nature of the holiday—there was no drinking, eating or smoking allowed until sundown. The enforcers of Shariah law tried to ensure that. In addition to the enforcement of Ramadan, Hisbah (Shariah law enforcers) would work to try to ensure fair sales from local shops due to a lack of a legitimate government with in the controlled area (although the people in the documentary asserted the Islamic State was a real government). Hisbah also would ensure that women were dressed properly. At one point in the documentary, a woman’s husband was pulled aside and told to make sure that the woman wore a thicker veil to cover her face better. The Hisbah asserted that they would ask people to abide by Shariah law “nicely” the first time, but they would “force” the law if people didn’t listen or refused. Later, the Hisbah showed the Islamic State’s judicial system, in which judges are appointed to give punishments to people who break the religious laws. The punishments that are issued are corporal punishments primarily whipping. Swearing can be punished by whipping. Drug offenses can be punished by execution. In the documentary, the Hisbah encouraged prisoners to talk about their experience with the Islamic State’s judicial system. The prisoners were complicit and calm and often expressed joy for their punishment because it would bring them back to God. The legitimacy of the prisoners answers is questionable because of the close moderation of the Hisbah in the interviewing process. Fear-mongering tactics are a staple of the Islamic State’s control of the general population—the prisoners could have been too afraid to say anything that challenged the rule of the Islamic State. The Hisbah spoke much praise of the importance of Shariah law on the inner success of the Islamic State because it was “beneficial to people’s lives.” They believed Sariah law was a type of positive intervention that has led to “low crime rates” (for instance the Shariah said there is no stealing in the Islamic State). The legitimacy of much of the praise of the Islamic State needs to be critically evaluated. The makers of this documentary often provided critical fact checks, commentary and explanations of what the Hisbah were saying to ensure that this documentary was not another form of Islamic State propaganda.
This documentary also provided some interesting insights into daily life from the people that are living there. There were scenes filmed within mosques, recruitment ceremonies, discussions about alcohol consumption, and video of the everyday violence that is found within the Islamic State. Although the validity of everything that was said during the documentary is questionable, the documentary provided a glimpse into the inner workings of the Islamic State from the citizen’s moderated opinion and Hisbah’s perspective. One of the most shocking aspect of the documentary was the support that the Islamic State garnered from children—the documentary interviewed more than 10 children aged eight to 14, who talked about their enthusiasm for the Islamic State and their desire to join the military. Although what the young men had to say could have been influenced by the presence of the Hisbah at the filming of the documentary, the influence of the Islamic State’s propaganda was blatantly evident through the children’s role in recruitment ceremonies that would take place within the city. Children would assist in the recruitment ceremonies by waving flags, chanting, filming, taking photos, engaging and learning from Islamic State rulers. Even if the children were saying what the Islamic State wanted them to say on camera, the Islamic State works hard to win them over in an attempt to ensure its own continuation.