As the conflict sputters on, Robert Fisk wonders whether eventual reconciliation will be possible in this century
When Syrian government soldiers first recaptured the small village of Deir Hafar from Isis in 2017, they found the black-painted but hurriedly abandoned Islamic “court” strewn with piles of documents. These hundreds of pages contained terrible proof of how the Syrian civilians there had behaved under at least three years of Isis occupation.
I arrived in the village along with the Syrian army after Russian aircraft had bombed Isis out of the streets – the Islamists were still firing shells as they retreated, killing a senior Syrian commander – and reached the local sharia court building, a concrete blockhouse beside three equally black-painted but iron crucifixion bars on a platform above the road.
But the papers on the floor of the court were the real story of Deir Hafar.
The judges had been Egyptian and their jurisdiction stretched all the way back to the then Isis “capital” of Syria in the town of Raqqa.
The documents revealed that the people of the village had used Islamist “justice” to betray their neighbours – in one case to name family cousins as potential spies, in another to accuse a young man of secretly meeting his girlfriend when he was supposed to attend evening prayers. Other neighbours accused each other of theft. A man supposedly collecting money for an electrical generator had pocketed the cash for himself. One potential agent – possibly for the Syrian government – was handed on for “justice” by the “Revolutionary Islamic Police Court”.