BY ROBERT FISK, The Independent
In the deeply sorrowful place we call the Middle East, when you know how cheap death is you don’t spend time contemplating heaven or hell, you just try to stay alive. Robert Fisk speaks from experience
In his eloquent, awesome account of the destruction of the Isis-held city of Mosul in 2017, the American journalist James Verini finds himself amid the wreckage of the city’s university, talking to an academic outside what had been the English library. When the department had been closed down by Isis, Karim had been working on a paper about Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and had been fascinated by the deal the ambitious doctor made with the devil. “The idea is interesting,” he told Verini. “To see how he suffered. How he gave himself to the devil, for a purpose, and then he lost everything. He wasn’t happy.” Well, I guess that was jihadism for you.
Always apocalyptic. Selling your soul to Lucifer – or to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the guess-if-you-can prophet-tribal lineaged new leader of Isis – is unlikely to provide you with much knowledge, but if devils don’t take you off to hell, you have at least a reasonably good chance of dying very violently. Verini, in his book They Will Have To Die Now, concludes that above all else, the Islamic State is very boring. It is also all-consuming. Anyone within its orbit – civilians, men and women living within the state – would conform.
With Syrian troops in the spring of 2017 – not long after Verini explored the ruins of Mosul – I entered the village of Deir Hafar, east of Aleppo, only minutes after its Isis masters had fled. A Syrian officer had been killed by mortar fire. But in the basement of what had been the local Isis court (painted black, of course) I discovered piles of documents, the records of hundreds of cases brought to the judges – all of them Egyptian, so the villagers told me – by the people of Deir Hafar.
Their contents proved what I had always suspected: that the locals – shopkeepers, merchants, farmers, angry male cousins and their wives – all turned to the Isis courts to attack and demean and sue their neighbours and relatives for domestic crimes, theft or espionage. As I emerged into the daylight with this trove of papers, a group of village mukhtars arrived. They sought out the most senior surviving Syrian army officer. They wanted “reconciliation”, they said. No one said anything. If they were handing themselves over to the mercy of a ruthless regime, they knew what they had done under the rule of Isis.