Life Under ISIS

James Verini’s They Will Have to Die Now: Mosul and the Fall of the Caliphate has gifted us with gruelingly realistic war vignettes of the Islamic State from Iraq’s second most populous city.  Mosul is also one of the oldest human settlements: the Western Fortress of the Akkadians of 4,300 years ago.  On a short assignment from National Geographic, Verini, an American, remained behind in the city for a year after it was overrun.  His journalism is omnivorous, and superbly faithful to real-time developments, though written within a peculiar framework dictated by his liberal ideology.

At his best, Verini is superbly authentic.  One can smell death in his dispatches: "On the sidewalk and pavement were bits of the suicide-driver’s skin and organs and bones, charred and coated in oil.  A good fifty feet from explosion lay part of his spinal column."

He walks us through the realm of fear and boredom that is the battlefield, both in regular and irregular warfare.  Never, one should add, has there been a population, armed and unarmed, more confused than in Iraq.  Or more paranoid.  By Verini’s telling, they all love America and want to emigrate to the United States, and they all hate America and blame the US for the war.  All this they justify and explicate in a dizzying kaleidoscope of conspiracy theories featuring the ubiquitous “Jews” and the omnipotent “Americans.”

The author embedded himself with the native forces, usually Iraqi crack anti-terrorist units of the CTS, but also with the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga.  With a keen observer’s eye, he recounts for us the military’s friendly banter, including, for example, casually amiable exchanges about sleeping with each other’s sisters.  All the Iraqis were somewhat casual about their battle dress but “they paid as much attention to their hair as any Prussian cavalry officer.  They may not have had training on their weapons, they may have been committing human rights abuses, but their heads were marvels of trimming and mousse.

 

 

 

<p class="MsoNormal" style="font-family:times" new="" roman,times,serif;"="">Yet, as much as he enjoys his military pals, both intimate and remote, including General David Petreaus, Verini prefers to focus on the civilian bystanders, the true victims of the conflict.  Or at least he believes them, initially at least, to be so.  Most Mosulis he befriends and revisits periodically, in their urban domiciles, on the road, and in refugee camps, tend to be Sunni.  Most of them are also former, passive or active, Islamic Sate supporters.  Of course some of them lie, disambiguate, deceive, and other otherwise practice their taqiyya on the gullible, bleeding-heart liberal journalist who, nonetheless, over time develops enough critical sense to be able to spot various shades of guilt by association.  He is also capable of discerning complex reasons behind the ambiguous attitude toward ISIS among the caliphate’s subjects.  They verge from political and religious choices, including primarily the Shia-led government’s persecution of the Sunni who formerly backed Saadam Hussain, to personal reasons. 

The latter could mean a domineering father at home, whose authority ISIS undercut thus freeing a downtrodden son to assert himself against paternal authority.  Here’s one witness’s depiction of the Daesh recruitment effort through a local mosque:

“[Imam] Abu Bakr always wore a rifle slung over his shoulder, including when preaching.  He told Omar and his friends they were apocalyptic warriors in waiting.  They would help deliver the world from unbelief.  Many of Omar’s friends joined up, either because they were ‘brainwashed,’ as he put it to me, or because they were threatened, or needed the money, or were bored, or because they wanted a cause to belong to.”

In Mosul, the jihadis initially were very sympatico, polite, and well-mannered.  The exception was of course their actions against immediate enemies, most notably the slaughter of perhaps 1,500 Air Force academy cadets, mostly Shia.  The jihadis at first asked very little of the locals.  Gradually, however, they subjected the civilian population to an ever widening array of restrictions.  Women lost their freedom step by step.  From covering heads to turning them into walking Bedouin tents, they no longer could buy panties and other lingerie articles.  They were banned as ‘unIslamic’.  So were movies and music, except Islamic State’s propaganda videos and tunes. 

Violence became a civic entertainment.”   Men were whipped for insufficiently bushy, aka ‘Muslim’ beards.  Some took to wearing fake facial hair extensions to show their Islamicist commitment.  The religious police also hounded the men for a variety of sartorial crimes. 

Meanwhile, the Mosulis got used to their lot.  Verini avers that

“The predictable and irreducible fact of a terroristic theocracy, the fact the jihadis never mentioned in their promotional materials, was boredom, mind-emptying, rage-inducing, afterlife-inviting boredom.  Between the bouts of violence and prayer and painting things black, there was absolutely nothing to do.”

Verini concedes that Saadam Hussein was a monster.  His overthrow liberated Iraqis.  However, a radical religious revolution followed with the country splitting along sectarian lines.  Vicious persecution and slaughter commenced as the Shias avenged themselves for decades of Sunni supremacy.  And the Kurds, as always, got the short end of the stick. 

No clear-thinking person would spend a year under ISIS of his or her own free will.  In Verini’s case the cost of reading his battlefield vignettes is being subjected to his leftist weltanschauung.  Among his jibes at Trump and praise for Hillary, Verini’s equating Zionism and Islamism is particularly repellant. 

It is inconvertible that if Israel slips once militarily, it is no moreIts regional detractors can lose as many battles as it takes, so long as they ultimately win just one, the final oneIsrael will be gone, and so will the Jews, mostly exterminatedMillenarian groups like ISIS have reappeared in Islam since the Kharijites in the 7th century ADThe Zionists are a modern, nationalist phenomenon based upon a rational understanding of humanity organized as tribes and nations, as opposed to utopian holy warrior bands or empires like the much longed-for caliphate

Thus, Verini’s book is a mixed bag of offerings: a true-to-life set of battlefield reports and a liberal ideological screed This incongruous dichotomy afflicts They Will Have to Die Now throughout the dispatches, but, if ignored and excised, it makes for one of the most powerful war stories of the early 21st century.

James Verini’s They Will Have to Die Now: Mosul and the Fall of the Caliphate has gifted us with gruelingly realistic war vignettes of the Islamic State from Iraq’s second most populous city.  Mosul is also one of the oldest human settlements: the Western Fortress of the Akkadians of 4,300 years ago.  On a short assignment from National Geographic, Verini, an American, remained behind in the city for a year after it was overrun.  His journalism is omnivorous, and superbly faithful to real-time developments, though written within a peculiar framework dictated by his liberal ideology.

At his best, Verini is superbly authentic.  One can smell death in his dispatches: "On the sidewalk and pavement were bits of the suicide-driver’s skin and organs and bones, charred and coated in oil.  A good fifty feet from explosion lay part of his spinal column."

He walks us through the realm of fear and boredom that is the battlefield, both in regular and irregular warfare.  Never, one should add, has there been a population, armed and unarmed, more confused than in Iraq.  Or more paranoid.  By Verini’s telling, they all love America and want to emigrate to the United States, and they all hate America and blame the US for the war.  All this they justify and explicate in a dizzying kaleidoscope of conspiracy theories featuring the ubiquitous “Jews” and the omnipotent “Americans.”

The author embedded himself with the native forces, usually Iraqi crack anti-terrorist units of the CTS, but also with the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga.  With a keen observer’s eye, he recounts for us the military’s friendly banter, including, for example, casually amiable exchanges about sleeping with each other’s sisters.  All the Iraqis were somewhat casual about their battle dress but “they paid as much attention to their hair as any Prussian cavalry officer.  They may not have had training on their weapons, they may have been committing human rights abuses, but their heads were marvels of trimming and mousse.

 

 

 

<p class="MsoNormal" style="font-family:times" new="" roman,times,serif;"="">Yet, as much as he enjoys his military pals, both intimate and remote, including General David Petreaus, Verini prefers to focus on the civilian bystanders, the true victims of the conflict.  Or at least he believes them, initially at least, to be so.  Most Mosulis he befriends and revisits periodically, in their urban domiciles, on the road, and in refugee camps, tend to be Sunni.  Most of them are also former, passive or active, Islamic Sate supporters.  Of course some of them lie, disambiguate, deceive, and other otherwise practice their taqiyya on the gullible, bleeding-heart liberal journalist who, nonetheless, over time develops enough critical sense to be able to spot various shades of guilt by association.  He is also capable of discerning complex reasons behind the ambiguous attitude toward ISIS among the caliphate’s subjects.  They verge from political and religious choices, including primarily the Shia-led government’s persecution of the Sunni who formerly backed Saadam Hussain, to personal reasons. 

The latter could mean a domineering father at home, whose authority ISIS undercut thus freeing a downtrodden son to assert himself against paternal authority.  Here’s one witness’s depiction of the Daesh recruitment effort through a local mosque:

“[Imam] Abu Bakr always wore a rifle slung over his shoulder, including when preaching.  He told Omar and his friends they were apocalyptic warriors in waiting.  They would help deliver the world from unbelief.  Many of Omar’s friends joined up, either because they were ‘brainwashed,’ as he put it to me, or because they were threatened, or needed the money, or were bored, or because they wanted a cause to belong to.”

In Mosul, the jihadis initially were very sympatico, polite, and well-mannered.  The exception was of course their actions against immediate enemies, most notably the slaughter of perhaps 1,500 Air Force academy cadets, mostly Shia.  The jihadis at first asked very little of the locals.  Gradually, however, they subjected the civilian population to an ever widening array of restrictions.  Women lost their freedom step by step.  From covering heads to turning them into walking Bedouin tents, they no longer could buy panties and other lingerie articles.  They were banned as ‘unIslamic’.  So were movies and music, except Islamic State’s propaganda videos and tunes. 

Violence became a civic entertainment.”   Men were whipped for insufficiently bushy, aka ‘Muslim’ beards.  Some took to wearing fake facial hair extensions to show their Islamicist commitment.  The religious police also hounded the men for a variety of sartorial crimes. 

Meanwhile, the Mosulis got used to their lot.  Verini avers that

“The predictable and irreducible fact of a terroristic theocracy, the fact the jihadis never mentioned in their promotional materials, was boredom, mind-emptying, rage-inducing, afterlife-inviting boredom.  Between the bouts of violence and prayer and painting things black, there was absolutely nothing to do.”

Verini concedes that Saadam Hussein was a monster.  His overthrow liberated Iraqis.  However, a radical religious revolution followed with the country splitting along sectarian lines.  Vicious persecution and slaughter commenced as the Shias avenged themselves for decades of Sunni supremacy.  And the Kurds, as always, got the short end of the stick. 

No clear-thinking person would spend a year under ISIS of his or her own free will.  In Verini’s case the cost of reading his battlefield vignettes is being subjected to his leftist weltanschauung.  Among his jibes at Trump and praise for Hillary, Verini’s equating Zionism and Islamism is particularly repellant. 

It is inconvertible that if Israel slips once militarily, it is no moreIts regional detractors can lose as many battles as it takes, so long as they ultimately win just one, the final oneIsrael will be gone, and so will the Jews, mostly exterminatedMillenarian groups like ISIS have reappeared in Islam since the Kharijites in the 7th century ADThe Zionists are a modern, nationalist phenomenon based upon a rational understanding of humanity organized as tribes and nations, as opposed to utopian holy warrior bands or empires like the much longed-for caliphate

Thus, Verini’s book is a mixed bag of offerings: a true-to-life set of battlefield reports and a liberal ideological screed This incongruous dichotomy afflicts They Will Have to Die Now throughout the dispatches, but, if ignored and excised, it makes for one of the most powerful war stories of the early 21st century.