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Islamic State Stitches Itself Into Fabric Of Seized Communities


As Islamic State fighters have seized a wide swath of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq, they've begun to establish an entrenched system of governance. New York Times Middle East correspondent, Ben Hubbard, has been reporting on how ISIS has stitched itself into the fabric of those communities. He joins us from Istanbul to talk about what he's learned. Welcome to the program, Ben.

BEN HUBBARD: Thank you.

BLOCK: And your describing an Islamic State that's providing services to the people it controls in cities from Rocca in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. What services, exactly, is it providing?

HUBBARD: Well, there's a range of services. I mean, there's everything from trying to fix local infrastructure from electricity networks, water networks. There are programs to distribute food. And there's a lot of other kind of projects that seem to be mainly for PR purposes. They'll hire work crews to paint buildings and to paint sidewalks and things like that just to sort of make the place look a bit better. And one reason that they've been so successful - it's not that they're providing these amazing services and everything is great. It's just that conditions in these countries have gotten too bad after the wars that have been going on that they're providing a bare, bare minimum that a lot of people who are living in their areas don't feel that they can find anywhere else.

BLOCK: Yeah, so basically an alternative to the chaos that existed before.

HUBBARD: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a very good indication of the dramatic political failures that have happened both in Syria and Iraq, that, you know, these communities that ISIS has come into, the people who have chosen to remain there have lost complete faith in their central governments to provide them with any sort of governance, you know, be it court systems, be it just basic security, be it, you know, electricity, water, things like that. And so a lot of these people have basically come to the bargain that, well, you know, even if we don't accept all the ideology, even if a lot of the gratuitous violence of this group makes us uncomfortable, it's really, you know, countries that are sort of falling apart. This is about the best that we can do.

BLOCK: Along with setting up some semblance of order and security in some of the cities that it controls, is it fair to talk about a reign of terror under the Islamic State in these communities?

HUBBARD: I mean, there definitely is. There's sort of a number of steps that the group goes through when it enters a new community. I mean - and I think the reign of terror is usually the first step. They come in, and they do everything that they can to absolutely terrify everybody who's there who has reason to be scared of them. And so usually when you hear about the mass atrocities that this group is committing, they tend to be right when they've taken over a place. And so what you're left with is a very sort of - a demographic that, in some ways, can actually live on what they're doing. And that was one thing that was very surprising in this reporting, is that you do talk to people that tend to be not incredibly well-educated or wealthy. Usually most ones tend to be very devout and don't really like their government who say, you know, if you don't have any problem with them, they don't have any problem with you. I don't think that quite qualifies for support, but I think, for people that do kind of set their model of the state that they want to build, you know, there is room for people to have a sort of life there.

BLOCK: Ben, one of the most disturbing things that you write about is the indoctrination and military training of children to be Islamic State fighters. What did you hear about that?

HUBBARD: Well, it's very clear that this group is not just thinking short-term. They're really trying to build a generation of people who are going to come up thinking the way that they think and ready to defend the state that they're trying to create. So you know, in both Syria and Iraq, we've seen cases of them reformatting the school systems, whether it's changing the curricula. They've also made threats to former government teachers that they need to come back to work but saying that before they're allowed back into classrooms, they have to go through a (unintelligible) course. You know, the group itself has put out videos of military training for young boys that appear to be probably in their early- to mid-teens army crawling and using firearms and learning martial arts and things like that and - you know, so they're very much trying to train a younger generation that really is on board. And this is something that, you know, makes many, many other people in the region very scared that the longer they remain in these communities, you know, the more they're going to be able to kind of create this next generation.

BLOCK: That's New York Times correspondent Ben Hubbard. He's just back from a reporting trip to northern Iraq. He spoke with us from Istanbul. Ben, thanks so much.

HUBBARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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