The imposition of Islamic law in rebel territories in Syria has begun, a new article in the Washington Post shows. It apparently starts with strokes of a pipe for punishments rather than the more severe punishments of stoning or cutting off a hand. Liz Sly’s Washington Post article explores the changes that Jabhat Al Nusra is making in war-torn Syria: “During a demonstration against the Syrian regime, Wael Ibrahim, a veteran activist, had tossed aside a banner inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith,” she writes. “And that, decreed the officers of the newly established Sharia Authority set up to administer rebel-held Aleppo, constitutes a crime under Islamic law, punishable in this instance by 10 strokes of a metal pipe.”
The Sharia Authority in Aleppo adjudicates a “wide range of cases” such as “kidnapping, murder, marriage and divorce” along with “property and vehicle ownership” and is composed of a variety of Islamist groups, reports Sly. “The codes applied are ‘derived from the Islamic religion,’ the spokesman said, but the most extreme Islamic punishments, such as cutting off the hands of thieves, are not imposed because Islamic law requires that they be suspended during war,” she writes (emphasis added).
At a recent conference held by the American Enterprise Institute, Elizabeth O’Bagy, who is on the Institute for the Study of War’s Syria Team, connected al Nusra with al Qaeda in Iraq. She said the group, which is at the forefront of many of the armed conflicts, uses a sanitized rhetoric in order to avoid alienating the local population. According to O’Bagy, al Nusra has been using the “distribution of humanitarian services and social services to create a platform that does have popular resonance with the Syrian population.”
Will these additional punishments, as set up in Aleppo, alienate the population? Or will they be seen as an attempt at law and order?
If Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s actions in Mali are any indication, the institution of Sharia law under al Nusra has the potential to be harsh and far reaching. “Al Qaeda’s notion of women as second-class people can be seen in one court document also found in Timbuktu that ordered a woman to be given 60 lashes for ‘mixing with men,’” reported the Christian Science Monitor this February. “During its 10-month reign, Al Qaeda required women to be clothed head to toe when in public. They could wear no makeup and use no perfume.”
Abdelmalek Droukdel, “the head of Al Qaeda in Northern Africa,” also warned against “the stoning of adulterers to death, the barring of women from public areas, and the prevention of children from playing” in a letter retrieved by the Associated Press. In Mali, the cutting off thieves’ hands was also practiced by Islamists.
Droukdel called for a more gradual approach to Sharia in Mali than the terrorists were taking, warning that “Every mistake in this important stage of the life of the baby will be a heavy burden on his shoulders. The larger the mistake, the heavier the burden on his back, and we could end up suffocating him suddenly and causing his death.” The French recently came in and forced the Islamists to retreat.
It remains to be seen whether al Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq, has learned the lessons of AQIM’s Sharia failure. Veteran activist Ibrahim told Sly that “It is not in our interest to open a second front in our revolution. We have one enemy now; we don’t want to end up with two.”
“I think the real war will start after toppling the regime.”