After the internet, TV is next on ISIS blacklist
URFA (Turkey) - With music, private internet access, schools and smoking all banned by the Islamic State (ISIS), television appears to be next to join the militant group’s lengthening blacklist.
ISIS wants to prevent residents of Raqqa, its Syrian bastion, from watching television channels it accuses of poisoning people’s minds and fuelling rebellion. Although a decision has not been officially announced, imams in the city’s mosques have been preaching against watching programmes that broadcast “lies and calumnies”.
“There is nothing that ISIS cannot implement. All it takes is to chop off the head of one or two people under the pretext of watching television and the whole city would be disciplined,” said Anwar al-Khodar, a lawyer and activist from Raqqa who fled to the Turkish border.
“No one would then dare go near a television set. One would even break his own television set in order to prevent any member of his family from using it.”
Khodar argued that ISIS, having mastered social media to promote its cause “has realised that a counter media war against them is being waged through the broadcast of professional documentaries, exposing their crimes and the corruption of their emirs”.
ISIS is seeking religious justifications for its move, claiming that watching TV is banned by Islam on the grounds that it sows dissent among Muslims and harms their minds and spirits, said a resident of Raqqa who asked to be identified as Mohamad Ali.
Ali, who attends Friday sermons at the city’s main mosque of al-Fawaz, said the majority of mosques started preaching a ban on television on the instructions of ISIS. He quoted the imam of al- Fawaz mosque, an ISIS disciple, as criticising Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Saudi-owned channel Al Arabiya for “diffusing fake news”. “The imam claimed that an edict will be issued soon banning television, except for listening to the Quran on Fridays,” Ali said.
Ali, a former government employee, said ISIS was using Raqqa residents as guinea pigs for new policies, unlike other territories under its control. “We have become an experiment field for any decision that comes to their mind, because the people here have become obedient after witnessing so many atrocities committed against ‘violators’ of their edicts,” he said.
Since capturing Raqqa and declaring it its capital in early 2014, ISIS has banned smoking and music, ordered women to wear the niqab (veil) and prevented those under 45 years old from leaving the city, as well as making men grow beards and wear loose clothes.
The terror group recently banned private internet access in Raqqa in a crackdown on activists exposing its daily atrocities. Users must go to internet cafés operated and monitored by ISIS officials if they want to communicate online.
The ban would obviously affect activists of the social media campaign Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which documents ISIS abuses in the north Syrian city, as well as potential defectors trying to arrange for their safe departure out of the territory.
Many activists consider an ISIS intention to ban television as a veiled excuse to raid houses, pointing out that with less than 4 hours a day of electricity, watching television is a rare luxury.
According to activist Hasan Mousa, ISIS viewed television as a “big danger” to its rule. “All channels are seeking to topple the caliphate and fuel rebellion against the group and even children’s programmes are regarded by ISIS as tools to stir animosity against them,” Mousa said.
“Raqqa, which was classified by CNN as the third most dangerous city in the world, has become another Afghanistan [under the Taliban], if not worse,” he said. “The Taliban banned television and closed down movie theatres.
In Raqqa today, ISIS is following in their footsteps, by shutting down the only movie theatre in the city, and now they are planning to deprive the people of watching television.”
The ISIS media machine has campaigned to discredit satellite television, which they accused of “disseminating lies aimed at destabilising the Islamic caliphate’s peace and security and poisoning the people’s mind”.
Abou Nasser, a school teacher in Raqqa, said ISIS has set up giant screens and publicity boards in the city’s main squares and public centres to promote its ideas, images of force and military victories. “In addition to that, ISIS is circulating two big vehicles in the city’s neighbourhoods where it screens videos of its exploits,” Nasser said.
“The most dangerous thing about the mobile cinema is that the audience is mainly made up of children and a few elderly who have nothing to do and want to pass time,” the educator warned.
A resident of Raqqa, who identified himself as Alaa’ Ibrahim, questioned ISIS’s ability to implement the television ban. “The people would probably spend the whole day of Friday watching television, not only listening to the Quran,” he said.
But if ISIS starts to confiscate satellite dishes and television sets from Raqqa houses, it would mean they were serious about their decision, he noted.
Meanwhile, sources in the city of Shaddadi, an ISIS bastion east of Raqqa, said the group had already imposed the television ban.
“A campaign to remove all the satellite dishes is already under way in Shaddadi under the supervision of ISIS leader Raheel al-Harout,” one source said.
Raqqa appears to be next.