Islamic State has imposed new dress codes in areas it controls in Syria, forcing women to wear only black clothes and punishing those who don’t obey, according to residents and activist groups.
For IS, any women’s clothing that is not black is considered seductive.
“They [IS] arrested me because my wife and mother had colorful clothes on,” Abu Hassan, a resident from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, told a Syrian opposition website, All4Syria. He disguised his name for fear of retribution.
Abu Hassan said the women were in their house recently when religious police drove by and noticed their colorful clothing.
“They didn’t release me until I paid the equivalent of one gram of gold,” he told All4Syria on Wednesday.
His story could not be independently verified by VOA; but IS prohibits contact with outsiders in areas it controls.
Since gaining control of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, IS has imposed harsh guidelines on civilians, particularly women.
In addition to penalizing women for the way they dress, IS religious police — also known as al-Hisbah, Arabic for “accountability” — have arrested a number of women for hanging laundry on rooftops.
IS “considers anything related to women as tempting for men,” said a resident in the IS de-facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, who insisted on anonymity. He told VOA that in order for his wife and two adult daughters to leave the house, he must accompany them.
He also recalled what happened to his ailing neighbor who let his wife visit her sister in a nearby district with no male escort.
“They gave him 40 lashes in public in addition to several days in prison,” he said.
As the U.S.-led international coalition ramped up its bombing campaign against IS positions in Syria and Iraq, IS recently increased its already strict moral codes, local activists say.
“The bombing campaign has affected Daesh [IS] on so many levels,” said Hussam Eisa, a member of “Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently,” a group that reports on IS abuses in Syria.
Eisa said the U.S.-led coalition, Russian and Syrian government airstrikes against IS have made the group look weak in the eyes in locals. “And therefore, Daesh is desperately taking these measures,” Eisa said, using an Arabic term for IS.
Despite these airstrikes, IS militants have made some advances in government-held areas of oil-rich Deir Ezzor in recent weeks. According to local reports, IS controls much of the area around a military air base that it has besieged for months. (Source: VOA)
In the midst of the global focus on Syria with Turkeys latest offensive putting a big question mark on when the war will end, India has been quietly doing its bit to help the Syrian people cope, and also laying the foundation for its bright future.
It’s not just with medicines and food supplies that India has been helping the war-wracked country, but now with education too.
India is providing scholarships to 1,000 Syrian students to study in Indian universities, in undergraduate, post-graduate courses and even PhD.
Behind the move to provide scholarships to students from Syria is a hope that it would in the near future replicate the success stories from the African continent — where several current or former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Vice Presidents have attended educational or training institutions in India.
Syrian Ambassador to India Riad Abbas thinks so too, and is happy at the move by India.
“India supports Syria in many ways. They support Syrian people with medicine, with food, and this initiative has come from Modiji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) for our students,” Abbas told IANS in an interview.
“Around 1,000 students have come to India to study in different universities and different courses – from Bachelors to Masters to PhD”
“Through this means India is assisting Syria by rebuilding the brain” – here he taps his head with a meaningful smile, “the brain of our people to plant education, science, and peace”.
According to Abbas, it is “the best thing to rebuild humanity and the people”.
Could these students one day become leaders in Syria too?
“Definitely they could become… They will come back to our homeland to rebuild Syria. And maybe they will be in the government in future. They will be like ambassadors of India to Syria and Arab countries,” he said.
Abbas said that all the Syrian students currently studying in India as part of the initiative “are satisfied by the nature of Indian people and the hospitality. They are happy in their universities, and are fully supported by the universities”.
The students are in 11 government and private universities across the country.
Abbas hopes the initiative will become a yearly feature. “I hope we make it every year, if it is possible.
“Because we look forward to enhancing our relationship with India, and we want all our students to get their certificates from India, because Indian education is of a higher level, compared to other countries — similar to the UK and US,” he added.
Another important factor is the students “feel at home” in India due to the cultural affinities.
“There are similar traditions between the two countries and because of this they feel at home.
“Most of our students will come back to our homeland to help their families, their people and to rebuild Syria,” he said.
Though the Western world sees Syria as badly battered and bruised, India sees Damascus as a strong country with a powerful military that has been able to determinedly push back the Islamic State militia, which a few years ago had threatened to overrun the country.
While a few years ago the West was loudly calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, today those voices have accepted his rule.
The Syrian envoy agrees. “Since a long time we have been fighting terrorism on behalf of the world. All terror groups came to Syria by Turkey’s support, they (Ankara) opened the border and facilitated their smuggling into Syria to kill our people and destroy our country.
“But now the last bit is left. We will defeat the terror groups on the ground, which get support from America. It is America which leads the army of mercenaries to fight against our army, and our army has defeated them. So now we are faced with the American army on the ground of Syria. This means that America’s project in the Middle East has failed, because of Syria,” the envoy told IANS.
“They (the West and the US in particular) declared in the past, ‘We will change the government of Syria, we will change the president, we will do like this and that’… It was only talking for talking’s sake. Only they destroyed the country, but they couldn’t achieve their aims to change the Syrian government, and Syrian policy.
“And we are proud of our relation with BRICS countries, and especially with India. We highly appreciate India’s position and the Indian people, and we pray for God to save this country and its people.”
On Syria-India relations, he said: “We have cordial relations with India, since the independence of both countries. Both have similar views in many cases in the international arena.”
He praised India’s stand on the Syrian issue – on support for a political solution in Syria put forward by the people themselves, help realise the aspirations of the Syrian people and stand against any external intervention in Syria.