Over the last three years the ISIL propaganda machine has relentlessly published images and videos of the obscene punishments it mets out to those that have transgressed the organisation’s rules.
The mainstream press has arguably, at the beginning of ISIL’s rampage through Iraq and Syria at least, aided their cause by republishing all but the most graphic content from sources such as the online magazine Nabiq. The images are hard to avoid.
The punishments are handed down to instil fear in the local populations. The dissemination of the evidence designed to frighten ISIL’s enemies and inspire and recruit its sympathisers. Men accused of homosexuality are thrown from tall buildings. Apostates are crucified and their bodies left in public squares. Suspected spies are beheaded. Adulterers stoned. Thieves endure amputations, smokers lashings.
In the ISIL propaganda, these crimes are witnessed by large crowds, seemingly supportive of this ‘justice’. In reality, as has been reported regularly since the extremists took control of towns and cities by resistance such as Mosul Eye and Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, these citizens have been forced to attend.
Since operations to liberate Mosul began in October, it has been possible to hear testimony from large numbers of those citizens. And as Médecins Sans Frontières reports today, there is a mental health crisis, which will stretch MSF and other NGOs to the limit.
Bilal Budair, MSF mental health manager in Erbil, points out that the mere necessity to flee home is a trauma in itself: “They have endured two years of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) occupation of their town or villages, airstrikes, Iraqi forces fighting ISIL, fleeing for their lives and arriving in a displaced persons camp.
“These people had to leave very quickly, taking nothing with them. And now they find themselves confined in a camp.”
A man in his fifties told a psychiatrist at Khazer camp: “I couldn’t make myself get into the tent. I cried. I’d like them to come and kill me, and everyone in my family. This is like being in a prison. It took me 20 years to build my home. It’s all gone. I’ve got nothing left. Not a single dinar in my pocket.”
The MSF team in Khazer and nearby Hassan Sham camp, home to 30,000 or more displaced Moslawis, have been horrified by the stories they have heard. Stories that appear to confirm testimonies given to Yalla at Debaga camp in June of last year.
The MSF report reveals:
As they listen to what some of their patients have to say, MSF’s psychiatrists are shocked by what they hear and find their accounts hard to believe. Like the parent forced to kill his own child because he used a swearword. But the facts are inescapable when different people recount the same story. The psychiatrists are also seeing patients who would never have considered consulting a psychiatrist before now seeking help.
There is yet another cause of suffering for those displaced in recent months, as they have been first-hand witnesses to fighting in their villages or neighbourhoods. They’ve watched friends or relatives die, like a woman who came to us with her 10-year old son. Her friend’s little girl was killed when a mortar shell fell on their house. She saw the child’s body, and so did her son, who was her friend.
Bilal Budair concludes: “We treat all cases, moderate as well as severe. In fact, MSF is the only aid organisation treating severe cases and providing psychiatric care. We are on-hand to assist people and identify the most vulnerable. We’re here to help them and anyone close to them experiencing difficulties in adapting to the situation.”