The author would like to thank Brynjar Lia, Charles Tripp, Truls Tønnessen, and her colleagues at IKOS for valuable input on earlier drafts of this paper
Mosul fell to the extremist Islamic State1 (IS) in the course of a few days between June 4 and 10, 2014, after Iraqi security forces fled the city. This resulted in an exodus of about 400,000 people from the city and the surrounding area.2 During the three years that followed, Mosul's social, political and economic life was transformed by IS and the Iraqi central government's deliberate isolation of the city.
When IS took power in Mosul, the city had around three million inhabitants, a third of whom were students and pupils. These were divided among 2,700 schools and higher education institutions,3 all under the control of IS and cut off from contact with the central ministry of education in Baghdad. IS soon started developing a full-scale reform of the education system from elementary school to the university level. By spring 2015, the group had developed its own curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Despite the resources spent on this reform, it was abandoned by the end of 2015.
This article investigates the ways in which some of Mosul's teachers, students and parents sabotaged, bargained with and influenced the implementation of IS educational reform. To understand this reaction, it is necessary to first present its main characteristics. The reform was likely to have been abandoned regardless of civilians' response, owing to the escalating military pressure on IS and financial constraints. However, the data presented below suggest that civilian resistance did make the implementation of the reform more difficult. The strength of the educational institutions in place at the time of IS's arrival may have influenced the willingness and ability of Mosul's civilians' to resist IS rule.
Little scholarly research has been done on the nature and dynamics of the institution-building efforts of IS as experienced by the local population. With some notable exceptions,4 research and policy reports have focused on the vast amounts of available IS propaganda, while comprehensive studies of lived realities are lacking. Many on-the-ground reports are from Syria's Raqqa province, although Mosul represented the greatest challenge for IS governance in terms of population and complexity. This article is based on 63 interviews with civilians who lived in Mosul under IS rule or up until the group's arrival. Among them, 33 are students, teachers, lecturers, headmasters, professors and administrators, parents of school children, and high-ranking officials in the Ninawa province. The remaining 30 are civilians who lived for two months to three years in Mosul under IS rule.5 The article draws on leaked administrative documents issued by IS concerning education,6 the IS curriculum, propaganda videos and articles, as well as local and international media and NGO reports. The interviews were semi-structured, lasting between 30 minutes and two hours, conducted in Baharka and Debaga refugee camps, and in private homes or public offices in Erbil and Duhok in October and November 2016. Six of them were still in Mosul at the time of the interview, and some were conducted via telephone or social media.
The informants were selected on the basis of snowball sampling, using respondents to recruit other respondents. The security situation in Iraq affects the availability and sometimes the trustworthiness of informants. The rest were refugees from IS-controlled areas at the time of their interviews. In an atmosphere of harsh repercussions against IS-supporters, there is the possibility of an anti-IS bias in their answers. This, however, did not stop informants from describing what they saw as positive aspects of IS rule. By triangulating the interviews with other sources, I have tried to minimize this risk of bias. More empirically based research is sorely needed to shed light on civilians' experiences of rebel governance in general and in Mosul in particular. This study's findings should be seen only as preliminary indications of the dynamics of IS-civilian relations in the Mosul area.
EDUCATION IN MOSUL BEFORE IS
While in some cases education is not a priority on a rebel group's agenda, sometimes it is seen as a crucial arena for long-term ideological influence over a civilian population.7 The latter, of which IS is a clear example, is often characterized by a strong ideological commitment and a relatively firm control on territory, justifying the prioritization of resources needed for real education reform. When rebels do take control over institutions such as education, communities with high-quality pre-existing institutions are far more likely to resist rebel groups than communities with low-quality institutions, according to some studies.8
Measuring the strength of existing institutions is far from straightforward. However, three indicators are salient: stability, rule enforcement and perceived legitimacy. Strong institutions survive the passage of time and changes in the conditions under which they were created.9 They also have the discipline and capacity to enforce rules and regulations. Prior to 1991, Iraq's education system was widely regarded as one of the best in the Middle East,10 although highly politicized. Education became a top political priority in the 1970s, when the right of free access to schools and universities was stipulated in the constitution. Under Saddam Hussein, government spending on education was the most generous in the region, resulting in the highest enrollment rates in the Middle East and the near eradication of illiteracy in the 1980s.
Since then, war, international sanctions and economic crises have reversed many of Iraq's advances. The heaviest blow to education was the U.S. invasion of 2003 and the ensuing war, which led to the destruction of much of the education infrastructure11 and large numbers of internal refugees being cut off from education. The Iraqi curriculum is still a political and religious battleground in some ways,12 and the education system — like other Iraqi institutions — suffers from years of insufficient funding, corruption and a lack of modernization.13
Despite these hardships, I argue that the educational institutions that IS attempted to take over in Mosul were relatively strong considering the context. Iraq has managed to reverse some of the setbacks since 2003. Enrollment in primary education has grown at record speed in the past decade and was back at 90 percent in 2011, while enrollment in secondary education grew from 49.2 percent in 2000 to 79.1 percent in 2013.14 In Mosul, the main university and most of the schools had remained functional throughout the civil war. Mosul University was widely regarded as an important educational center in the Middle East prior to 2014, and until 2003 was a study destination for students from other countries in the region. The teacher informants in this article describe a tightly knit collective of dedicated colleagues organized in teachers' unions. During and after IS's hold on the city, makeshift "campuses" were organized by exiled Mosul University staff members in Duhok, Erbil, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities for internally displaced students to avoid interrupting their studies.15 The continuity of universally available education in the city during the recent circumstances attests to a significant degree of institutional stability.
The perceived legitimacy of institutions is also important in assessing their strength; it indicates people's willingness to defend them. Comprehensive data on this is lacking, but my informants stressed how the historic importance of education is a part of the identity of Maslawis (residents of Mosul), regardless of the use and abuse of these institutions by changing political regimes.16 The informants from the city center emphasized that this differentiated them from the "simple village people" in rural areas. The informants from villages surrounding Mosul expressed their belief that schooling for their children was a top priority, even in wartime. This is not to say that schools and universities were seen as infallible; far from it. Yet, despite recognizing their problems, this does not seem to diminish the informants' general respect for the schools and universities and their eagerness to enroll in them.
The relative solidity of the educational institutions should be seen in relation to Mosul's vital civil society, which supplemented limited governmental funding for institutions and bolstered their strength. Mara Revkin has suggested in her studies on IS state building that this feature may have provided more fertile ground for resistance in Mosul than, for example, Syria's Raqqa province.17 Following Mosul's liberation from IS in 2017 and the widespread destruction it entailed, a large-scale grassroots-driven initiative to rebuild the university was launched by civil-society groups.18 A festival of books was arranged on campus, followed by a successful international campaign to collect books and restore the university's looted and burned libraries.19 Courses were resumed in the various faculties while they were still in ruins. Driven largely by students and teachers, without any substantial support from the authorities, this indicates the existence of a potent civil society with the will and capacity to organize despite the authorities in place at a given time. Dozens of similar campaigns were launched in other sectors of society. According to Sarah D. Shields in Mosul before Iraq, the adaptability of the city's population to political realities has characterized Mosul since the Ottoman period.20 Many of the informants mention this historical legacy when explaining their resistance to IS's education reform.
THE IS PLAN
Schools and universities are central to the IS narrative of successful state building. The group underlines how their efforts in this sector prove that IS is, in fact, a state and not merely an organization.21 It describes education as more important than military efforts for effective long-term rule:
And the education system is of no less importance than the military sector, but actually is greater in influence than the military sector, for the military sector has been put in place to subjugate the people to the ṭaghut [idolatry] by iron and fire, while the education system has been put in place to do away with the signs of the religion, make people support the taghut, and ingrain its ideas and principles through persuasion and instruction.22
Education is described as "the gate through which organizations enter to spread their principles, establish the pillars of their rule and secure the loyalty of the people and their support for them."23 Education under the old Iraqi and Syrian regimes is portrayed as destructive sacrilegious indoctrination; being educated in the "infidel" schools of the previous regimes is, in fact, described as a fate worse than death.24 This is contrasted with the new IS education system, where children's only stated wish is to become mujahidin for the Islamic State, learning to reject infidel rulers.25 In the new IS schools, there is no room for "usury interests, principles of nationalism, racism, pseudo-historical events or geographical divisions that also contravene Islamic Sharia."26 Educational institutions, then, are seen as an important arena of unwanted ideological and political ideas, such as Baathism and nationalism, to be replaced with IS's brand of militant Salafi jihadism. Rather than valuing education in itself, it is ultimately seen as a tool for the caliphate's military survival and expansion.
In Mosul, the group's urgency to control the education system became clear when high-ranking IS members summoned the teachers at Mosul University to a meeting only a few weeks after the takeover of the city.27 Among the delegates present was IS education minister Dhu al-Qarnayn and Khaled Jamil Muhammad, a Maslawi appointed the new president of the university.28 The aim of the meeting was to design a plan for a new all-encompassing education system under IS to produce well-educated, useful and modern Muslims to serve the Islamic State. One teacher who attended the meeting recounts it in the following way:
They came armed, the room was packed with people. They asked the teachers to propose ideas on how to reform the education system, and some did. One professor, for example, proposed that they could teach more Asian languages, because of the number of Muslims from Asian countries. This suggestion was well received by IS; they liked the idea.29
On paper, the IS regulations in Ninawa province are identical to the system the group has claimed to be implementing in Syria's Raqqa province. While Raqqa has sometimes been termed the testing ground for new aspects of IS governance,30 Mosul was undoubtedly the greatest challenge in the realm of education. The pillars of its educational reform in Mosul were the following: Restructuring the education directorate, changing the content of courses and curriculum, and gearing education towards IS's military needs.31 The group introduced school fees, gender segregation and strict dress codes.
While certain decisions were made at the local level and varied accordingly, such as regarding fees, curriculum reform was overseen by the diwan al-talim, the IS education ministry in Mosul. IS painted a picture of running a full-fledged ministry of education in Mosul, and minutes from a meeting in June 2015 even encouraged people to submit applications for jobs under the diwan al-talim.32 My interviews indicate, however, that the education administration was reduced to its very basic functions under the group's rule. This was in part due to many employees fleeing Mosul or boycotting the new rule, and in part because IS itself greatly reduced the capacity and workload of the directorate. An employee in the education directorate of Mosul described how their work changed after IS arrived:
... most of our normal tasks stopped, and they replaced the name with diwan al-talim. Other than that, they just came and went now and then, just a few people, around 20, they did not stay there all the time. They were just supervising us and showing that they were in control; they did not replace us or move us.33
This echoes the situation in other directorates taken over by IS, which were either shut down or greatly reduced. Most of the directorates — with the exception of health, education, water, electricity and sewage — were closed down and their buildings repurposed as jails, storage and other functions deemed more crucial by the Islamic State.
Both IS propaganda videos and administrative documents show that IS intended to enroll all teachers in their territories in mandatory "repentance" sessions, in which each teacher was forced to confirm their allegiance to Islamic State doctrine, abjuring any sympathies for the existing regimes.34 Repentance was mandatory for everyone associated with education:
The repentance will be carried out for all those who worked in the prior education system (director, supervisor, deputy director, temporaries, fixed, non-fixed, retired, employment of youth, employee, guard). And similarly for teachers in the universities and institutes.35
Among my informants from Mosul and surrounding villages under IS control, none reported that they had been called to any formal repentance session. This is supported by the absence of such sessions in IS propaganda directly mentioning Mosul. The informants describe how IS representatives briefly visited each primary and secondary school in the weeks following June 2014 and gave general instructions to focus the teaching on religion and abolish certain subjects.
At the university level, new deans sympathizing with IS were appointed in some faculties.36 All courses teaching art, philosophy, music, social studies, history, religion, sports and psychology were shut down immediately.37 The medical faculties of both Mosul and Raqqa were prioritized above all others. In Mosul, only the medical faculties (medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry) and the science faculties (chemistry, physics, biology) stayed open under IS. In its propaganda, the group claimed to have completely restructured medical education in Mosul and Raqqa, scrapping "superfluous subjects that are irrelevant to a physician's day-to-day work,"38 reducing the length of medical studies from six to three years. While IS presents this as their own creation, it is a truncated version of the medical curriculum already in place. IS's interest in medical education may be explained by the pressing need for a stable supply of doctors to treat wounded soldiers, as many doctors had been among the first refugees to leave the city following June 2014. IS's reformed medical studies never materialized in Mosul, but the group announced a shortening of the medical studies from six to five years. This was not implemented in practice, because of the closing of the university shortly afterward.39 The general neglect of the university indicates that the group did not prioritize higher education apart from medicine and science. IS had a more ideological approach to primary, secondary and tertiary levels, as seen in the group's new curricula.
Until the fall of 2015, after what IS termed a "transitional school year,"40 the existing official curriculum was retained. Teaching continued with a reduced version and only limited supervision by IS. During the transitional school year, an IS-appointed committee of around 50 local teachers developed more than 60 school books under the strict supervision of Dhu al-Qarnayn. In addition to the books, IS developed several educational videos and mobile applications for children.41 According to informants present at the university, the majority of the teachers participated in the committee against their will, while some sympathized with the IS ideology and educational project.42 When the curriculum was completed after nine months, books were not handed out in hard copies but given to teachers in pdf format on CDs for the pupils to print at their own cost. The purpose of the books is spelled out in the introduction to each copy:
We hereby lay down the first building block of an Islamic education, based on [this] curriculum, guided by the prophecy and the understanding of the first righteous ancestors and their original flock, and a clear vision which is not eastern nor western, but Quranic and prophetic, far from the whims, the untruths and the errors of calls to socialism in the East or capitalism in the West, or the agents of the [political] parties and errant curriculum in various corners of the Earth. 43
IS devoted nearly a year to the development of new schoolbooks, which paint a picture of a holistic worldview, with references to the ideology, militarism and political project of IS throughout. Most of these books never saw the light of day in any classroom, as school attendance decreased for reasons detailed below. They do, however, provide a window into IS's educational ambitions and its vision of what an idealized inhabitant of its state should learn. The religion books make up a large part of the curriculum, revolving around direct reading of the Quran and Hadith, often without tafsir, the traditional comments that contextualize their meaning historically. Throughout the books are instructions to the teachers to recite verses from the Quran. Anashid, or hymns composed by IS, are an important part of the readings. One of the texts for the second class hails the children of the caliphate as "cubs," the next generation of fighters.44
Most of the textbooks have a clear militaristic stamp, with pictures of Kalashnikovs, guns and tanks even in sections unrelated to combat such as geology. In mathematics, the pupils are taught to multiply tanks and guns, recognize the shape of fighter jets, rockets and bazookas, and count bullets and IS flags. IS has its own textbook for the secondary level to teach the visual programming language Scratch, with examples of how to create videos of fighting scenes.45
Physical exercise, history and Islamic studies were removed in the transitional period and replaced with IS versions after the new curriculum was ready, with physical exercise for boys changed to military training.46 In line with other IS propaganda, much effort was put into the books' visual design, with some teachers describing it as "more modern-looking" than the official Iraqi curriculum.47 The content does not fall short of the state curriculum in terms of complexity and progress for the different levels. In fact, the religion books intended for 6-year-olds were deemed too complex for their age level by teachers interviewed. Young children are expected to read complex Quranic texts and delve into the concepts of Islamic jurisprudence. Simultaneously, children at the same level are taught how to read and write letters in a different textbook. Many of the teachers criticized what they saw as IS's lack of understanding of pedagogy, as these comments from a Mosul headmaster show:
A pupil in the first class can hardly read the letters, how can he read long paragraphs from the Quran? It is beyond the children's abilities; it doesn't do anything for them and is just a waste of time.48
The bulk of modern history is scrapped in the new curriculum in favor of a focus on the prophet Muhammad's lifetime.49 History is portrayed as naturally culminating in the Islamic State. A number of the books are less clearly tied to the IS political project. In the course al-adab al-sharaia,50 the children are taught good manners. The course al-ulum encompasses subjects as diverse as the organs of the human body, family structure, mosques, housing, healthy food, animals, plants, illness, and how to brush your teeth with a mishwak, a wooden pick.51 Environmental awareness and the importance of eating enough vegetables are underlined. The course al-jaghrafiyya focuses on topography and natural phenomena.52
The schoolbooks are characterized by piecemeal use of various Islamic and Salafi sources. They target nationalism and democracy as un-Islamic and dismiss the traditional Sunni schools of law, promoting one monolithic Islam devoid of ijtihad, independent reasoning. All subjects are written with the clear aim of justifying and legitimizing the building of the "caliphate" and the use of violence against deviants, including Muslims, as explained in the context of the apocalypse.
As shown above, the IS educational reform plan in Mosul was ambitious and wide-ranging. On the ground, it soon ran into practical challenges, such as some Maslawis' unwillingness to implement it in the classroom.
Civilian resistance to the new IS educational program took different and overlapping forms that can be summarized as follows, loosely based on Shane Joshua Barter's categories of civilian resistance in war:53 everyday resistance, engagement and defiance. While defiance is open opposition to the rulers, everyday resistance and engagement go beyond the simplistic dichotomy of opposition versus collaboration. These are more subtle "weapons of the weak," to use James Scott's term.
Everyday Resistance. The vast majority of the resistance to IS's education system was what I call everyday resistance. Decisions to act were taken either by single individuals or by small groups in discrete conversations with colleagues and friends in private or in school corridors. Everyday resistance54 is a covert form of defiance that does not require coordination and is less risky than overt defiance.
The most striking form of everyday resistance is the sudden fall in school attendance. According to my informants, a majority of the pupils and students stopped attending classes during the first months of IS's attempted reform. The majority of the teachers interviewed report that most of their colleagues did not attend class unless they were directly threatened with repercussions by IS.55 These observations are bolstered by a number of other reports from the ground.56 Some teachers in Mosul and the surrounding areas are reported to have actively worked with IS, but these reports are exceptions.57 Several factors contributed to the dramatic reduction in school attendance. The cutting of teachers' salaries in 201558 made it economically difficult for teachers to work. IS did not pay salaries to teachers independently of the central government in Baghdad. According to the education directorate in Mosul, approximately 3,000 teachers decided to retire early after IS took control of the city.59 It is noteworthy, however, that the teachers' attendance decreased while the teachers were still receiving their salaries. The emptying of Mosul's classrooms had started during the transitional school year. Among the teachers I interviewed, only four remained on the job after the transitional year. Many report that the 2015-16 school year saw mostly children of IS members or sympathizers attending classes. The same trend is as clear in primary and secondary education as at the university level. There are some reports of teachers' organizing secret private classes in their own homes to avoid teaching the IS curriculum.60 Teachers who were forced to attend work told students they trusted not to come to classes. As the number of pupils and students fell, teachers used this in meetings with IS as arguments for shutting down the schools and faculties. A former medical student at the university recounts:
The teachers told us not to care about IS, to just focus on our old curriculum and keep studying and go home, keep away from IS. They told us that they were forced to teach us, and they intended to leave at the first opportunity. And many did. 61
The teachers who decided to stay at home, did so without directly confronting IS. Teachers described it as a "closed circle":
Our opposition to daesh was secret, it was a closed circle between the teachers, the pupils, the supervisor and the headmaster. We only told the pupils who we trust to not come to school. If that information was passed on to daesh, they would have beheaded us immediately. They used to hang people they had killed from the bridge.62
The acts that I categorize as "everyday resistance" were not established through any formal agreements among teachers and students but often agreed upon in private conversations. The account of a primary-school teacher in the outskirts of Mosul is representative of my informants' description of this process:
Most of the teachers in our school and the other schools in our district agreed to stop teaching. How can I teach the son of a friend how to kill and how to bomb himself? We did not have a meeting about this among the teachers, but we talked about it. We did not say it directly to daesh of course, because, as you know, they are not human. Everyone said that they would not teach. I would not do it even if they killed me. I will not commit their sins.63
At the university level, IS was met with a similar silent response, starting at the initial meeting on campus. Several meetings were held in the university library to plan the new IS curriculum, with only a handful of teachers attending despite the threat of sanctions if they did not. One of the university teachers present at the meeting recounted in my interview,
Some [of my colleagues] did not attend the meeting, and some had already fled the city. [IS's president of the university] asked the scholars and the teachers to give their advice on how to develop the education and the school books. In the beginning, they were friendly towards us teachers. At first, they tried to co-opt us and make us cooperate. They sent someone who was a professor and who had joined IS; he went to all the teachers and tried to convince us to work for them. He argued that it was important for the sake of our children's future.64
This initial friendliness faded when it became clear that none of the teachers would volunteer to develop the new IS curriculum. IS eventually forcibly appointed a committee. On several occasions, IS officials scolded teachers who skipped classes, threatening to kill them and burn their homes with their families inside.65 On some occasions, IS officials posted written warnings that the teachers who failed to go to work would be executed for treason, and a list with the names of teachers who refrained from working.66 The teachers who were personally threatened with punishment most often followed orders and returned to school for a time, and then stopped attending again.67 In some cases, IS would withhold parts of the salaries of the teachers who did not come to work. The salaries of public employees in Mosul, including the teachers, were paid by the Iraqi government until they stopped in 2015 as part of the government's economic blockade of IS areas. An administrative employee in education in greater Mosul recounts,
Deciding not to teach was a tough response, also economically — daesh cut the salaries of those who did not go to work, by fifty thousand dinar. The economic situation of the teachers was already very bad, so they suffered because of their tough response to daesh. But we did not want to do what they wanted and take their money.68
At the beginning of November 2015,69 Dhu al-Qarnayn summoned the teachers in Mosul's primary schools to a meeting in the directorate of education. Here, he repeated the obligation of all children to attend school, threatening violent repercussions for those who refused.70 The calls to attend school were repeated several times in mosques and on posters in the city. According to one of my interviewees, several dozen teachers were arrested during this initial period because of the lack of pupils in the classrooms.71 Later in November 2015, yet another meeting with Dhu al-Qarnayn took place in the directorate of education, to which parents were invited. The tone was now more demanding. Al-Qarnayn warned the parents, emphasizing that it was a religious duty to send their children to the IS-run schools.72
These reactions from IS show that the group was aware of the teachers' unwillingness to comply with their rule, despite efforts to avoid direct confrontations. Equally, IS was aware of the possibility that university students would organize against their rule and recruited informants as spies.73 One medical student, a representative for her level, recounts how she was taken to an IS court and accused of plotting against IS in a Facebook group:
They said the people in our group were likely to organize a rally against them and I was one of the accused. […] It was just a normal group, but daesh was scared and wanted to stop all gatherings of students. They arrested some members of our group, who were imprisoned and tortured for 11 days. I managed to avoid getting arrested. I was only taken to a daesh court and questioned by a judge. He looked very nervous. He did not find proof against me, and my position was somewhat strong. Then he tried to get out of me any information about opposition to daesh among my colleagues. […] They were scared of us because we were young men and women and they often heard talk against daesh. They thought that if this continued there was a risk that we would rise up against them.74
Engagement. When teachers or students were personally confronted by IS officials in formal or informal meetings, many actively engaged and bargained with IS to avoid implementing the changes. Instead of succumbing to IS demands or flat-out refusing them, they found excuses. One professor argued in front of IS that he was not competent to write the IS schoolbooks that they requested him to:
I said "No, I cannot do it because I am a researcher, a teacher, I am not someone who writes books for students." In the end, they let it go, they forced some of the other teachers to do it.75
In one school, the teachers argued against IS's imposition of the hijab on girls from the first grade of primary school. The arguments led IS to abandon this requirement for the youngest girls. The headmaster of the school in question recounted,
We tried to negotiate in a clever way. For example, we said that it is difficult to make the small girls wear the hijab; they would only take it off. So [IS] agreed that the first and second class were exempted from the hijab. Of course, we knew that it was not right to force the hijab on the bigger girls either. 76
Several teachers were approached by IS members and asked to use the curriculum for IS military purposes on the battlefield. The leader of a high school described one such meeting:
They tried to pressure us into making changes, but we tried to respond in a clever way. For example, if they tried to make us use some machine or electricity for their purpose, we said: "This is not possible, the machine has limits, we cannot do anything about that." We blamed it on the science and said that it was not in our hands. And IS accepted this, they had no other choice, because the IS people had a low level of education and did not really understand anything of science.77
The students who remained on campus had little direct contact with IS except when they were rebuked for violating the dress code or sex segregation. When students were arrested on campus, they and their fellow students often tried to escape by bargaining. A medical student recounts,
One time a man from the hisba came into the cafeteria and arrested a student for wearing too-tight trousers. The student tried to convince him that it was his body that was fat, not the trousers that were too tight. When someone was arrested by the hisba, other students would try to negotiate with them and say that they did not break the rules, or complain that their rules changed every day. Some told them that our Prophet did not like the color black that they imposed on us.78
Sometimes the negotiation attempts were successful, other times not. Nevertheless, these and other examples indicate that the teachers and students did have some influence against IS, knowing the workings of the education system and using personal relations with colleagues and friends. As in other sectors of society, IS was depending on the local teachers' goodwill and know-how in running education, often lacking the expertise themselves. While changing the curriculum in primary and secondary levels is achievable, especially with the help of local teachers, creating new content for the range of subjects taught at the university level is next to impossible. Knowing this, the university lecturers interviewed in my study ignored IS's instructions as long as they were not personally threatened with sanctions.
With some exceptions, the content of university classes was left untouched by IS. Some IS officials were installed in leading positions at the university, but almost never as teachers. IS advertised for university lecturers in mosques, which indicates that they had the intention to replace some of the academic staff.79 The few attempts that were made to install IS-friendly lecturers, however, were not respected by the academic staff. Many of the lecturers describe IS's attempts to teach at higher levels and run a university as "a laughing matter."80 The headmaster at a technical college lamented that one of his former students, who had failed almost all his courses, had returned to the school as an IS member and was put in charge of a whole department.81
Most of the university eventually stopped functioning, except the medical faculties. Parts of the campus were repurposed to store and manufacture weapons;82 other parts were turned into a headquarters, which led the coalition to bomb it several times in the course of 2016.83 At the time when the university was closed following several rounds of bombing by the coalition against IS in November 2016, only a handful of students and lecturers were still attending — lecturers who IS forced to attend and students who sympathized with the group. The university remained closed after November 2016. Most of the remaining facilities seem to have been destroyed by IS fighters.84
Defiance. Defiance includes the most visible and risky form of resistance: direct confrontations to challenge the armed group or mobilize public opinion.85 According to a UN report, a number of teachers were killed for refusing to change the curriculum to conform to IS ideology. For instance, four teachers were abducted from a college in Mosul in January 2015 because they opposed the IS reform. A primary-school teacher in Tel Afar was executed for the same reason.86 The persecution of noncomplying teachers was not systematic, but widely announced when it did occur.
Several of the informants recounted stories of colleagues who were killed for their open opposition to IS. One was primary-school teacher Ashwaq al-Naimi, who was publically executed by IS on September 17, 2014, for refusing to follow IS teaching instructions.87 Ashwaq al-Naimi is now referred to on social media and news as a martyr and an icon of Mosul's resistance.88 According to my informants and news reports of the incident, she criticized IS teaching instructions in front of her pupils in the girls' school where she worked,89 refusing to teach what she called racist thoughts. A university friend and colleague of al-Naimi recounted the incident in the following way:
She told her students: "This curriculum is not suitable for the people of Mosul. The people of Mosul are educated (muthaqqafa), we love life, and we live together, all the different sects side by side, with our Christian brothers and our Yezidi brothers."90
Al-Naimi's classroom speech soon reached IS ears as one of her pupils reported it to her parents, who then informed the IS police. Al-Naimi was arrested and executed by a gunshot to the head a few days later; it was filmed and broadcast online. She had been given the opportunity to repent in front of an IS court, but declined. Al-Naimi's colleague describes the impact of the killing among the teachers:
It was a very painful event, bringing everyone into a state of strong grief. This turned many people against daesh; they kept this event in their hearts. It showed what daesh's path truly is: killing.91
Many university students describe direct confrontations with the IS hisba on campus, for example concerning the dress codes. One medical student described how he and his friends went many times to protest the rules:
The female students had problems doing the studies because they had to wear a niqab and gloves. We went to the hisba at campus and told them that this was not right, we have our rights, they should not force people to behave in a way they did not want. They told us to not worry about this and focus on our studies.92
Some residents explained their lack of attendance at IS-run schools by referring to their own and their children's personal security in a situation with coalition air raids. They did not intend to subvert the Islamic State. These informants account for less than one-fifth of my interviews, and they were exclusively from villages in the greater Mosul area, not the main city.93
WHY DID THIS OCCUR IN MOSUL?
In their interviews, informants expressed a clear rationale for opposing IS education. Parents and teachers rejected the idea that IS's violent ideology, which they describe as immoral and un-Islamic, be planted in their children's and students' minds. They argued that the IS education system did not represent the values of the people of Mosul. University students saw IS as an anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge movement that would only have a destructive effect on their learning and on the city's higher-education institutions because of its ignorance and incompetence.94 The stated goal of these acts of resistance was clear: to subvert the IS attempt to control education, even if it meant that the whole system would grind to a halt for the foreseeable future. Although initially the IS takeover was met with careful optimism and anticipation by many Maslawis, this was soon replaced by fear and disbelief when the full scope of its brutal rule became evident.95 At the time that IS introduced its new curriculum, approximately one year after the take-over, little of the initial support was left. This quote from one Mosul professor is typical for how the informants narrate the turn of events and their own role:
[W]hen [IS] went into Mosul, this ancient city known for its uniqueness, its traditions, and especially its scientific traditions, with its rich educational environment, it took them by surprise. They decided to use all these things and invest them in the construction of their caliphate. They thought these existing institutions and organizations were ideal to spread their thoughts. But they did not count on the response of Mosul society to their plan — from the inhabitants, from the educational staff, from the students themselves, even from some children, and especially from the families and the parents. Maslawis' tough response turned IS's plan to use the education system into a failure.96
Considering the general IS crackdown on opposition in Mosul, it would have been reasonable to expect a collective-action problem in the realm of education. Although there was a consensus among the informants that IS's education was destructive, one might expect that no individual would act because of the risk involved of imprisonment or execution.97 Research suggests that paying the costs involved in collective resistance is justified when armed groups significantly threaten the institutional status quo that civilians want to preserve.98 Strong institutions provide bargaining power; civilians can threaten, even implicitly, the potential for collective action.99 Teachers, students and parents in Mosul reported that they were influenced by the acts of others. As a manager at the education directorate in Mosul recounted:
I did not let my son go to school, because I knew how their education was. It is racist thinking, it is about forcing everyone into one path. They were teaching children how to use weapons. Because of this, the parents kept their children at home. I was working in the education directorate, so people were influenced by my decision to not let my son go. Then they decided to do the same.100
The findings suggest that the strength of Mosul's educational institutions was greater than IS's capacity and organizational strength to change them. My interviews show that the implementation of the IS educational reform was highly dependent on which IS member was sent to do the job. This was true in the cases of clothing restrictions, dealing with opposing teachers and implementing changes in the classroom. It is well-documented that both Iraqis and foreigners had a wide range of reasons for working with IS. While some were driven by ideological and religious conviction, others worked with the group for predominantly economic reasons and the lack of alternatives. As Barbara F. Walter has shown, average citizens may be inclined to support an extremist group if they believe it will win the war, regardless of their own convictions.101 The mix of foreign and local recruits with different motivations creates organizational challenges for IS.102 This not only underlines the problems of seeing IS as a monolithic organization. It also suggests that extremist organizations run the risk of encountering civilian resistance when met with relatively strong and locally grounded institutions.
The scope of rebel interference, another factor influencing resistance, according to Arjona, is prominent in the case of Mosul. Rather than gradually changing the education curriculum and involving the teachers, IS violently imposed its all-encompassing plan, erasing many years of carefully developed curricula with the stroke of a pen to create the next generation of jihadis. Both teachers and parents feared that IS's indoctrination attempts could have immediate and irreversible effects on the children. According to their accounts, this prompted a determined and quick response.
By restructuring the educational administration, changing the content of classes and militarizing instruction, IS set out to turn Mosul's educational institutions into a vehicle for their own political and military project. This article has detailed how IS met civilian resistance from parts of Mosul's population in its attempt to implement this in the city's classrooms. The civil-war context and the group's worsening financial situation were decisive factors in explaining why the reform was drawn to a halt before being fully realized. My data suggest that civilian resistance in the education sector also influenced IS's implementation of its reform to some degree. The findings support Ana Arjona's theory that the success or failure of rebel institution building is influenced by the strength of institutions in place when a rebel group arrives. The educational institutions in Mosul have maintained a level of strength and popularity despite difficult circumstances under shifting regimes. This, along with the scope of IS's reform plans, may have created fertile ground for civilian resistance in the classrooms and school corridors of the so-called caliphate.
1 I use the name taken by the group following its announcement of a "caliphate" in June 2014. The group has also been known as ISI, ISIL and ISIS. In the interviews in this article, the informants use the name dāʿish, or daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham.
2 International Organization of Migration estimated 375,354 displaced persons from Mosul and surrounding areas in June 2014 alone; https://www.iom.int/files/live/sites/iom/files/Country/docs/IOM-Iraq-Mo…. The military operation to retake Mosul that started in October 2016 displaced a further 400,000, putting the total number of people displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas at more than 800,000.
3 Muhammad Ali, general director of education in the Ninawa region; interview conducted by Ms. Aarseth in Erbil, April 11, 2016.
4 Mara Revkin has done comprehensive studies of various aspects of IS governance. See, for example, Mara Revkin, Does the Islamic State Have a "Social Contract"? Evidence from Iraq and Syria (The Program on Governance and Local Development: Yale University and University of Gothenburg, 2016), 35; and Mara Revkin, The Legal Foundations of the Islamic State (The Brookings Institutions, 2016).
5 Women and men with a range of socioeconomic and professional backgrounds and ages are represented among my informants. Teachers from a range of different school districts in Mosul city and the surrounding areas were interviewed, representing all levels in the Iraqi school system from primary school to university level. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and translated by the author. Civilians are anonymized for their own security.
6 The majority of leaked administrative documents are gathered from Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi's invaluable online archive: http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/01/archive-of-islamic-state-administrat….
7 See Shane Joshua Barter, "The Rebel State in Society: Governance and Accommodation in Aceh, Indonesia," in Rebel Governance in Civil War, eds. Nelson Kasfir, Ana Arjona, and Zachariah Mampilly (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 233-34; Timothy Wickham-Crowley, "Del Gobierno De Abajo Al Gobierno De Arriba…and Back: Transitions to and from Rebel Governance in Latin America, 1956-1990," ibid., 61; William Reno, "Predatory Rebellions and Governance: The National Patriotic Front of Liberia, 1989-1992," ibid.; and Noman Benotman. Nikita Malik, The Children of Islamic State (Quilliam Foundation 2016), 29.
8 Ana Arjona, Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2016): 210.
9 See, for example, Steven Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo, "Variation in Institutional Strength," Annual Review of Political Science 12, no. 1 (2009): 117.
10 UN, "UNESCO National Education Support Strategy 2010-2014," (UNESCO Iraq Office, 2011): 22.
11 Ibid., 28.
12 Adnan Abu Zeed, "Iraqi State Education Increasingly Religious," Al-Monitor (2015), http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/01/iraq-state-education-…; and "Mukhawif min 'ijtithath' durus al-rasm wal-riada wal-musiqa fi madaris al-'iraq," 2012, http://archive.aawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&issueno=12445&article=7…. A complete overhaul of the curriculum is currently underway in collaboration between the Iraqi government and UNICEF; see http://www.manahj.edu.iq/.
13 Adnan Abu Zeed, "Decline of Higher Education in Iraq Continues," Al-Monitor (2016), https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/09/iraq-university-educ….
14 Tragically, the Islamic State and the military offenses against it have again devastated Iraq's education infrastructure and created a historic number of IDPs cut off from education.
15 Christopher Woody, "In the Vicious Fight for Mosul, Isis Turned One of the City's Gems into a Strategic Target," Business Insider (2017), http://nordic.businessinsider.com/pictures-mosul-university-isis-fighti….
16 This point was also made during the rebuilding efforts starting late 2017, for example by the blogger Mosul eye: https://twitter.com/MosulEye/status/933799525180944384.
17 Revkin, Does the Islamic State Have a 'Social Contract'? Evidence from Iraq and Syria.
18 Linah Alsaafin, "Reclaiming Mosul's Vibrant Culture after Isil," Al Jazeera (2017), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/reclaiming-mosul-vibrant-culture-….
19 Ummah Sonic, Ummah Sonic (2017), http://ummahsonic.com/book-festival-mosul-library-isis/.
20 Sarah D. Shields, Mosul before Iraq (State University of New York Press, 2000).
21 "Dabiq No 8," ed. The Islamic State (2015), 65.
22 The Islamic State, "Risala tawdihia fi bayan hukm al-manzuma al-ta'limiyya fil-hukuma al-nusayriyya," 2014, http://www.aymennjawad.org/18600/islamic-state-treatise-on-the-syrian-e…. Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi's translation from Arabic.
24 The Islamic "Dabiq No 8," 35; The Islamic State, "Al-ta'lim fi zill al-khilafa" 2015, https://ia800505.us.archive.org/31/items/ta_rq/ta11.mp4; and the Islamic State, "'Hakadha turbi' al-atfal li-tusbih rijal nasrak allah ya dawlatul-khilafa" online video, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vwtilwN5Ww.
26http://www.aymennjawad.org/15946/aspects-of-islamic-state-is-administra… (Aymenn Jawwad al-Tamimi's translation from Arabic).
27 Author's interviews with teachers from Mosul University.
28 Al-Qarnayn was part of the original Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network in Iraq that was IS's ideological forerunner. See Aymenn al-Tamimi, The Evolution in Islamic State Administration: The Documentary Evidence, vol. 9 (2015).
29 Author's interview with teacher from Mosul University, conducted by phone, December 3, 2017.
30 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, 2015, http://www.aymennjawad.org/15946/aspects-of-islamic-state-is-administra….
31 In addition to education, IS has been conducting programs for forced military training for children. See Max Taylor, John G. Horgan, Mia Bloom, and Charlie Winter, "From Cubs to Lions: A Six-Stage Model of Child Socialization into the Islamic State," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2016); and Malik, "The Children of Islamic State."
32 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, 2015, Specimen 5A, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/01/archive-of-islamic-state-administrat….
33 Author's interview with employee from the education directorate of Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
34 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, 2015, Specimen 3C, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/01/archive-of-islamic-state-administrat…; and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, 2015, Specimen 5A. http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/01/archive-of-islamic-state-administrat…; and "Education in the Shade of the Caliphate," Islamic State Wilayat Raqqa, May 3, 2015, https://ia800505.us.archive.org/31/items/ta_rq/ta1.mp4.
35 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, 2015, Specimen 3B, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/01/archive-of-islamic-state-administrat….
36 Author's interviews of medical students from Mosul University, conducted on social media, June 27, 2017.
37 The Islamic State, "ta'mim ila kafat al-mu'assasat al-tarbawiyya wat-ta'limiyya," 2014, signed by Dhu al-Qarnayn, http://i.huffpost.com/gen/3765150/thumbs/o-6-570.jpg?6; The Islamic State: "Ta'mim ila malakat jami'at al-musul wa al-ma'ahid min al-tadrisin wal-idariin wal-muwazzafin," 2014, https://justpaste.it/mosuluninotice. According to my interview data, the immediate eradication of these courses was carried out as planned.
39 Author's interviews of medical students from Mosul University.
40 The Islamic State, "I'lan wa ta'mim," 2014, https://justpaste.it/ninawaschoolsnotice.
41 The Islamic State, "Maktabat al-himma: taṭbiq al-huruf lil-atfal ma' unshudat al-huruf ra'i'a… alif ba' ta' tha' + at-tahmii," 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS7zJLjuTcI. In this video, intended to teach children the alphabet, the letters are sung in the form of a nashid, associating each letter with a jihadi or Islamic concept.
42 Author's interview of lecturer from Mosul University, conducted on the phone, February 6, 2017.
43 Author's translation from Arabic. This introduction is included in most of the new books, for example, IS', books for science, Qur'an studies and history.
44 The Islamic State, "al-qira', al-saff al-awwal al-ibtia'i."
45 The Islamic State, "Muqaddamat al-barmaja bi-istikhdam skratsh li-kafat sufuf al-marhala al-mutawassita."
46 The Islamic State, "Al-i'dad al-badani, al-mustawa al-awwal."
47 Author's interview with teacher from school in greater Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
48 Author's interview of headmaster from Mosul school, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
49 The Islamic State, "Al-tarikh lil-saff al khamis al-ibtida'i."
50 The Islamic State, "Al-adab al-shara'ia lil-saff al khamis al-ibtida'i."
51 The Islamic State, "Al-'ulum lil-saff al-awwal al-ibtida'i."
52 The Islamic State, "Al-jaghrafiyya lil-saff al khamis al-ibtida'i."
53 Shane Joshua Barter, "Unarmed Forces: Civilian Strategy in Violent Conflicts," Peace & Change 37, no. 4 (2012): 553-58.
54 James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale University Press, 1985).
55 Exact teacher attendance numbers are difficult to establish. The Ninawa educational directorate reports that four out of more than 700 teachers in the IS-held village of Qayyara kept working under IS. (Author's interview with Muhammad Ali, the general director of education in the Ninawa region, conducted in Erbil, November 4, 2016).
56 See, for example, Kinana Qaddour, "Inside Isis' Dynsunctional Schools," Foreign Affairs (2017), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2017-10-13/inside-isis-dy…; and Hosam Al-Jablawi, "A Closer Look at the Educational System of Isis," Atlantic Council (2016), http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/a-closer-look-at-isis-….
57 Author's interview of Muhammad Ali, the general director of education in the Ninawa region, in Erbil, November 4, 2016.
58 The informants report their salaries from the government to have stopped at different times throughout 2015.
59 Author's interview with mid-level manager from the education directorate in Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
60 Author's interview with teachers.
61 Author's interview with former medical student from Mosul University, conducted by phone, October 19, 2016.
62 Author's interview with teacher from village school in greater Mosul, conducted in Debaga camp, October 11, 2016.
63 Author's interview with teacher from school in greater Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
64 Author's interview with lecturer from Mosul University, conducted on the phone, February 6, 2017.
65 Author's interview with lecturer from Mosul University, conducted on the phone, February 6, 2017.
66 "Mosul Eye Report: Education in Mosul under Isil's Rule," (Mosul Eye 2015) ; interviews with teachers and headmasters.
67 Author's interviews with teachers.
68 Author's interview with administrative employee for education in Qayyara, conducted in Debaga camp, October 11, 2016.
69 Mosul "Mosul Eye Report: Education in Mosul under Isil's Rule."
71 Author's interview with mid-level manager from the education directorate in Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
72 Mosul "Mosul Eye Report: Education in Mosul under Isil's Rule."
73 Author's interviews with students from Mosul University.
74 Author's interview with medical student from Mosul University, conducted on social media, June 27, 2017.
76 Author's interview with headmaster from a village school in greater Mosul, conducted in Debaga camp, October 11, 2016.
77 Author's interview with the assistant manager from a high school in Mosul, conducted in Erbil, November 3, 2016.
78 Author's interview with medical student from Mosul University, conducted on social media, June 27, 2017.
80 Author's interview with administrative employee and lecturer from Mosul University, interviewed in Erbil, November 3, 2016.
81 Author's interview with administrative assistant manager from a Mosul high school, conducted in Erbil, November 3, 2016.
82 Campbell MacDiarmid, "Mosul University after Isil: Damaged but Defiant," Al-Jazeera (2017), http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/01/mosul-university-isil….
83 Avi Asher-Schapiro, "The U.S.-Led Coalition Bombed the University of Mosul for Being an Islamic State Headquarters" (2016), https://news.vice.com/article/the-us-led-coalition-bombed-the-universit….
84 MacDiarmid, "Mosul University after ISIL: Damaged But Defiant."
85 Barter, "Unarmed Forces: Civilian Strategy in Violent Conflicts," 553.
86 UN, "Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq: December 11, 2014 - April 30, 2015" (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq – Human Rights Office & Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2015), 24.
88 "Ila al-dumluji: hal ta'rifina man atlaqa al-rasas 'ala ra's al-shahida ashwaq al-naimi?," http://almasalah.com/ar/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsID=65887.
89 "Man hiyya ashwaq al-na'imi. al-mu'allima alati 'adamaha da'ish?," http://www.rudaw.net/NewsDetails.aspx?pageid=178700.
90 Author's interview with history and geography teacher from a Mosul primary school, conducted in Duhok, October 2016.
92 Author's interview with medical student from Mosul University, conducted by phone, October 19, 2016.
93 The apparent rural-urban divide in Islamic State support is beyond the scope of this article, but should be explored in future research.
94 The fact that the central Iraqi government stopped recognizing education from areas under IS control is an additional explanation for why many students eventually stopped attending classes.
95 Revkin, Does the Islamic State Have a "Social Contract"?, 27.
96 Author's interview with administrative employee and lecturer from Mosul University, conducted in Erbil, November 3, 2016.
97 Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second Printing with New Preface and Appendix (Harvard University Press, 1965).
98 See, for example, Ana Arjona, "Civilian Resistance to Rebel Governance," in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Ana Arjona, Nelson Kasfir, and Zachariah Mampilly (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 194.
99Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War, 2.
100 Author's interview with a mid-level manager from the education directorate in Mosul, conducted in Baharka camp, October 18, 2016.
101 Barbara F. Walter, "The Extremist's Advantage in Civil Wars," International Security 42, no. 2 (2017): 8.
102 See, for example, Scott Gates and Sukanya Podder, Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance and the Islamic State, vol. 9 (2015).