A paranoid, ideological and revolutionary regime that’s losing on the battlefield is a recipe for infighting and horrendous purges against “traitors.”
“Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice.”
– Maximilien Robbespiere
With its armies routed on the battlefield, and swathes of the country in open revolt, the French revolutionary government of 1793 was in dire trouble. Into the fray stepped a revolutionary faction of Jacobins, republican extremists who established the chillingly named “Committee of Public Safety” to administer brutal control over the fledging republic.
What followed was one of the most notorious bouts of paranoid bloodletting in history.
The government saw plots against the state everywhere and the paranoid could point easily to evidence like the desertion of one of the state’s leading generals, Dumouriez, leaving the army in disarray. The Committee was given sweeping powers to execute anyone deemed a traitor. Anyone who “by their conduct, associations, comments, or writings have shown themselves partisans of tyranny or federalism and enemies of liberty” was to be regarded as a suspect, according to the Law of Suspects passed by a decree of the Committee of Public Safety in 1793.
From September 1793 to June 1794, 16,594 people were executed by guillotine, of which 2,639 were in Paris alone. A further 25,000 people at least were summarily executed across France, plus an uncounted number of murders and assassinations.
This paranoia and the perceived need to mete out brutal justice on enemies of the revolution have obvious parallels to the Islamic State’s regime, which has been steadily losing ground militarily.
As time went on the Terror increased. Towards the end Robespierre executed some of his closest personal friends, key figures in the Jacobin club, including Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins, whose only crime was that they called for a reduction in the terror. Even Desmoulins’ wife Lucille was executed, just for pleading for her husband’s life.
Like Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety, the Islamic State has already shown itself to be ideologically rigid and incapable of hearing pleas for mercy based on sentiment or personal friendship. It already executes jihadists who want to leave.
In May, the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reported dissent and desertions are on the increase in ISIS territory. Fears about infiltration by intelligence agencies are running high.
There are an estimated 10 million people currently under ISIS control. With its forces on the back foot and fears of infiltrators running rampant, a cruel and large scale purge by the Islamic State is a very real possibility.