Lately, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time trying to keep up with developments in Derna, the city in eastern Libya that has fallen under the control of the Islamic State. I’ve been interviewing people who have recently left the city as well as doing my best to cultivate contacts with those still there who are willing to talk.

Islamist militants often like to claim that they are trying to lead the members of their communities to a purified and more authentic version of Islam, one cleansed of the corrupting influences of the modern age. The new Islamic State rulers in Derna have been following their own version of this agenda, implementing a harsh new social code that runs sharply at odds with many Libyans’ understanding of proper Islamic practice. The militants have outlawed smoking. They’ve enforced tough new rules on public prayer. And they’ve implemented new taxes and fines to finance their newly established Islamic institutions. Though it’s hard to quantify just how unpopular such practices are, it’s clear that many residents have chosen to vote with their feet, leaving their homes in the city for life as penniless refugees rather than submit to Islamic State rule.

One of the most drastic examples of the split between mainstream Libyan thinking and Islamic State policies involves child brides. In October 2014, a group of Libyan and foreign jihadis, who had already been in control of parts of Derna for some time, declared their allegiance to the Islamic State, and since then there appears to have been a notable uptick in the numbers of young girls being married off to older men (though we should probably be a bit cautious about some of the sensationalist reporting in some quarters about a “boom” in child brides in Derna).

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