My male friends and family members here in the UK seem to watch a lot of documentaries about the Second World War and Nazi Germany. But that is all in the past. Why dwell on the past when there are horrors happening today that should be of far greater interest and concern? With this thought in mind I did some research about life in the city of Raqqa. My information mainly comes from a diary of a citizen serialized on radio 4.
Imagine if I was a Syrian writing about my life in Raqqa. I would be stoned or beheaded with the label traitor or spy. This is exactly what happened to the poor journalist Ruqia Hassan in September last year. Life in Raqqa has been described by some as “living in a giant prison.”
In January 2014 Diash, or Islamic State took over the city of Raqqa in the east of Syria making it their stronghold and trying to wipe out opposition groups such as FSA and Al Nusra. After a couple of months, IS decided that they needed to control hospitals, clinics and medical supplies in Raqqa. People began to feel threatened: most international organisations left Raqqa and many Syrian doctors fled the country.The way of life IS have created is more horrific and barbaric, to my mind than Hitler’s Germany.
There are checkpoints along the streets and citizens are closely watched. Anyone deemed to be a homosexual or a spy for the West, for instance are rooted out and brutally beheaded or lashed. Images of medieval torture are displayed for all to see but the people have probably become desensitized by what they see on a daily basis. In Raqqa, electricity is sporadic, dependent on how happy the militants are with the people’s adherence to their rules.
Everyone must conform to Sharia law and the punishment for breaking the law or speaking counter opinions and ideas is a visit to the religious police headquarters. Women are stoned for adultery and punished if they don’t wear the full face veil in public. The internet has been banned and cyber cafes have closed down. Mobiles are banned. Music is banned. Contact with the outside world is very hard. Those caught fleeing are severely punished. Doctors treating female patients are sacked then locked up. And men can nolonger gather in the squares after Friday prayers for a chat.
Most people don’t go out on the streets at night. It’s too dangerous and there are airstrikes from Government forces. IS take money from shop owners as ‘charity’ money, forcing them out of business. Food is too expensive to buy. A tomato costs 400 Syrian pounds. People are butchered in the streets, their heads cut off and left outside their families home. Anyone with links to the 2011 Revolution is killed. There’s a ban on smoking and a ban on owning a TV. Men can be arrested for wearing trousers that are too long and sent on a course in Sharia law.
We are very lucky to live in the West. If I lived in Raqqa I wouldn’t have been able to write the two books I’ve written and Diash would certainly disapprove of the controversial content.
My book links: