‘A clarion call to all of us that we should not give up. Somewhere there is a voice in the wreckage.’ Michael Palin
The Raqqa Diaries began as a series of short broadcasts on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme. Now one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth, no-one is allowed to speak to western journalists or leave Raqqa, without IS’s permission. Those caught breaking the rules face death by beheading.
Despite this, Mike Thomson, with the help of BBC’s Arabic Service, found a young man who is willing to risk his life to tell the world what is happening in his city. Part of a small anti-IS activist group, the diaries were written, encrypted and sent to a third country before being translated.
“The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State” by a young man with the alias of Samer, is a heart-wrenching account of his life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh. He also describes how he escaped from the city and made his way to a refugee camp in northern Syria.
As he said, life was not easy before the war began. The Assad regime had been in place for 40 years or more and many people hoped to see the end of it. However, the rebels were unable to hold Raqqa, which was then overrun by Daesh. Life under the so-called Islamic State was horrific. Samer saw so many dreadful sights – executions, some carried out by children; women being stoned to death; men arrested for wearing their trousers too short.
Under this regime, the people of Raqqa became poorer and more despairing by the day. Many feared for their lives. Men, especially, were suspected of being revolutionaries and there was the daily expectation of being picked up and executed.
I was interested to read that Samer decided to escape from the city that he loves at the insistence of his mother. She was terrified that he would die at the hands of Daesh. Maybe this is the answer to the question that I have heard raised as to why there are so many young men who are fleeing from Syria; their families wish them to survive rather than face the daily prospect of execution.
This is a book that one can read quickly, but it should be read. Lives were risked so that we could have a glimpse of life inside Raqqa. I think we owe it to Samer and all involved in this.
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this harrowing, but important, book.