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 diarist’s father is killed and mother badly injured during an air strike, he is sentenced to 40 lashes for speaking out against a beheading, he sees a woman stoned to death. They show how every aspect of life is impacted – from the spiralling costs of food to dictating the acceptable length of trousers.
At one point, the sale of televisions is banned. As Samer says, ‘it seems it’s not enough to stop us talking to the outside world, now we can’t even look at it.’ Having seen friends and relatives butchered, his community’s life shattered and the local economy ruined by these hate-fuelled extremists, Samer believes he’s fighting back by telling the world what is happening to his beloved city.
Raw, direct and profoundly affecting, The Raqqa Diaries is an important book by a brave young man, which allows unprecedented access to the brutal conditions that many Syrians are living under.
It is so difficult to put into words how important this book is. It tells of how the people of one specific city have been treated under ‘ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/Daesh’.
We see stories on the news regularly about how the west is bombing Syria, trying to ‘help’ the Syrian people. What we don’t see is how the bombs affect the people. Samer explains at one point that the aftermath of one bombing run was worse than what Daesh had done.
It is absolutely insane that in this day and age, there are people fearing for their lives because of saying the wrong thing, or wearing the wrong colour clothing. But this is the life for people under Daesh.
The writing in this book expresses the fear and hope felt by people everyday in such a raw way, making it understandable and easy to relate to, but ultimately asking more questions than are being answered. How can the people be free when they are stuck between the authority of Daesh on one hand, and the regime of Assad on the other?
A brilliant must read for anyone interested in current affairs and the middle east.
Finished on June 8th 2017
You can buy the book here if you wish