Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From "Islamic State"

The news about Syria, especially since the US recently sent a bunch of bombs in its direction, can be overwhelming but it's important, really important and as Americans and humans and citizens of this world, we need to be doing what we can to educate ourselves on the Syrian Civil War. A good place to start, especially if you are intimidated by reading about foreign affairs, is The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From "Islamic State" by Samer. 

First - Samer is a pseudonym, to protect the author who was forced to leave his country after being targeted by the Islamic State (referred to in the book as "Daesh" - as it is known in much of the Middle East). He is 24 years old, a former college student and a member of the resistance who took to the streets against the authoritarian control of President Bashar al-Asaad and then also became targeted by Daesh after they took control of his city.

Framed as a series of diary entries and illustrated by Scott Coello, The Raqqa Diaries takes readers through the chaos of Samer's life as he reels from the heady days of demanding governmental reforms in the streets to the invasion by Daesh, air strikes by Russian jets and the subsequent involvement of multiple other groups in the war, all with agendas of their own.

Here's the first thing you learn while reading this book: Syria is complicated and anyone who suggests it isn't is a liar. In some ways, Samer's story is very straightforward. He writes about people being dragged away by al-Asaad and tortured, including his own father, for speaking about about government corruption. He writes about his friends who are targeted by Daesh for speaking out against their corruption and getting publicly murdered in executions that everyone is required to attend. He writes about getting arrested himself. He writes about getting tortured. He writes about his father being killed in an airstrike. He writes about longing for college and work and the girl he loved, who was forced to marry a Daesh fighter in order to save her own brother's life.

He writes, in just over 100 pages, about the end of his world. And then he writes about saying goodbye to his family and running for his life. The very least we can do is read his story. Really - the very very least we can do.

Here is Samer on the fight to get his father out of one of al-Asaad's prison before the war started:

No one should ever criticise a government official for stealing from his country, he said. After all, he continued, such a person might need to use public money to build a palace for himself to 'make the country look more civilised.' Or maybe he would go on to be really successful in business and become one of the country's top businessmen and wealth creators. And that was why officials should be allowed to do what they wanted.

Let's keep that in mind, shall we?

Later, he writes about the Hama massacre:

The Hama massacre of 1982 taught our people a valuable lesson. Under the command of the country's president, Hafez al-Assad [current president's father], the regime ended up killing more than 35,000 civilians in the heart of Syria, yet there were no repercussions. No journalists covered the atrocities, so people didn't know they had happened. 

We remember this. That's why we make sure that anything that happens in this war is documented and published outline through social media outlets.

Pay attention to Syria; people are literally risking their lives for our attention. And check out The Raqqa Diaries; it's a fast, compelling, unforgettable read and well worth your time.

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