Truth, Liberty, Tolerance
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims religious, political, and military authority over Muslims worldwide. Over the past year, they have received international scrutiny for committing horrendous acts in their Syrian stronghold, such as slaughtering children, kidnapping and selling women, trafficking human organs, and recruiting child soldiers. They have also maintained their own city, Raqqa, complete with borders and careful watch over the people settled inside it. It is hard to get information out of Raqqa because of the extreme surveillance that goes on there, so the information given by CNN was provided by an activist group in Raqqa called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.
Raqqa, located in northern Syria, has become the capital of ISIS since the terrorist group seized it in 2013. According to the reportage given by CNN, school is now banned, and small luxuries cannot be afforded because most people no longer have jobs. Thousands of people are forced to live under the Islamic State’s rule, even though many of them do not have anything to do with the group. They are unable to leave due to checkpoints at every corner within the city, closed roads, and constant surveillance. Even their Internet activity is monitored by ISIS. The punishments for those who try to escape are brutal and can include anything from physical mutilation to medieval death sentences of stoning or crucifixion. There is violence in the streets every day, and bombs, from both Western groups committed to ending ISIS and the Syrian government run by the dictator Bashar al-Assad, fall from the sky.
For many in Raqqa, all they want to do is to live a normal life. “I want to enter university […] work and earn money, make a family and have a free country,” a woman from Raqqa told CNN. “Help us find a life” she added. People are still hoping for salvation from ISIS.
Since September 2014, the United States has been leading the effort to drop bombs inside Syria. France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have sent their own warplanes as well, many of which are targeting Raqqa. CNN interviewed a 27-year-old-woman whose neighborhood was hit by Russian bombs; she said that even though most of it is still standing up, it is like a “ghost town” with no electricity. “I see nothing … in the sky [there are] some drones,” she said. People have started wondering if ISIS is ever going to abandon the city. Whenever bombings occur, the streets and markets are emptied and everyone withdraws from the targeted areas.
Because of the incessant warfare, many of Raqqa’s heritage symbols have become threatened. These include the Baghdad Gate, which dates back to the 12th century, and is one of the only surviving fortifications of the city. Once-vibrant parks and gardens have received almost no visitors since the ISIS takeover.
Things under the rule of Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, were not perfect, but Raqqa was once known for being one of Syria’s most liberal cities. An activist from the citizens’ journalism effort, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), told CNN, “[Under the regime] the security forces used to arrest people; now al-Husbah [the Islamic police] is doing so. We used to salute the president leader, now we are saluting the Califa.” Things changed rapidly when ISIS took over in 2013 and took down the statue of former president Hafez Al-Assad and imposed Islamic Law. Activists told CNN that an “authoritative decision, or ruling – known as ‘bayanaat’ – would appear on the city’s walls, often limiting a woman’s right to walk alone, personal style, or even show their hair. Other edicts came by word of mouth: smoking was banned, followed by the use of cameras. Fear gripped the city, and behind most of it were the radicals of ISIS.”
Spanish teacher at McClatchy, Mr. Antonio Villarreal said, “It’s a tragedy that these people have to live under violence. Unfortunately, their government doesn’t have the capacity to help in the way that it is needed. They have to suffer and escape from their homeland. Because of what’s happening in their country, everyone thinks they’re all the same; they’re all terrorists or criminals. When they enter another country, they don’t want them there. It’s very difficult to be almost like banished; they’re only looking for an opportunity”