Thursday, January 10, 2019


I just finished watching "City of Ghosts", a film about RBSS - a group titled "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" - that has been resisting the occupation of the Syrian city by the the Islamic State.

Unlike Hollywood war movies, this is not about something that happened in the distant past, coloured in shades of American bravado and machismo. It is the here and now of the situation in Syria. It is the story of how ordinary citizens of Raqqa, a city in Syria rose up in revolt in 2013 against Assad, a leader who they considered a tyrant for 40 years, until the radical Islamic State swiftly came in to fill the power vacuum.

The narrative follows a small group of nervous war refugees - teachers, journalists, students - fleeing from IS and the Syrian government. Seeing the rest of the world disconnected with the harsh reality back home they decide to set up a social network - a website, FaceBook page, Twitter -  to send updates from friends back home on the way in which ISIS was enforcing its vision of the Islamic Caliphate in Raqqa. Summary executions, beheadings, mutilation and rape, all in the name of Allah.

Once the counter-narrative begins to bite, ISIS responds to RBSS by hunting down nd executing its citizen correspondents in Syria, and by trying to assassinate it leaders in Turkey and Germany.

In 2017 the Assad Government finally managed to crush IS in Raqqa after a prolonged battle that reduced much of the city into rubble.

It has no been an entirely happy liberation. RBSS now has to contend with the "old" tyrant whom its founders perhaps opposed in the first place. So it now keep track of the shortcomings of the reconstruction effort, of insufficient funds coming in for rebuilding a city and of disease outbreaks in refugee camps. The devil may be gone but the deep blue sea remains.

This is the sort of film that makes your wonder about the Middle East and the so called "Arab Spring".

Was it really worthwhile to oppose the Assad regime that provided relative security and prosperity to a country for four decades? Has anything been achieved by the countries that encouraged "democratic movements"?  Or has it merely filled their own homes with unwanted refugees from countries they wanted to democratize?