David Remnick met five young Syrian activists — they work for the group, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), which through it’s website and social media has been reporting on ISIS — and he writes: The members of R.B.S.S. are utterly frustrated with the efforts of the West to defeat both Assad, who has fended off the opposition so far, and ISIS, which has suffered recent losses in Iraq and Syria, but which has proved capable of exacting suffering from Sinai to Beirut to Paris.
“The problem the Syrian people have with the United States is that we are suffering for five years with barrel bombs,” one R.B.S.S. journalist said. “Assad has killed so many innocents, and many people have lost hope. After Assad’s chemical attack, when he crossed the so-called ‘red line,’ the U.S. just took the weapons. It made America look like a liar and weak.
“When you say ‘Raqqa,’ the first thing people think of is ISIS,” he continued. “They forget hundreds of thousands of civilians, normal people like us. I am not a terrorist. There are so many people, normal people, who want to live in a free, democratic Syria. We want to rebuild Syria, and the only way we can do it is through our civil-society group and others like it. If the United States government and other governments want to fight ISIS on social media, their Twitter accounts are seen as propaganda. But when real life is shown through us, and you see what life is like, normal people believe it.”
Talking over the jukebox din and the raucous Saturday night conversations at the bar, Hamza asked that Americans try to imagine a city in which “the 9/11s keep happening month after month, year after year.”
“Daily life is twenty-four-seven warplanes over your head,” another member said. “People now feel more afraid about the idea that all over the world they want to bomb this small city. People are afraid. The city of Kubani is completely destroyed. The people of Raqqa don’t want that. We love our city. The West says, ‘Let’s get the people out and bomb ISIS.’ They can’t. It’s a big prison. Women under forty-five can’t leave without special permission. It’s a tribal area, and females can’t leave without men. ISIS uses the people of Raqqa as a human shield.”
The R.B.S.S. members said the American fighter planes have dropped most of their bombs on targets on the outskirts of the city or they use drones to target leaders of ISIS. They claim that Russian planes, however, have hit a hospital, two critical bridges, and a university. “The problem we have with the air strikes,” one said, “is that their planes are very stupid. They’re not smart bombs.”
The peril for the group is unceasing. When ISIS arrests or executes a member of R.B.S.S. — or someone that they believe might be sympathetic to the group — they make a show of it on social media. One video, a member told me, showed “two friends of ours accused of working for us. And they don’t. ISIS tied them to a tree and shot them. A second video shows the execution of another friend of ours accused of working for us. They strung them up in a tree in an abandoned place and shot them in the head; they made the video to say they died ‘silently.’ They are sending us messages like this all the time.”
Hamza will soon accept an award from the Committee to Protect Journalists in the name of his comrades, living and dead. (I’m on the board of C.P.J., which arranged our meeting.) He will dedicate the award “to our martyrs,” to the “anonymous heroes” of the campaign, and to the people of Raqqa.
“All of us get several threats daily,” Hamza said, finishing his drink. “The last threat against me was from someone in Germany. He said I would be the next one killed. But when I think about our reporters inside Raqqa, and I am outside … I live a normal life, doing normal things. Somehow, I don’t care what will happen to me. Compared to them, I am doing nothing.” [Continue reading…]