The Guardian reports: The cafe and everyone inside were exiles from Raqqa – the same chefs serving up Friday roast chicken and sweet tea, the same shishas and hubbub of politics – but all carried a gloss of tragedy and exhaustion.
The place had been moved wholesale, staff and menu, across the Turkish border to the city of Gaziantep after Islamic State cast its long shadow over their home town and their lives.
Most of the customers were graduates of the extremists’ brutal jails and the rest had fled Isis in fear or disgust. The arrival of a stranger triggered unease; a few weeks earlier two of their number had been murdered at home by a spy posing as another refugee.
“If we were not wanted by Isis, why would we be here?” said one fortysomething businessman, who asked to go by the name Abu Ahmad as both his sons are on the other side of a border; for him, that might as well be an ocean away. “We are here, but our hearts are there.”
With homes and families still in Isis’s de facto capital, few have more at stake in the fight against the extremist group. Yet most are wary about the prospect of Britain joining the air campaign against their bitter enemy after a year in which Isis fighters have been unsettled but not dislodged by hundreds of bombing raids.
“Can someone really be happy if his city is bombed by everyone? No,” Abu Ahmad said, with the bleak humour that many exiles share. “Everybody bombed Raqqa. Anyone who was just annoyed by their wife decided to come and bomb Raqqa. Jordan, UAE, US, Russia, France.”
They fear that more bombs will cost more innocent lives in a city where the civilian population is now held prisoner by Isis to serve as a human shield. Many are baffled and frustrated that the city’s fate is being decided in distant capitals and conference rooms where the people of Raqqa have no presence, in debates where they have no voice. [Continue reading…]