What it’s like to live in the capital of the ISIS ‘caliphate’

Marwan Hisham (the pseudonym of a Syrian resident of Raqqa) writes: The Islamic State has worked hard to isolate Raqqa from the rest of the world. A few months ago, residents were deprived of Wi-Fi signals inside their homes, as the group had the signal extenders placed on rooftops removed. On Nov. 18, satellite Internet was banned, and Internet cafes were ordered to close. If the cafe wishes to reopen, it needs to gather two recommendations from Islamic State security forces, with their emirs’ signatures. You’ll need a license from the Islamic State’s intelligence office as well.

The Islamic State always describes any hardship or new restriction as resulting from the sins of those afflicted, and the Friday sermon that followed this decision was no exception. “People disobey God, and as such God inflicts upon them suffering,” a fighter preached.

However, it’s not only the Islamic State’s god who is dissatisfied. Raqqa’s citizens not only suffer from the group’s orders, but also the international war effort against it. Air raids have become practically a daily routine. On Nov. 3, the Russians joined the party. And then the French. Airstrikes damaged the main bridge on the Euphrates used by residents to enter the city and destroyed the other minor ones. It took an hour’s drive to get to the opposite bank. The West speaks of the necessity of cutting off Islamic State “supply routes,” but these are not Islamic State bridges — they are bridges used by everyone in Raqqa.

And yet, somehow life still goes on. Muhammad, who is 31 years old and displaced from Aleppo, and his fiancee are preparing for their wedding, as if in private defiance of the incredible challenges the world has thrown at them. A cousin’s little daughter reads a 9th-grade French book, trying to understand a single word.

Yet, when the jet fighters interrupt, all eyes turn to the sky. Everything here is a target, because the Islamic State is everywhere. But once the bombs are dropped, people go back to what they were doing. It’s no longer a moment of reflection about life and death, nor a moment of curiosity about what happened: It’s something that has no ending. [Continue reading…]

In the New York Times, Hisham writes: The Islamic State gives people one choice: Escape your poverty by fighting for us. The world has to offer people living under the Islamic State better choices. Stop the Assad government from bombing markets and bridges, and its Russian allies from bombing civilian infrastructure, as happened recently when a Russian airstrike reportedly hit a water main, cutting off water for the entire city.

Most of all, don’t dismiss as terrorists the citizens of occupied cities just because they were too poor to leave when the Islamic State took over. The people under this occupation present the best hope for destroying the jihadists. Without their support, the Islamic State can hardly be defeated. [Continue reading…]

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