Raqqa: Slaughtered in Silence
The city of Raqqa, which became a symbol of the liberation from the Assad regime, is now falling under another form of tyranny: that of groups linked to al-Qaeda like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). To take over the popular uprising that broke out in the country in March 2011, ISIS has resorted to spreading rumors, fear and terror, and rounding up and ruthlessly eliminating any form of opposition. The same tactics displayed by the Syrian regime for decades. However, resistance is also fierce. “Raqaa is being Slaughtered Silently” is but one of the campaigns aiming to challenge ISIS’s narrative of the revolution, and its hold over the city.
Despite the disappointments and the hardship, civil activists in the city have successfully transposed their resistance to the regime into that of all tyranny. The crimes of ISIS are hideous — latest of which was the execution of 12 civil activists in the city — but initiatives like “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” prove the extent of popular reaction towards extremist agendas.
Many of the activists of Raqqa had fled shortly after ISIS’s takeover of the city, and from their current locations decided to devote themselves to voice those who chose to remain and fight ISIS. To this end, the campaign was launched on April 16 “to deliver the true extent of the suffering in Raqqa, and the hideous crimes of ISIS in the city,” according to one of the initiative’s coordinators.
Activists based outside of Raqqa were tasked with raising awareness of the campaign, through any available medium as well as coordinating relief and rescue efforts. Those based in the city were responsible for organizing the resistance efforts inside the city and for spreading word of the campaign through graffiti and pamphlets. The campaign also focused on raising the awareness of the local people of Raqqa to the true extent of the violations of ISIS.
The campaign drew a forceful response from ISIS. More than fifty activists have been detained since its inception, many of whom have not been released yet. The al-Qaeda-linked movement also mobilized its fighters to roam the city streets with heavy arms in a grotesque show of force. But the worst of ISIS’s horrors was to come when twelve young activists, including media activist al-Mutazbillah Ibrahim, were executed in response to the campaign.
The forceful response terrorized the city and limited any mass participation in the campaign, but the activists have not been deterred. Pamphlets and graffiti were soon back in Raqqa protesting the grotesque violence of ISIS. Other cities joined in the campaign as well, including al-Salihiyah, Damascus, Hammouriyah, calling for the “ISIS gang” to leave Raqqa, and demanding the release of all detainees under its control, including Father Paolo and photographer Muhammad Nour Matar.
ISIS might be isolated in Raqqa for now, but the struggle for the city could give foresight of the struggles the whole country will face next. The chaos and destruction wrought by the regime in its effort to quell the uprising have become a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of autocratic and tyrannical groups well-suited to take advantage of chaos and expand their control over Syrians. The only silver lining in this tragedy are the handful of activists who put their lives on the line in resistance. They are Syria’s partisans.