Voices from 'the Caliphate': Raqqa

Voices from 'the Caliphate': Raqqa
In Raqqa, the IS is imposing its rule through fear and intimidation. There is also the occasional religious lecture.
5 min read
05 Nov, 2014
Illustration: Claudia Mateus

Editor's note: These are perspectives collected from three Islamic State group strongholds in Syria and Iraq: Raqqa, Deir al-Zour and Mosul. All identities have been withheld or changed.

There is little difference between that which is done in broad daylight and that which is done in secret. The Islamic State group [IS, formerly known as ISIS] does what it does in front of the whole world. Assad and his men do it in their dungeons. But both come for you with an early morning knock on your door. Both
     IS does what it does in front of the whole world. Assad and his men do it in their dungeons.
violate your human dignity and take you to unknown locations. You have no ability to object or question.

This is the story of “Saad” from Raqqa.

The 25-year-old was recently picked up by a group of fighters from the Islamic State group and taken to the local headquarters. Two-and-a-half years earlier it had been regime soldiers. Then, this business and economy graduate had been arrested for opposition activities or “imprisoned for freedom”, as he puts it. Now, he was arrested because he had not attended regular Friday prayers. Freedom again. Freedom, the enemy all tyrants fear most.

Who had informed on him? There have always been rats among us. Informers, agents, the secret service, unjust arrests, forced disappearances, executions and violence. So it is now. All those who believe that a state must be based on force and horror can believe that by replacing a Baathist, Communist or royal dictator with a Caliph a just state can be established.

READ ALSO: Voices from the Caliphate – Mosul

A Tunisian soldier interrupted this reverie. In shouted angry instructions he explained the importance of upholding religious teachings. The angels record who prays and take the faithful to God. Saad couldn’t quite follow the second part of the Tunisian’s speech, but he nodded and agreed anyway. The soldier did not speak like a preacher or proselytiser. He spoke like a man fearful for his rule, because Saad had not attended mosque regularly.

The lecture finished and Saad was taken to solitary confinement. He remembered the Prayer of Fear. Water please, he asked, for ablutions. “So now you’ve become religious, Sheikh?” The jailer told him to “shove off”. But a few minutes later, the Tunisian came back. Another lecture about piety, and then Saad could go.

Home. Relieved, disgusted and confused. During times of war in countries ruled by tyrants you do not understand yourself. Nothing is normal. There are no normal feelings. Saad lit a cigarette and then put it out. He went for a walk. Outside, Islamic State group troops were admonishing a woman from the neighbourhood because she had not been dressed appropriately while cleaning the entrance to her building. Her son confronted them. They pounced on him to flog him, because his mother was not obeying their laws.

IS rule has brought new merchandise to the market [Getty]
Saad went home again. We are cowards sometimes. He washed and went to the mosque. Are the angels recording? Children made up more than half the congregation. Maybe their fathers are fearful of IS punishments and think religious excellence is an incentive for children with nothing else to excel in. Children who dream of walking through the streets one day with their own weapons.
READ ALSO: Voices from the Caliphate – Deir al-Zour

A father in Saad’s neighbourhood had tried to ban his 8-year-old son from frequenting IS headquarters and their children’s activities. Some days later the boy ran into IS soldiers who had asked him why he was no longer coming. When the soldier heard the answer he told the boy: “If he as much as touches you we will cut his head off.” The father relented. The boy joined an IS child soldier camp.

This is life today. Before the war, there were lunches on Fridays, vacations, day trips, swimming in the Euphrates. Sometimes, a smile from a beautiful girl. Dancing, singing. The war, the barbaric bombings of the Assad regime killed many. IS is killing many every week.

Saad took his laptop to go visit a friend. Another IS patrol. They are everywhere. The soldiers stopped him and searched his computer. They were looking for any information linking him to activists or journalists. They found nothing, but they spotted the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. The soldier took the pack and asked for his ID. He noted his name and instructed Saad to attend a week-long religious lesson after the night prayer.

He took his laptop and went home, happy that he could. On his way, he met a friend who told him he was going to attend the execution of an apostate. These execution celebrations attract many people. IS executes many people: soldiers from the Free Syrian Army, regime soldiers, activists and murderers.

Some are guilty.

Some are not.

A 14-year-old boy was executed after being found guilty of raping and stealing from a 70-year-old woman. He did not do it. Another man was killed as an apostate. He too was innocent. The family refused blood money. But it doesn’t matter. Public executions serve to terrify.

Motorcycles are banned after 8:00pm. Saad wanted to visit a friend. But, not wanting to spend the night, he turned his engine off. He went to his room to sleep. But he couldn’t. Instead he smoked until sunrise.

All views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or stafff.