There was a recent National Geographic Channel program called “Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis”, which reconstructed events in the Middle East that led up to the terrorist organization’s establishment in the area, which I reviewed earlier (http://drdonnasfilmreviews.blogspot.com/2017/06/hell-on-earth-fall-of-syria-and-rise-of.html?m=0). This documentary is a report of subsequent events that have occurred in the city of Raqqa.
In 2012, Raqqa began the cry for freedom from Assad’s regime during the Arab Spring, and protests began spreading throughout Syria. They were beginning to feel successful, but when a vacuum in leadership after the revolution occurred, Abu Bakr Al-Baghadadi and ISIS saw the opportunity, entered the city with great fanfare and public assassinations, and declared it their Caliphate, a territory within which ISIS’ power could be exercised. Raqqa would be the capital of what they called the Islamic State. They immediately began instituting Sharia law and punishing severely any who resisted.
When journalists of Raqqa, became aware of the number of people ISIS was assassinating, a group of them joined together to resist by reporting deaths and other news on social media. They call themselves RBSS (Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently). For a time, they were able to secretly film ISIS’ cruelties, and the disappearance of schools, universities, or hospitals, in the city, which loses its electricity repeatedly for as long as a week. But when they started being discovered, some had to flee to Turkey and Germany.
Then, ISIS itself began to use the media, hiring professionals, and sending out false reports about how calm the city is, using western games like “Grand Theft Auto” for recruitment of followers: “Come join ISIS and play the game in real life.” There are organized, concerted efforts like “camps on the streets” to capture the minds of children. They offer them phones and other goodies to join them. Eventually, ISIS banned all satellites in Raqqa, eliminating most of the channels of communication RBSS was using.
RBSS consists of only a few journalists, most of whom have had to leave Syria for their lives; still, ISIS pursues them, even murdering them in other countries like Turkey and Germany. These brave souls continue to try to do their work, but know full well their lives are always in danger. They have received international acclaim. For instance, their bravery was acknowledged by awarding them the International Press Freedom Award in 2015 in New York City.
City of Ghosts is a tale about modern-day terrorism, in which a whole city can become a ghost town if the wrong people can enter at the right time. It has special poignancy in the close following of a few of the resistors and the turns their lives have taken and the losses they have incurred.
Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) has produced a documentary that needs to serve as a warning to western democracies. It seems that it doesn’t take much for ISIS to see an opportunity and seize upon it as a way of exerting power upon an unsuspecting people. One of the ways is to attack journalism and squash its reporting of real events. We should be grateful to those who fight back at great risk.
A sobering look at how ISIS can assume power over a people.