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Terrifying record of turmoil

Documentary gives an insider’s view of the barbaric reality of life in the Syrian city of Raqqa under the rule of Isis

20 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Abdul-Aziz Alhamza in City of Ghosts

Directed by Matthew Heineman
Certificate: 18

A BIOLOGY student. A law student. A high school maths teacher. An amateur cameraman. Four people whose lives have been irrevocably changed, four people who have been thrown together by extraordinary circumstances – and four people who have risen to confront the barbaric reality of life in the Syrian city of Raqqa under the vicious rule of Isis.

City of Ghosts gives us an insider’s view of the horror of life in this northern Syrian city, and shows how people have reacted to it. The heroes of this documentary have established a news website called “Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently”, and they have catalogued the crimes committed by the caliphate.

We learn that as the uprising against the Assad regime gathered pace, Isis managed to gain a toehold in Raqqa as the regime wobbled but the forces of progression failed to take control. What follows makes for disturbing watching. These fascists in fundamentalist clothing commit atrocity after atrocity – and so this group of Raqqa citizens began cataloguing and recording, attempting to let the world know what was happening in their home.

We watch as they make it to Turkey and then as Isis death squads follow them, on to Germany. Sadly, they are still not safe – Isis has put out a call for Jihadists to find and kill them. We get a sense of what it must be like to be living with this over your head, while your city is blown to smithereens and your friends and neighbours are executed in the streets.

The sheer bravery of the people involved is stunning. A group of people who have found themselves in an extraordinary, and virtually unfathomable situation and how they have risen to it provides the thrust of the film.

But there is more to this film.

This is about the immigrant experience – why do people leave one place to head for another, and could be used as an argument why it’s nothing sort of disgraceful that we don’t roll out the red carpet for our fellow humans fleeing such atrocious situations. It is also about friendship and togetherness – these relationships have been forged in unbearable circumstances. And it is also about how humans cope with trauma – and you should be warned, what these poor people have gone through is beyond words. The film does not shy away from this – there are moments where you will want to look away.

And then there is the eloquence of the survivors, considering what could be done in the long term. They say Isis is not a group that can be easily killed off (Orwell said in Homage to Catalonia that if everyone took the responsibility to shoot one fascist, then the world would be free of this evil). Not so in this case, they say – behind Isis is an idea, and it does not matter how many bombs you drop on them, there is no quick fix. What is needed to bring this to an end is what every human wants: peace, freedom and prosperity.

Bring that to a region and Isis’s evil philosophy will fall on barren ground.


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