A Wary Return to Raqqa

Raqqa was in rapid decline by then, and the city’s despair would intensify over the next decade. By 2007, even Abdullah Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs and a chief architect of Syria’s economic reforms (which were upended by the 2011 civil war), described Raqqa as a long-forgotten city. The arrival of ISIS only hastened the colonization of my ephemeral metropolis.
Sadly, even with ISIS gone, the sense of siege remains. Western forces and their proxy, the PYD militia, whose real loyalty is to their leaders in Turkey, now control Raqqa. One of the first things that our new PYD liberators/occupiers did after declaring victory was to display their own foreign identity by installing a huge portrait of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Not a single Syrian symbol was offered in tandem. Worse, after a military operation that destroyed 90% of the city and killed some 1,800 residents, the city’s new rulers have not even begun to remove the bodies buried beneath the rubble. Instead, long-time residents have been prevented from returning to their homes.
For those of us with long memories, it is impossible not to draw comparisons with past rulers – the Assad regime and ISIS. (The fascist organization that the Western media calls ISIS – a name that confers on it Islamic credentials – is more likely to be called Daesh in the Islamic world, a name coined by my brother Khaled, who was in jail with me in the 1980s.)
What is different this time is the seemingly inevitable march toward ethnic conflict. The city’s previous victims are its latest victims as well. The exploited, impoverished, underrepresented, despised, and dehumanized population is living under even worse conditions, more marginalized than ever. The locals are being dealt with as tribes, according to the modern colonial model.
Raqqa’s “liberation” is not ours. The population is more estranged than ever. Our past struggles for freedom and justice are being ignored. The locals who fought against ISIS, and who were made to disappear at its hands (including my brother Feras, abducted in July 2013), are still missing. And ISIS has served as the ideal monster for many colonial occupiers eager to appear less villainous than they are.

Copyright: Project Syndicate 2017 – A Wary Return to Raqqa

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com