135 reflections of The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from ‘Islamic State’

When I started this book, a few questions came to mind. Most part of it was questioning the status of a “diary” especially since the 1900s’ widespread and popular war diary by young Anne Frank entered the world.

Firstly, “ by Samer* ”. I question its credibility a little. I don’t want to assume that this story or diary is any less real (because it is almost as good as anonymous), but it is also grave to note that because Daesh still exists and is very much “alive” – this is life and death when the identity of this writer/diarist is exposed. It indicates to me that it is so real, and a heavy diary that is loaded with potential consequences. How we read it will open more eyes and hearts into this world of the ‘Islamic State’ of the 21st century.

Secondly, Mike Thomson, BBC Foreign Affairs Correspondent, wrote a preface to the diary. How they managed to gain access to an insider on the ground. Back to the first question, because it is highly sensitive and dangerous information where NO JOURNALIST or MEDIA has access to this very place… How do we get hold information and from whom? Why is it published in the form of a diary not a news report or documentary style? Especially because when Thomson was hunting for news, he chooses the medium of a diary. News are typically presented as “objectively” and “neutrally” as it can. What does the status of a diary have here? It’s truth? Credibility? Emotions and sensibilities? Private thoughts? Vulnerability?

Thirdly, THERE ARE NO DATES. A diary with no dates. Except at the start, 6th March 2013, and at the end, late May 2016. I wonder why… Wondering but also thinking about how the in between of a few years actually felt much shorter. Marked only by the asterisks, feels like the diarist went through these events quickly. Things were happening and unfolding in Raqqa quickly. Deaths were happening every moment. Oppressors were taking over bit by bit. Raqqa was losing control of itself asterisk after asterisk. No dates, just a series of events. A crucial sequence that eventually pushed the diarist out of his home. That is how I found myself at the start of the diary without Daesh yet, and the end without Daesh’s presence in the diarist’s life.

Lastly, during the month I took to read this, I watched City of Ghosts (documentary about RBSS). I realized that ok, within Raqqa there must be several media activist groups operating in secret. In wanting to bring news out to the world about the reality of Raqqa right? We have Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and here is Al-Sharqiya 24. So… Have their efforts finally spurred the global community into action after reading such truths/horrific news/facts about Raqqa and what Daesh had been up to?

The fact that the world is standing idly by, just watching what is happening, does not surprise anyone here anymore. Everyone I meet, whether it is a child or an old person who has witnessed many horrors, pins their hopes on our own revolutionaries. The outside world has not answered our calls.

– Samer

The “liberation” of Raqqa from Daesh happened on the 17 October 2017. It doesn’t change the fact that lives have been erased, the town is still in rubble. But may this be the start of something?

(Another question…. WHAT even, there is a cartoon on snippets of the diary… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRubQYr6O6Q)

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133 reflections from The Morning They Came for Us

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i read this book during my commute. whenever i read something horrific, intestines being pulled on, a man sobbing like a baby over the death of his best friend, a 4-year-old who accompanies his father who works in a graveyard… i look up from the book, to my surroundings and i cannot fathom how i’m on a bus with no shelling going on, the sound of gunfires are unfamiliar and totally foreign – unimaginable. there is peace. i live in peace.

The war continues. States the epilogue. It continues, it hasn’t stopped and the future is so uncertain. Di Giovanni consciously updates us about the political situation and the fates of the people she meets and colleagues. It is this common use of the “foreshadowing” that intrigues me. It reminds me of Segher’s semi-autobiography/novella the Outing of the Dead Schoolgirls. We tend to need to know where these figures and characters are now. If they are dead, we should know that as we read them as alive at one point – but presently they are not. A commemoration. For remembrance. In a memoir.

Internally displaced, painfully living in the dark because it is too dangerous to move about outside, snipers are constantly on watch. Yet they stay. It is home, where can they go? They leave the country, but return after a few years. Because it is home. It is just their home.

Lastly, time. I’ve learned a new way to conceptualise time during war. It is counted by the number of cigarettes lighted (110). It is always a space of waiting… for your target, for it to all end. A space of uncertainty of what the next day would bring or even the next hour or minute. Even “minutes are endless. It seems you will never move forward to the next day” (121), everything is stretched out. It seems like this is taking forever, but what is everyone waiting for exactly?

My question remains. How does Di Giovanni (given her 20 years of experience in reporting war) and many other war correspondents continue their work? How do you just deal with trauma, resume normal citizen life and family then return to war torn countries to work?

#justthoughts

128 maus – survivors of the right lane

maus isn’t just a simple read but a comic that is heavily coated with nostalgia and lost love. art spiegelman chooses to begin to trace his father’s history even before the war began with the reader. throughout the text it goes back and forth to art’s writing process and interview with his father, exploring the dynamics of vladek’s relationship with the people around him. and in maus ii it becomes more self-reflexive, deciding on whether or not to include certain parts and how he should continue his story. that’s when i feel that the darkness of his father’s story begins to cloud his vision and the cynicism creeps up to him.

one thing is for sure, what i read was a survivor’s tale alright. vladek’s character and who he is presently, is shaped not only from his upbringing but the circumstances he lived through. from emptied stomachs to multiple panic attacks shapes a grumpy and angsty old man. but the tender man is found deep within his heart when he speaks of anja – i suppose that is where the introduction that art establish is so important. how they met and fell in love so deeply.

what i find interesting is that the nazis would always split Jews into two lines. and the left would be the line to death and the right would be the line for a second chance. but never guaranteeing a fate of hope. you may be in the right lane this time round, but the next time you may end up in the left. when vladek’s father went from the right lane to the left because he was worried for his daughter – that left a scratch on my heart. would you rather live knowing where your loved on went; or go along and leave the world together, in one another’s arms?

“look at how many books have already been written about the Holocaust. what’s the point? people haven’t changed… maybe they need a newer, bigger Holocaust” – maus ii, 45

the weight of these two books is pretty hard to bear. vladek and anja met with freedom again… but their toil with the nazis will remain as scars. the extent that vladek went just so they could meet one another in the concentration camp was hair-standing, he would risk anything to see his lover again. wow. it ended as the way they started, reunited. it warmed my heart that they managed to find one another again despite the amount of chaos they went through.

122 stanley kubrick

stanley kubrick.
checked out some of his photography and they are so inspiring all over again. i think b&w photography will always be my favourite medium. no matter how disappointing your photos are on film, it still looks great on b&w for me!

note to self: watch the shining again. watch full metal jacket, barry lyndon, a clockwork orange and 2001: a space odyssey!

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images above from: http://twistedsifter.com/2011/12/stanley-kubricks-new-york-photos-1940s/

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images above from: http://collections.mcny.org/

120 J.D. Salinger

alright, i should give some credit to Salinger for writing one of the most influential and relatable novels of the 20th century.

having watched Salinger it was truly an insightful documentary of this man’s life, to a certain extent it is no doubt dramatised. but it meddled with loss, darkness and pain. as much as Catcher in the Rye seems to be a close reflection to his personal life, this angsty teenager is not unfamiliar to us. deep inside he crave acceptance yet he is ambivalent towards these “phonies”.

yet Holden Caufield’s creator was not as simple as he seems, call him mysterious or reclusive. first of all what amused me was how he wanted so badly to be published in the new yorkers – cosmopolitan and other magazine publications were not good enough for him. but when he had his “big break”, he retreats and isolates himself. i wonder what could he really have wanted? acceptance from the world but changes his mind after?

then i find it quite haunting that he mentioned that the only person who could play Holden Caufield was himself. his life was in that book, and i’d like to believe that because he penned an unofficial “memoir”, the public was able to relate and take it personally. and that’s where his life is for the world to see, yet everyone could fit the shoes of Holden – Salinger himself! hats off to a man who can pick apart his life and readers are able to piece them together and say, “this is me”. incredible.

when Salinger shared with reporter, Betty Eppes, that “writing Holden was a mistake”, my heart broke. imagine immortalising your life in a story and then saying that it was a mistake. the writer has gone through the pains of putting this masterpiece together and when the public dramatises it, it’s like trying to snatch it from the world but they refuse to let it go because their soul is a part of it now.

i’ve got to say, i think Salinger’s secrecy is what gets me most. his broken heart from making a “mistake” of publishing Holden has caused him to clamp up other greater books he has written i guess.

113 an open (informal) letter to friday

hush hush friday, no need to speak.

i know you miss the island of nothing where your days were spent dutifully heeding your master’s orders.

your face stares blankly at mine but i stare back at you with even more questions of what your thoughts could be. but i understand if you don’t want to speak to me.

let me guess, is it the destructive power of speech? the stream of words that exit the mouth, getting lost in translation, truth is distorted as it lives in the empty spaces between people. is that what you think?

the mistress gets you on your nervous, doesn’t she? she tries to get you to tell your story, she forces you to be who she wants you to be. but i know you are more than that. you are more substantial than she omits you to be.

foe isn’t just another story about a compilation of useless letters, foe has become your story –

your mystery.

this mystery that no one can ever solve, except probably for your master, but he’s dead now.

only you live. you are free now.

and your silence becomes the substance of the story, the mystery.

friday, you represent the purest form of truth. while everybody wants their story told in full truth, you resist it.

hush hush friday, you have no business speaking now,

your tongue is absent and so are your thoughts.

foe

112 in a world of chance

“Chance had cast me on his island, chance had thrown me in his arms.
In a world of chance, is there a better and a worse?

We yield to a stranger’s embrace or give ourselves to the waves; for the blink of an eyelid our vigilance relaxes; we are asleep; and when we awake, we have lost the direction of our lives.

What are these blinks of an eyelid, against which the only defence is an eternal and inhuman wakefulness? Might they not be the cracks and chinks through which another voice, other voices, speak in our lives? By what right do we close our ears to them?

The questions echoed in my head without answer.”

– foe; j.m. coetzee

to be a castaway on the island of chance? no thank you.

111 a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes

misty wild
the misunderstood monster.

up to date, mary shelley’s frankenstein is my favourite novel. i was guilty of calling the creature a monster and that was before i read it and realised that it isn’t a monster, it’s the name of the creator of the creature.

i was moved at his gentleness, he was innocently built and abandoned by frankenstein. when will men ever be satisfied with their creation? the way shelley portrayed and illustrated her creature was beautiful. how else do you make something so real? giving them a voice and a mind of their own to express their truest feelings and desires.

the creature had expressed his warm feelings of his “neighbours”/”protectors” to a blind man: “they are the most excellent creatures in the world; but unfortunately, they are prejudiced against me. I have good dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster.”

frustrated with the injustice the creature was served, i argued with my friends that i felt for this creature. with the judgement of his stature and horrendous being, it blurs the mind from processing or giving him the chance to speak for himself. he was a warm creature who needed acceptance, but instead he was bullied and turned away.

at one point, i almost believed that the creature existed. something so human, so real with true emotions bursting from its heart. he felt emotions, he learned the ways of being human, he understood men. yet, when i read about the frightened countenances men had when they had an encounter with the creature – it sent shivers down my spine. you need to see it to believe it, you need to see the creature to believe it’s a monster.

as much as i wanted to take the side of the creature, frankenstein’s warning to walton swayed me: “I was at first touched by the expressions of his misery; yet, when I called to mind what Frankenstein had said of his powers of eloquence and persuasion, and when I again cast my eyes on the lifeless form of my friend, indignation was rekindled within me.”

when i finished the page of the book, i was left disappointed at the creature’s transformation to becoming a monster. his heart became monstrous because of the disappointment of mankind and not because of his physical being that called him to be so. his darkness emerged, bitterness and evilness overtook his heart. it was not a physical change but an inward change of his soul that labelled him a monster.

why is it that humans are such monsters themselves? nothing is being born into the template of a monster, we give labels that restrict someone to take its natural form and limit its chances at individuality.

it is only when men have hardened their hearts cold towards the misunderstood, where the real monster state of a heart destroys mankind. men were the real monsters first.

110 ‘the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion’

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“Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, are not to be disputed. My wilful actions and acquisitions are but roving; – the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned in his essay titled, Self-Reliance

what Emerson is saying is that our voluntary perception that we readily share with people is an objective point of view, and we speak our minds of what is practical. we tend to hold back our truest thoughts and feelings about an issue that another part of our mind is truly feeling – our involuntary perception.

we stick to the safe zone, we ask questions or speak of what we think is safe that others may also be wondering or thinking of. “how long was this coffee brewed for” rather than plainly saying “it tastes like soil.”

in a society that listens closely to every written or spoken word; we are inclined to holding back our individuality (involuntary perception), sadly, causing our potential to be suppressed and we are limited to what our thoughts can blossom to be.

perception can’t be helped, it is conceived involuntarily. once you are exposed to something, you form your perception around it, so why hold back? if one takes offence when you have spoken your mind, it is simply because “they do not distinguish between perception and notion.” you are merely speaking your mind, but not imposing your perception unto them.

you see, we are naturally drawn to being self reliant. our self-consciousness have held us back into being reliant on what others have to feel or react to our thoughts. this topic can branch out to topics like judgement of opinions but well, i’m just highlighting what Emerson is trying to say about individual perceptions and being reliant on our own thoughts rather than satisfying the majority.

i guess it is how one is wired to think, it involves the effort of being careful of reacting to the spoken thoughts. well, cheers to a wandering reverie that we should be more welcoming and appreciative of i suppose!

099 love and wanderlust

i picked this book up from a bookstore in York last month.

the first thing that caught my eye was the cover (i know, never judge a book by its cover but this was an exception).

it has been months since i completed a book. the most recent book i read was by john green which didn’t leave a fantastic impression on me. but this one was just beautifully written!

a room with a view takes you back into the early 1900s where you use Baedeker as a guidebook. and almost everyone in the guest house (pension house) knows one another.

lucy honeychurch and charlotte bartlett (lucy’s cousin) were on a holiday in florence and rome where they meet interesting characters like mr. beebe, the emersons and miss lavish. i love the way forster describes his characters, he doesn’t put it plainly to you but reveals their personality through their habits and actions. strangely enough, it is up to you to decide whether you like the character or not.

lucy’s independence takes her pretty far out on wild adventures and getting herself into tangled situations where you never expected. and shy character, george emerson would appear out of nowhere on these such occasions.

when she returns to windy corner, her life returns back to normal where she is reunited with her mother and brother, freddy. they speak of her engagement with cecil vyse whom she met in rome, and just because it is high time for lucy to get married.

as guests move into cissie villa, lucy faces her nightmare (or not) as Fate decides that she reunites with the man she really loves.

i really loved how e.m. forster wrote the book. chapter by chapter, he took me through the different events that tickled me, saddened me and warmed my heart. it was so poetically written that it spoke so much truth and logic about how one would feel if he or she were to be in love.

at the same time, i appreciate the way forster manages to tie love and wanderlust together perfectly. this perfect combination left me warm and fuzzy – i should have purchased more e.m. forster from the bookstore!

‘but if we act the truth, the people who really love us are sure to come back to us in the long run.’