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The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State

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The Raqqa Diaries began as a series of short broadcasts on Radio 4’s 'Today' Programme. Now one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth, no-one is allowed to speak to western journalists or leave Raqqa, without IS’s permission. Those caught breaking the rules face death by beheading.

Despite this, Mike Thomson, with the help of BBC’s Arabic Service, found a young man who is willing to risk his life to tell the world what is happening in his city. Part of a small anti-IS activist group, the diaries were written, encrypted and sent to a third country before being translated.

The diarist’s father is killed and mother badly injured during an air strike, he is sentenced to 40 lashes for speaking out against a beheading, he sees a woman stoned to death. They show how every aspect of life is impacted – from the spiralling costs of food to dictating the acceptable length of trousers.

At one point, the sale of televisions is banned. As Samer says, 'it seems it’s not enough to stop us talking to the outside world, now we can’t even look at it.’ Having seen friends and relatives butchered, his community’s life shattered and the local economy ruined by these hate-fuelled extremists, Samer believes he’s fighting back by telling the world what is happening to his beloved city.

Raw, direct and profoundly affecting, The Raqqa Diaries is an important book by a brave young man, which allows unprecedented access to the brutal conditions that many Syrians are living under.

108 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2017

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About the author


3 books4 followers
Samer é o pseudônimo de um jovem de 24 anos que conseguiu escapar de Raqqa. Atualmente, ele vive em um campo de refugiados no norte da Síria

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 184 reviews
Profile Image for Richard.
1,775 reviews149 followers
June 4, 2017
A quite unique book in my experience.
These are the writings; the memories and recollections of life in Raqqa under the rule of Islamic State, Daesh in the words of this diarist.
“Every person starts their journey of life with a dream that they live in hope of achieving one day. There are many obstacles along the way. These stop some people, while others carry on.
I am trying to find the remnants of my dream. It’s fading away in the midst of an overwhelming feeling of disappointment.
As I write these words, sitting on the dusty ground. I am surrounded by thousands of refugees. Like me they were forced to flee their homes, leaving behind broken dreams of their own.
I still have hope for my country’s people. It springs from those who risk their lives to oppose injustice and oppression. “
“The area I am in is full of people like me. Thousands who have fled their homes, running from either Daesh or Assad’s regime. Their suffering, and mine, is not over yet. It is not even close to being over.”
“Every single person here has lived with horror. Yet instead of weeping or cursing, they all try to help each other.”
These comments are bad in themselves to read and contemplate. The death and horror exacted on Muslims by a warped corruption of that faith by Islamic State. The victims being ordinary citizens with a deep and enduring faith that cannot reconcile the brutality and extremism promoted in the name of religion. We in the West are appalled when this violence spills over into our streets by radicalised individuals but our pain and suffering although great and personal to those whose lives are affected at first hand or within families and relationships. Our losses pail into insignificance to the daily realities of living under this perverse sharia law.
The diary is written with humility and long suffering. A love for his people and his homeland. He has only dismay at the lack of support from western nations and the UN when the initial revolutionary ideals were suppressed by force and indiscriminate killing. He writes…
“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.”
An incredible story retold at great risk to the writer. Someone if you were to meet you’d want to embrace for his humanity. Sadly, he would likely shun you or spit at your feet because we are those who have stood idly by, and closed our hearts and borders to those who have endured so much.
Profile Image for Kelly.
251 reviews32 followers
July 2, 2017
This is one of the most important works of this decade. I'm never one to impress a book on someone but everyone needs to read this.

I'm heartbroken and apologetic and shocked that this is happening in our world. That people took no heed of the Nazi regime and Daesh are doing exactly the same thing. This book is heartbreaking and waves of shock just keep hitting you when you realise this book is not a work of fiction. It makes you angry, especially when people associate IS with Islam and being muslims. These depraved human beings are NOT true muslims and do NOT follow the Islamic religion. What they follow are twisted laws that they have forged themselves.

This book is going to remain with me for the rest of my life. I will always wonder about Samer and if he is still alive and if he is holding onto hope. I picked up this book yesterday and today the news stated that the US have take Raqqa. A piece of news that would have meant nothing to me 2 days ago made me so happy and emotional today. I hope and pray this is the beginning of the end of Daesh's reign of torture and terror.

Full review: https://cariadllyfr.wordpress.com/201...
Profile Image for shakespeareandspice.
342 reviews535 followers
June 5, 2017
One rainy night, a woman screams…

The first angry cries of her newborn baby drown out everything, even the roar of distant gunfire and air strikes.

Maybe the baby is screaming for its absent father, or just asking for a crib to lie in. Or is it pleading for an end to the constant killing and destruction and calling on God to take it back to the womb, away from this place?

You have the right to say all these things, little baby. But many who hear your cries see your arrival as a blessing. You give your family hope, and this spreads to others. I find myself thinking: maybe one day you will be our salvation, little one.

Samer, a pseudonym for the author’s real name, writes this diary detailing his experience of living under Daesh (aka ISIS or IS or ISIL). The diary is a very short one and has lots of drawings scattered throughout, making for a very quick read—if still a difficult one.

The book started off a bit average for me as I was dubious about how much can one really get from a 106 page long book but as Samer begins to describe the occupation of Daesh in Raqqa, the tension steadily increases. It happens in small increments and ultimately leads to a point of the author having to escape and leave his own family behind in order to survive—and one day share this story with us.

Clearly this wasn’t going to be easy to read but I underestimated just how much difficulty I would have coping afterward. More then once did I end up crying my eyes out. At one point in the book, Samer recounts his friend coming into his house and giving him the small sum of money his friends had collected for his family after he would escape Raqqa. As soon as his friend leaves and Samer turns, there’s this moment when his mother stands there behind him and she just knows. She knows he has to leave, and has been consistently urging him to do so as well, but the final confirmation is utterly devastating to witness.

Street harassments, public beheadings, imprisonments, tortures, etc. are scattered throughout this book but the trauma isn’t limited to the physical pain. No, it’s also for the small moments in which Samer realizes that he cannot afford sugar with his tea. And for when he struggles to bring healthy portions of food into the home for his family. And again for when he realizes that they don’t have enough bricks or cement to rebuild his home after a bombing.
All we are left with is hope. Hope that our country will rebuild itself. Hope that the sacrifices made by our people will finally banish the cruelty and evil that has long stalked our land.

For now, this is all we can do.

After finishing the book, I was left angry, upset, and in pieces. And I’m going to be feeling this way for a long time to come.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,431 reviews2,510 followers
February 26, 2017
"I walk around the city with a broken soul, looking at all the other broken souls passing by. Each pair of eyes that passes tells a different story, a different struggle"

Short but powerful, this gives us a horrific glimpse into the maelstrom of a community living under IS. Samar was at university before dropping out in fear: he has seen friends crucified and beheaded, has been arrested and tortured, and yet still has the extraordinary courage to write these dispatches and get them smuggled out to reveal the true horrors of what is happening in Syria.

I hope that at least some of the proceeds of this book get fed back into humanitarian aid for the camps like the one at the end where a woman gives birth on the ground without a roof, without water, just the bare hands of other women to help her. Read this and weep.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,692 reviews177 followers
October 24, 2017
Every once in a while, an important book is published, which reflects upon parts of society that are often hidden from the Western world. Yes, I am sure that we are all familiar with the conflict in Syria, which has been ongoing for years, but we rarely get to see what the situation is like for the civilians who call the country home. The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from "Islamic State" does just this; it gives an insight, through the eyes of a Syrian man in his early twenties, of exactly what living under so-called Islamic State (also referred to as both Daesh and IS in this review) is like, and the hatred which they spread into all corners of society.

John Humphrys writes that The Raqqa Diaries 'should be compulsory reading for all who care about the horror of Syria', and Hilary Benn states that it is: 'Remarkable... We owe it to the author - and to all those who have died - to read his account of the evil cruelty of Daesh and the horrors of the Syrian civil war'.

Since so-called Islamic State occupied the Syrian city of Raqqa, journalists were forbidden, and the penalty 'for speaking to the Western media is death by beheading'. The BBC, after much effort, finally managed to make contact with a small activist group named Al-Sharqiya 24, of which the anonymous author "Samer" is a member. Samer is 'fighting back the only way he can; by telling the world what is happening to his beloved city.' BBC Foreign Affairs Correspondent Mike Thomson's introduction to the volume reflects thus: 'What followed [making contact with Samer] is an extraordinary and chilling insight into how the brutality and injustices perpetrated by IS permeates almost every level of life in its now infamous capital.' Once recorded by Samer, the diary was encrypted and sent to an intermediary country, 'before being passed on to the BBC'. The communications network in Raqqa has largely been cut off, and there is little access for its civilians to the outside world: 'Their entire presence would provide journalists with an alternative narrative, dilute the effectiveness of Daesh propaganda and expose its lies.' They cannot even keep up with the news in their own country, as much about the war is blocked, and not reported upon.

Samer's narrative begins in March 2013, at a pivotal moment at which the rebels have taken over Raqqa. At first, this seems relatively hopeful to Samer, as he wants to be freed from Assad's regime. However, he soon begins to worry about the presence of Daesh and the Al-Nusra Front in proceedings. Daesh soon defeats the Free Syrian Army in the region, and takes over the city of Raqqa itself: 'Daesh members came in two basic types. Those who actually believe they have come to save us were amongst the first to enter the city; the second type are much more violent.'

The Raqqa Diaries is an important and insightful account of extremist views, and what it is like for ordinary citizens to have to live under often bizarre rules, which they can be punished severely for breaking. A rule is imposed, for instance, which states that all men have to wear their trousers above ankle length. The punishment for this is to undergo 'a week-long Sharia course'. Samer views such rulings as 'committing crimes against our beloved religion', and goes on to say: 'That is a terrible offence, because Islam is the most precious thing we have, a glimpse of light in these very dark times.'

The Raqqa Diaries is told in short bursts; all are shocking, and many heartbreaking, and demonstrate both the brutality of so-called Islamic state, and Samer's bravery. He thoughtfully shows that Western intervention is not always welcome within Syria; when the Russians stage an air strike 'supposedly targeting terrorists', he writes of the huge human cost: 'Isn't the terrorism on the ground enough? Now you bring it from the skies as well.' The Raqqa Diaries is incredibly human in this, and many other ways; it is both poignant and relatable. Samer speaks about studying, falling in love, and his dreams of living abroad. Of course, we live in relative safety in the West, and have freedom, but we have so much in common with Samer - our hopes, our dreams, and our compassion are based upon the same foundations, and our love for our people and our country is really no different to his. Of his patriotism in the face of warfare, Samer writes: 'I felt a calling to serve the land that I had been raised to love and cherish. The needs of our country felt more important than our own individual welfare.' Thus, he echoes a lot of those soldiers from Western shores who fought in the First and Second World Wars, amongst others, doing so for the greater good.

Samer constantly balances his own experiences with those of others, writing: 'I try not to question the many terrible things that have happened to me, or think too much about them. I look at others around me. Some have been even less fortunate, their positions much worse than mine.'

Chilling and harrowing, The Raqqa Diaries are a reflection upon the awful brutality which exists in the world which we all call home, and deserves to be read by everyone. It gives such insight into what it is like to be repressed. Samer demonstrates how Daesh became more powerful over time, and how their rule became even worse, staging public executions, where they behead all of those who fought for Assad. 'The aim,' Samer tells us, 'is to instill so much fear into the hearts of onlookers that nobody will dare to challenge their reign of terror.' The book is hard-hitting, and not for the fainthearted, but one cannot stress the important enough of being aware of such atrocities, and doing all we can to help those affected.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,103 reviews2,953 followers
January 25, 2018
I read The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from 'Islamic State' upon Yamini's recommendation... There are only a few people whose reviews I trust, but when she rates something five stars, I know I am in for a treat.

Since ISIS occupied Raqqa in eastern Syria, it has become one of the most isolated and fear-ridden cities on earth. The sale of televisions has been banned, wearing trousers the wrong length is a punishable offence, and using a mobile phone is considered and unforgiveable crime.

No journalists are allowed in and the penalty for speaking to the western media is death by beheading. Despite this, after several months of nervy and often interrupted conversations, the BBC was able to make contact with a small activist group, Al-Sharqiya 24. Finally, courageously, one of their members agreed to write a personal diary about his experiences.

Having seen friends and relatives butchered, his community's life shattered and the local economy ruined by these hate-fuelled extremists, Samer is fighting back the only way he can: by telling the world what is happening to his beloved city.

This is Samer's story.
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 and old person who has witnessed many horrors, pins their hopes on our own revolutionaries. The outside world has not answered our calls.
I can't tell you how happy I am that I decided to read this. Even though 'happy' is probably the wrong adjective. I genuinely believe that becoming aware of one's ignorance and acknowledging it without shame is the first step to overcoming said ignorance.

Even though it hurts to admit, I am ignorant when it comes to the conflict in the Middle East. Following the news is not something that I do on a regular basis, especially when it comes to events far away from home. I am aware of my privilege. I have the choice to look away, the people suffering in Syria and other war-torn countries don't.

I don't want to make promises I can't keep, but I can honestly say that books like the Raqqa Diaries function as a much needed wake up call for me. I am a person who reads primarily to educate myself, and not 'just for fun'. However, I am still struggling with getting out of my comfort zone seeking out the brilliant and vital pieces of nonfiction that are published these days. I definitely want to dive deeper into all kinds of political conflicts to become more aware of the world I am living in.

The Raqqa Diaries are definitely a great place to start for someone unfamiliar with the Syrian Civil War. Samer is a skilled narrator who doesn't overwhelm his readers with dense info-dumping, and he also doesn't presume any kind of previous knowledge. The Raqqa Diaries is a personal account of his life concerning his relationship to his parents and siblings, his hopes and fears for the future, and the terrible crimes that endangered his life in Raqqa and which eventually forced him to escape from his beloved city.
I walk around the city with a broken soul, looking at all the other broken souls passing by. Each pair of eyes that passes tells a different story with a different struggle.
Much of the media coverage of Syria has looked more at the political and military side of the conflict, suppressing the effect on people's everyday lives. Samer's honest and relatable account makes it possible for people like us, living far away, to see Syrians as people who share the same hopes, needs, dreams and fears as ourselves.

The Raqqa Diaries is a truly eye-opening read that combines the perfect mixture of information content and emotional closeness. It is a super quick read that manages within 106 pages to pack an emotional punch. The illustrations which accompany Samer's narrative are fitting and hautingly beautiful. All in all a brilliant book!
Profile Image for Nigel.
820 reviews93 followers
March 4, 2017
Briefly - Simple, raw and powerful - if anything understated.

In full
This book is based on some short broadcasts made on Radio 4. As Raqqa was "liberated" by Daesh (IS) it became impossible to report from there. However a reporter from the BBC made contact with some people who were effectively underground there and one of them was prepared to offer a diary of his experiences and thoughts which were smuggled out and the broadcast. This is Samer's story

It tells, in fairly understated language to me, of some of the day to day events affecting the people of Raqqa who now found themselves under Daesh rule. The sheer barbarity of some of the scenes is remarkable. That these are carried out by people who consider they are following a religion is frankly frightening.

Indeed this book does show the fear felt by Samer and the inhabitants of Raqqa but it also conveys anger graphically too. I found this a very powerful story and it made me think far more about issues that I only hear as fairly sanitised headlines. The rawness of existence in Raqqa for ordinary people is vividly sketched.

This is not a long book. It is simply written. It would not take much of your time to read it. It will probably make you think. It deserves reading by anyone with the smallest interest in humanity.

Note - I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review

Profile Image for Bookish.
568 reviews23 followers
March 27, 2017
Everyone should read this book! Everyone!

This is the diary of Samer (pseudonym) and his life in Raqqa before and during the takeover of his city by IS.

It is horrifying and heartbreaking to read what Samer and his towns people are put through by the Daesh and their twisted view of Islam. Beheadings in the street, people thrown to their deaths, crucifixions and torture.

But through all that there is still love, he thinks of others before himself and risked his life to share his story with the world.

Air strikes killing many of his towns people and hardly any Daesh terrorists but still they try to rebuild their once wonderful town and trying to live their lives while being terrified of being the next one the Daesh chose to pick.

This is such an important book to read, it shows the humanity trying to fight the horror that is Daesh and how we all need to work together to bring an end to it, to open our hearts and help them rebuild their lives without fear.

*Huge thanks to Samer, Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for this copy which I chose to read and all opinions are my own*
Profile Image for Barbara.
972 reviews125 followers
January 5, 2020
The war in Syria is still very fresh. It's so recent that it's not yet reached the 'fiction' stage of literary evolution. After all, who needs fiction when the reality is beyond the imagining of the most creative readers and writers? In the past year, I've read several books about the war from the point of view of women who joined ISIS, a woman who fought for the Kurds and this one about a young man and his family who were caught up as local bystanders when ISIS made Raqqa their stronghold.

A couple of times, the anonymous writer tells us that he fears people outside Raqqa will think that people there must all agree with ISIS if they live under their regime. Of course, that's not true. The men with the black flags and their perverse interpretations of the Koran need some locals to boss around, torture and kill so they can feel like big important warriors. Taxing the locals until their businesses are unviable, until locals have nothing to eat and their houses are bombed around them is bad enough. Killing them in public beheadings and crucifixions for seemingly minor or made-up infractions soon becomes the norm. Can anybody consider themselves 'safe' in this city?

This is a very short book and it's not a particularly 'literary' book but it has great value because it's a rare book. Serious risks were taken to record these events and even greater risks to get the writer out of Raqqa and to relative safety.

In a few more years, ten or maybe more perhaps, no doubt we'll move on from non-fiction and Syria will become a location for fiction about the abusive players in this ultimately rather pointless war just as Afghanistan has taken that role for the past decade or two. For now, Raqqa Diaries will take its place alongside other important first person accounts of history's great horrors.
Profile Image for Denisa Ballová.
340 reviews215 followers
August 12, 2017
"Keď Daeš znásilnil moje mesto a uchmatol ho revolucionárom, ktorí obetovali všetko pre to, aby ho oslobodili, zúril som. Nedokázal som to prijať a bol som odhodlaný odkryť všetky zločiny, ktoré páchali na ľuďoch. Musel som povedať svetu, čo sa v Rakke deje."

Toto je dôležitá kniha.
Profile Image for Ivo.
85 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2019
World Books Project #5 - Syria
this is for my own benefit, written right after i finish these books, so excuse the inelegant format of the review and the sometimes contradictory/off the cuff thoughts

I knew this was a slim volume, but I still expected a great amount of incisive detail and/or unexpected information about life in a Daesh-dominated, war-torn part of the world. A short book can still pack a punch, but I found myself knowing and thinking less than I do when reading long-form articles on the same topics covered by the Raqqa Diaries.

The author is in a position to provide great insight, as a young student involved in anti-Assad protests shortly before the radical takeover. And there are hints of this insight - mentions of horrific public executions and comparisons to the Assad regime's treatment of dissenters, personal anecdotes of sorrow under Daesh with the forceful marrying off of Samer's university girlfriend to a fighter, moves to spread disinformation among the people (by banning television and mobile phones, for instance).

But everything is glossed over very quickly, and feels very editorial. Obviously, I understand that the writer typed up these entries in dire circumstances, but that's part of why it's weird for them to be sterile. The appeal of diaries, to me, is finding out about specific incidents from a first-hand point of view, with the added element of personal investment and emotional bias. In the book, regardless of how horrific the events alluded to became, it felt extremely detached and uncritical, completely primed for publication in a middle-class Western paper with wide circulation.

I don't know if it's due to a lack of writing skill, or abstraction as a defence mechanism, but I didn't get much out of this. In terms of providing factual information, it doesn't have much going for it, since by the time it was published there were a lot of objective accounts that went into far greater depth and informative articles that delved into the sociopolitical reasons for the Syrian conflict and Daesh. In terms of emotional insight, there's hardly anything, and certainly nothing that compares to accounts from similar circumstances like Victor Klemperer or Marjane Satrapi. In terms of the criteria I used for the selection of books for my world reading challenge, I don't feel like I learned much about Syrian society and life at all (save for a couple of interesting proverbs and a relevant line from the Hadith).

So, overall, though I don't want to diminish the struggles the author went through and the immense courage it took to communicate with people outside Raqqa while under Daesh rule, I feel like this book really didn't live up to the hype.
Profile Image for Angela.
498 reviews34 followers
March 16, 2017
The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State by a young man with the alias of Samer, is a heart-wrenching account of his life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh. He also describes how he escaped from the city and made his way to a refugee camp in northern Syria.

As he said, life was not easy before the war began. The Assad regime had been in place for 40 years or more and many people hoped to see the end of it. However, the rebels were unable to hold Raqqa, which was overrun by Daesh. Life under the so-called Islamic State was horrific. Samer saw so many dreadful sights – executions, some carried out by children; women being stoned to death; men arrested for wearing their trousers too short.

Under this regime, the people of Raqqa became poorer and more despairing by the day. Many feared for their lives. Men, especially, were suspected of being revolutionaries and there was the daily expectation of being picked up and executed.

I was interested to read that Samer decided to escape from the city that he loves at the insistence of his mother. She was terrified that he would die at the hands of Daesh. Maybe this is the answer to the question that I have heard raised as to why there are so many young men who are fleeing from Syria; their families wish them to survive rather than face the daily prospect of execution.

This is a book that one can read quickly, but it should be read. Lives were risked so that we could have a glimpse of life inside Raqqa. I think we owe it to Samer and all involved in this.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this harrowing, but important, book.

Profile Image for Noelia Alonso.
755 reviews119 followers
November 8, 2017
There is a lot this book made me feel. Most of all it made me feel disgusted with the International Community for doing nothing, for standing by. And this diary comes from a single person so one can only imagine the horrors of many others whose voices haven't been heard yet.

"Educated people like him scare Daesh the most. He believes that our most important role is to expose the true nature of Daesh, particularly the way they use religion to cover up their criminality, only fooling those who do not know Islam properly. The people who fall for their lies are trying to find a purpose in life [...] He hates the way Daesh are corrupting our religion, polluting everything our fathers and grandfathers taught us and telling us that we are wrong and they are right."

"The fact that the world is standing idly by, just watching what is happening, does not surpise anyone here any more. 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. Some countries do worse than just stand by. They have given the regime help in killing its people. They continue to do this while thousands of families live out in the open with nothing to protect them from the rain, the sun and the bombs. I believe that the worst crime a country can commit is to put its own self-interest before the lives of innocent people."

"We hold on to the idea that in the end, good will prevail [...] All we are left with is hope. Hope that our country will rebuild itself. Hope that the sacrificed made by our people will finally banish the cruelty and evil that has long stalked our land. For now, this is all we can do."
Profile Image for Sharon.
1,069 reviews79 followers
April 5, 2017
"Since ISIS occupied Raqqa in eastern Syria, it has become one of the most isolated and fear-ridden cities on earth. The sale of televisions has been banned, wearing trousers the wrong length is a punishable offence and using a mobile phone is considered an unforgiveable crime. No journalists are allowed in and the penalty for speaking to the western media is death by beheading."

The BBC made contact with a small activist group, Al-Sharqiya 24. One of their members agreed to write a diary, this is the result.

It's a short book but it's like a massive punch in the face. "Samer" (a pseudonym) went to high school, to University, fell in love, shared coffees with friends and dreamed of travelling. He also watched his friends as they were crucified, beheaded, saw his home destroyed, his town closed down, members of his family killed, and lived in constant fear that he would be executed for breaking whatever new law that Daesh came up with that particular week.

This is really terrifying - it's so hard to believe that this really happens, but it does. Every single day. Everyone should read this, especially people who can't help but comment on articles about refugees.

There but for the grace of god, etc.

Profile Image for Zuzana Fajta.
22 reviews25 followers
April 9, 2018
Neviem, ako to inak povedať, ale je to riadny “nájeb”.
Profile Image for Shireen Rummana.
11 reviews7 followers
March 20, 2017
This collection of diary entries, albeit brief, manages to poignantly describe three major periods in Raqqa and in Syria's recent history--the misery of life under the Assad regime, the brief hope and commitment of activists during the revolution, and then the deepening misery and crisis under IS control in Raqqa. The narrator explains well, using a saying of Ibn Khaldun's, "The Tyrants bring the invaders" (الطغاة يجلبون الغزاة), how IS arrived in Syria as the child of the Assad regime, created from its shadow, its hopelessness and its barbarity. It is not the flip coin of the regime but a product of it, and the Assad regime is never portrayed as anything of a "lesser evil."
Although the narrator, "Samer," must flee Raqqa, we see in his narration a continued hope and revolutionary spirit within IS-controlled regions and those under FSA control. In Raqqa, though shops have shut down and the majority of young people have fled, there is still a potential for rebellion, and rebellious young people find ways to communicate with revolutionaries outside the city. Outside, Samer speaks of the revolutionaries as the hope for Syria. Still, he is not uncritical of the SDF, the various Kurdish forces and their authoritarianism. There is a recognition of the grim challenge ahead and the acceptance of the need to face it over the years and decades to come. Samer's memories of taking part in the revolution, his arrest, his fearless outing of his torturer in a university protest, contrast starkly from his refusal to make new friends when living in a refugee camp in northern Syria, out of fear of more loss and deeper isolation. These diary entries cannot substitute for a historical study of Syria, but they do provide testimony of a solemn commitment to persevere through the highs and lows in a long-term revolutionary process confronted by war, imperialism, and counter-revolutionary barbarism....
Profile Image for Luca.
79 reviews56 followers
February 27, 2017
The Raqqa Diaries is the product of contact between the BBC and a small activist group from Syria, Al-Sharqiya 24. The book tells the story of Samer, one of the members of the activist group. Imagine the circumstances under which he lived when was working on bringing his story out.

Personally, I don't even think that the events in Syria can be described under a term such as 'circumstances', they are no more than an ongoing flow of pure terror. Reading this book fills you up with emotions like sadness and anger because Samer tells you about things he has witnessed, which should not exist in this world. Yet, there are notions of hope all the way throughout his story.
Samer's story is told in a voice that so strong, it will leave a permanent imprint on your heart and mind. The feelings I had when reading this were so powerful and pure, something which happens only exceptionally after a very very good book. It is told in relatively simplistic sentences, which could possibly be a detriment for any other book, but not for this one. Its style makes that the book is capable of bringing across a powerful message in a simplistic way, which probably would have seemed so unreal if done differently.

If this isn't enough, the quality of this book is even further enhanced by its visual appearance. First, the cover will draw your attention from the first moment you lay eyes on it. Second, Scott Coelho contributed to the book by making breathtaking illustrations, which capture emotions in a manner, unlike everything I've seen before. Third, the harmony between the text and illustrations is like a stream of water, it goes together so incredibly well.

Make sure to read this book, no matter who you are, what your age is, or where your reading interests lie, for the sake of being human.
Profile Image for CuriousBookReviewer.
133 reviews9 followers
August 30, 2017
Curiosity level: Deeply tragic and moving - Bravery in the face of brutality

This non-fiction book reads very much like an Anne Frank’s diary, but in Raqqa. Samer is a 24-year old Syrian from the ISIS-controlled city. In this journal filled with illustrations and words, he painfully describes the atrocities of the ISIS militants; The people in Raqqa are being brutally slaughtered silently.

Samer’s neighbours and friends were hunted down and killed for having protested in the past. People get killed for missing mass prayer sessions. Or punished for exposing their hands in public. Samer’s escape was a miracle. Sometimes people don’t make it out alive - and we won’t ever get to hear about it.

Prior to reading this book I had no clue as to the madness that was going on in Raqqa. The poor citizens seriously fear for their lives every day - escape is a risk too big to take, but staying isn’t an option when the costs of living is escalating beyond what they can bear :( what they go through is really unimaginable - brutality at its worst!

After reading, I went online to read about the current situation. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is made up of Kurdish, Sunni and Christian fighters, have been planning and making assaults on the ISIS militants in Raqqa. My prayers are with the SDF and the citizens of the city :’(

If you’ve read this, pass on the book or share about Raqqa with a friend. This will help spread the word of the city’s suffering.
Profile Image for Apratim Mukherjee.
221 reviews45 followers
October 6, 2018
Its a short book written with the help of author's diary entries describing about life in Raqqa when ISIS were ruling.The writer also describes about the crimes committed by the Assad regime.The book not only explains about cruelty of Daesh but also asks international community to step in.
I think it should be read by everyone as it exposes the true face of many people we admire.By reading this amazing book,we come to know that we really take our freedom for granted to a very large degree.
Profile Image for BookishDubai.
186 reviews59 followers
March 15, 2017
Life in Raqqa is like a slow death. There’s no way you can live a decent life there. -Samer

A short and brave account of life under ISIS. I highly recommend reading it, along with Mustafa Khalifa's 'The Shell': Memories of a Hidden Observer, for a better understanding of the Syrian situation.
Profile Image for Saaniya.
157 reviews20 followers
August 30, 2017

A wake up call for all of us. A short read, but not an easy read, by any means. Expect tears. Many tears.

The illustrations are beautiful and colourful, and in including them, the publishers have been smart enough to know our spirits would need lifting. It is an intense read after all. It's like reading dystopia, except it's real.
Profile Image for Ajay.
34 reviews45 followers
October 23, 2018
A deeply moving personal account of life in war torn syria where regime forces are competing with daesh in cruelty....
Profile Image for Mapa książek.
94 reviews19 followers
October 2, 2020
5 gwiazdek, chociaż tak naprawdę powinnam pozostawić tę książkę bez oceny. "Zapiski z Rakki" na pewno pozostawiają czytelnika z uczuciem bezradności i bólu, z powodu istniejącego na świecie cierpienia. Jak dla mnie obowiązkowa pozycja, aby otworzyć szerzej oczy.
Profile Image for Aleksandra.
29 reviews15 followers
September 30, 2017
warto poświęcić godzinkę i przeczytać, a kiedyś najlepiej jeszcze do tego wrócić
Profile Image for karola.
24 reviews
May 26, 2023
daje sporo do myslenia i pokazuje (poprzez zdawkowe relacje) jak faktycznie czuje sie czlowiek ciagle kontrolowany i terroryzowany przez wladze najpierw rezimu pozniej pi
Profile Image for Sally Graham.
49 reviews4 followers
March 19, 2018
We’re all familiar with the conflict in Syria, but we have so far only been able to guess at what it must have been like to live in the city of Raqqa, which was seen as 'Islamic State's' "capital". It became one of the most isolated, dangerous and terrifying places in the world. When Daesh (Islamic State) and their twisted idea of Islam took over Raqqa, the penalty for those who spoke to the western press was death by beheading. My sheer amazement that this book even managed to exist was enough to make me desperate to read it. I personally have a particular interest in civilian experience during wartime but those that don’t would benefit from reading the incredibly brave and inspiring story of Samer. 

This book, written as a diary by Samer (not his real name) begins as he documents his hopes that the end of the Assad regime would mean a better future for him and his family, except the crushing terror of an enemy even worse takes over. This short book is composed of brief diary entries in which Samer bears his soul to the reader, speaking of love, heartbreak and loss. He reveals his crushing desperation to keep his family safe, and utter fear while Daesh exact the terror of crucifixions, beheadings, torture and the cruelty of living under a corrupt and unchallenged power. 

‘While some of Daesh’s members are busy executing people for nothing, others spend their time creating friction. They provoke people in order to get a reaction. Then they punish anyone who opposes or criticises them’. 

The Raqqa Diaries opens up a shocking window into what is happening in our world. Despite living in extreme terror, Samer bravely documents his journey and demonstrates how people will continue to help one another no matter what. It is incredibly human and is the most important book I have read in years. Samer understands the power of information in opposing Daesh as he risks his life in order to expose the truth to the outside world. 

‘I have been greatly affected by Khalid’s death. I am now more determined than ever to fight this criminal group and expose what they are doing. I want it to be known what they are doing to us. Not only how their actions affect us physically, but what they have done to our dreams, our revolution, our way of life. Yet I also find myself overwhelmed by fear. It’s not just the horror of what happened to Khalid, it’s the knowledge that the same thing might happen to me in front of my mother’. 

My Rating - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From my blog - www.literarylove.co.uk
Profile Image for Tanabrus.
1,841 reviews160 followers
November 13, 2017
Istantanee di vita in Raqqa, scritte da un ragazzo sopravvissuto prima al regime siriano, poi al regime del terrore dell'Isis che aveva subito occupato la città una volta che l'esercito di liberazione siriano aveva scacciato i soldati di Assad.

Un libro coraggioso, scritto per denunciare al mondo intero la situazione in cui vive la popolazione sotto l'Isis ma anche come viveva sotto Assad. Una testimonianza del loro essere caduti, come è scritto nel libro, "dalla padella nella brace".
Mentre le due entità che dovrebbero combattere tra loro intrattengono rapporti commerciali per il petrolio, per dire.

Si va dagli atti di arbitraria e indiscriminata violenza quotidiana alla privazione di ogni diritto dei cittadini, dai soprusi dei miliziani fino all'impossibilità di sopravvivere.
Il regime del terrore dell'Isis che riprende e "migliora" il regime di oppressione di Assad.

E il mondo esterno?
Principalmente compare solo sotto forma di aerei militari che bombardano la città colpendo spesso i civili, col risultato che gli aerei sono temuti quanto i miliziani o i soldati.
E poi le voci sul fronte democratico che ritiene ogni fuggitivo da Raqqa seguace dell'Isis, la speranza iniziale ai tempi della rivoluzione che il mondo esterno, vedendo le immagini di ciò che accadeva, sarebbe intervenuto per aiutarli.
La consapevolezza che se fossero voluti sopravvivere avrebbero potuto contare soltanto su sé stessi, senza possibilità di aiuti esterni. Abbandonati a sé stessi.

Un libro coraggioso, visto che il semplice scriverlo, prima ancora di riuscire a fuggire, avrebbe potuto significare la morte.
Una testimonianza dura, dolorosa. Un grido di accusa contro regime, Isis, occidente, oriente.
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