Today, Raqqa lies in ruins. But civilians like Wasna Ahmad El Mahammad are committed to living and rebuild their house, as well as their city once again.
The North Syrian city, Raqqa, became free from the clutches of the Islamic State (IS) in October 2017. Today, Raqqa lies in ruins. But civilians like Wasna Ahmad El Mahammad are committed to living and rebuild their house, as well as their city once again. Her determination to bounce back, and get normalcy as well as dignity back in her life is inspiring.
Wasna insisted on taking a bullet in her head rather than running away
The jihadists took over the city in March 2013. It was home to around 240,000 residents before the devastation. Sadly, even the UN does not have accurate records as far as the casualty figures are concerned.
During the last five years, the world witnessed the struggle faced by Syrians fleeing their country and entering Europe as refugees. However, there were lakhs of others who preferred to stay back rather than leaving their homes to Islamic State terrorists. Wasna happens to be one of them.
Braveheart Wasna Mahammad deserves to be the ‘real’ face of brave women in the Muslim World
They threatened her, forced her to leave the house. They even occupied her neighbor’s house and made it their headquarters. The group labeled several individuals from the city as “Bashar al-Assad “regime thugs and killed them. Minorities (Yazidis) were targeted, and women, as well as children, were openly murdered. But, Wasna did not leave her house and refused to give up.
“Under Islamic State rule, I feared the most for my eldest daughter. She is pretty, and I won’t let her out because I feared the IS would take her. Even while taking her to meet relatives, I always ensured all my daughters would be in full Sharia outfits and covered their face. The Islamic State often sent women to every house in the city to check if there are girls for marriage. People simply denied,” said Wasna Ahmad El Mahammad who had no other option but to run her husband’s grocery store after his death. She has six kids to look after.
“IS fighters kept on issuing threats, asked me to shut my shop, live on Islamic charity, or remarry one of their fighters. After I refused multiple times, they threatened they would take me to the religious police. I told them I would break a stick on their head. I rather take a bullet in my head instead of leaving my shop, town, and live somewhere as a refugee with my kids. One day, they came to my shop and slapped me. I told them if they were real men, they would have never attacked a woman. They mistreated us. They brought chaos and destruction with them. We were waiting day and night for our freedom, “said Wasna, who is looking forward to a new era. The documentary film “Ruins of Raqqa” highlights her struggle.
Thank God the children are fine; we can rebuild, and replace what was damaged.
Raqqa, a rubble city that everyone seems to ignore
Families who fled their city are slowly returning and doing their bit in cleaning the rubble piled on both sides of the roads. They are willing to take their chance in ruins. But, normalcy won’t return until destroyed bridges, roads, hospitals, schools are repaired and water, electricity supply gets restored.
The Islamic State triggered chaos and devastation. Further, the airstrikes carried out by the US, Russia, Britain, and other friendly forces to dislodge the ISIS destroyed the city’s infrastructure even further.
Unfortunately, besides other countries, even the UK and the United States are unwilling to help in reshaping the city.
Disarming landmines and explosives has become a routine task
Several men trained by the French Foreign Legion have joined the Kurdish forces. They have cleared combat training, explosives handling, and are even trained as squad marksman. But, the Kurdish commanders kept foreign fighters away from the frontline during the battle with the IS.
Jamie Williams, from Australia, is one of the foreigners who joined Kurdish forces and US troops to help them fight the Islamic State. He is a part of the group working with the Kurdish forces and helps in sweeping the city for unexploded shells, mortars, anti-personnel mines as well as explosive devices.
“Before leaving Raqqa, the IS fighters placed mines in the houses. Almost every day, several civilians fall prey to these mines while they go home and try to reclaim, clean the debris in their houses. The explosives come in all sizes. Mines are often recovered from kids’ games, pillows inside ruins, refrigerators,” said Williams while interacting with journalists from Australia’s ABC Network.
Besides the small amount of American Stabilization Aid offered by the United States to run a few schools in Raqqa, there’s no other help received from the international community. The people from the city have started cleaning the cement debris themselves. Their determination to bounce back is inspiring.
Even young children with visible physical and emotional scars of war can be seen helping their parents to clean the rubble consisting of cement, shattered glass. They want normalcy and dignity back in their life.
It’s sad that the world has completely ignored the struggles and challenges that women like Wasna Mahammad have been bravely facing. On the other hand, so-called Muslim world women rights activist like Malala Yousafzai get spot-light, money, media coverage even though she lives in the UK but claims to work for women in Pakistan.
Author: Nitten Gokhaley