Ever since the war between ISIS and Assad has been destroying Syria and killing Syrians, a lot of press coverage on the subject has been focusing on the implications of this conflict for ‘the West’. Every now and then, we do hear semi-hopeful stories about or from people that stayed behind and risk their lifes on a daily basis to do good things. The story of RBSS, a group of civilian journalists in Raqqa, Syria, is one of those stories.
RBSS, a ‘nonpartisan and independent news page’, is short for ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’. Partly based in the self-declared capital city of the Islamic State, Raqqa, the people behind the organisation are bringing the daily terrors of the war and of life in the Islamic State to the attention of the Syrian people and the rest of the world. In its reporting, RBSS is blatantly anti-ISIS and anti-Assad. Besides articles about the continuing of the war and the atrocities suffered, you’ll also find articles on their website about why it is appealing for young men and women to join ISIS.
RBSS is extremely important for Syria. The founders of the underground activist-journalistic collective met via Facebook after witnessing the first public executions. They wanted to unite as reporters in order to fight ISIS propaganda digitally. A lot of ISIS fighters come from outside of Syria, where they are lured to Syria with the use of ISIS propaganda about the adventurous and luxurious lifestyle they supposedly would be living inside the caliphate. Disillusioned by that and by wrongful religious interpretations that justify ISIS’ atrocities, they do a lot of harm in Syria. RBSS sheds a light on what the situation is really like inside the Islamic State to prevent those foreign ‘soldiers’ from traveling to Syria.
When it comes to the European press coverage on the Syrian war, a lot can be said. It doesn’t evenly cover the cruelties caused by Assad as it does the ones caused by ISIS. And more often it focuses on the ‘immigration crisis’. Occasionally, we get to see a different point of view through social media. However, there are far too little stories being told to inform us on the dangers, human rights violations and cruelties in day-to-day Syrian life. Stories like these lay at the foundation of changing the lack of understanding towards refugees looking for asylum that seems to play such a big part in both the European and American political debate.
The reporting RBSS is doing is important work, but comes at high risk for their own lives. A month after the establishment of the news website, a journalist for RBSS got arrested by ISIS. After finding journalistic content on his computer, he was sentenced to death. Alongside the journalistic content, there had also been names on the computer of fellow journalists. For this reason, many people that joined RBSS had to flee Syria after their names became known to the Islamic State. But even outside of Syria they can still be harmed: an RBSS journalist has been executed in Turkey, and Islamic State is killing family members of people who fled.
City of Ghosts
In order to spread their message across the world and extend their reach, the people behind RBSS teamed with American documentary maker Matthew Heineman. They came to trust him and his professionalism after finding out about his success documentary Cartel Land. In this documentary the true complexity and cruelties of the Syrian war are shown, also demonstrating the consequences in countries that aren’t directly involved. It is meant to be a wake-up call to other countries to help the Syrian people. But it’s also to show the humanity and the love of this group of Syrian activists in order to tackle the stereotyping Syrians and activist groups often have to deal with.
It is only logical that an effective battle against ISIS has to be fought online as well as on the ground
Initiatives like RBSS are incredibly important because they are excellent tools in battling a war without using violence. The Syrian war has proven to be heavily influenced by social media and propaganda. Therefore, it is only logical that an effective battle against ISIS has to be fought online as well as on the ground to keep ISIS from recruiting people through social media. Besides, online news reporting on this war is highly necessary since there seems to be such a big lack of understanding for the realities Syrian refugees are running from. Arguably, RBSS might even be fighting this war more effectively than any of the involved parties through the dissemination of information.
Cover: Gabriella Demczuk