Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

City of Ghosts: from Syria to Europe and the fight against the far-right.

with 12 comments


Image result for City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts was shown on BBC 4 last night.

This moving documentary about a group of Syrian activists, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.  (RBSS)

The hopes of an Arab Spring resounded in their home, the city of Raqqa in the north of Syria. Protests against the Assad regime were countered by violent repression. The arrival of ISIL, in April 2014, the country’s branch of  Islamic State, was followed by the rule of their version of Islamic ‘law’. There were public beheadings, firing squad executions, mock crucifixions and  Volkish placard shaming.

At great risk to themselves RBSS opposed the take-over in the only way they could. They reported and filmed undercover the regime of what became the de facto capital of Daesh.

The documentary showed images of clandestine protests against Daesh and the slaughters the jihadists committed. Perhaps the most disturbing moments were when the new rulers tried to bring the young into their fold. “Children are Isis’s firewood” they said, and we saw a band of joyful babes and youngsters following a bearded fighter chanting their hate. A near-infant was filmed being trained to stab and behead on a large teddy bear.

This backdrop confirmed the worst scenes in Peter Kosminsky’s The State.

Many RBSS activists left the city, though they kept a core group of courageous witness inside Raqqa.

They used social media and the Net to broadcast their message. ISIL devoted a great deal of time to trying to search their supporters out.

In May 2014, Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim was kidnapped by ISIL and murdered. In July 2015, ISIL released a video showing two men being strung up on trees and shot. Though ISIL claimed the two murdered men had worked with RBSS, one of the founders of RBSS denied they were members. Another friend of the group was similarly executed. Hamoud al-Mousa, the father of one of the group’s founders, was killed in ISIL custody. On October 30, 2015, RBSS activist Ibrahim Abdul Qadir (age 20) and his friend Fares Hamadi were found stabbed and beheaded in Urfa Turkey. It was the first acknowledged assassination outside of ISIL controlled territory. (Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently)

The sight of Hamoud al-Mousa’s execution, followed by that of the same RBSS activist’s brother’s murder, being watched in a safehouse in Germany was harrowing.

City of Ghosts deserved the highest awards.

But above all the activists of RBSS, merit the greatest respect we can possible give to other human beings.

Avoiding fruitless debate about the essential nature of ‘Islam’ one of them says,

“It is not my Islam”.


Towards the end of the documentary there were scenes in which the Syrians were  confronted by  the German far-right Pegida calling for the removal of refugees.

There was also  commentary on the actions of Daesh in Europe, including the Bataclan massacre.

This opens up the issue of how we should both support the fight of groups of democrats like RBSS and combat the racist far-right.

With the Tommy Robinson campaign in Britain this has become an issue of burning importance.

People have noted that the groups Stand up to Racism and Unite against Fascism are dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) (“Both these groups are front organisations of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and receive their political direction from its leadership.”  Socialist Resistance)

In 2014, as Raqqa fell to the genociders Socialist Worker published this article by Hassan Mahamdallie, co-director of the Muslim Institute.

There is resistance to this frenzy of Islamophobia

The beheading of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, formerly known as Isis, was horrific. But is the Nigerian military slitting the throats of 16 young men and boys any less horrific?

Or last week’s Israeli air strike that blew to smithereens the wife and seven month old son of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif? Surely that was horrific and disturbing too?


In the 1930s radicalised young men from the same mining communities illegally made their way into Spain to take up arms against general Franco’s fascist army.

It must have been the fault of their Welsh Methodist upbringing.

But Howells’ drivel was modest fare compared to the truly millennial frenzy that was gathering pace.

In authentic End of Days tones, US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel said Isis represents “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.

“They’re beyond just a terrorist group. This is beyond anything we’ve seen, so we must prepare for everything.”

I much preferred the response of the spokesperson from south east London’s Lewisham Mosque.

The press asked him to condemn a tweet from a woman “Jihadi” in Syria who might have once attended the mosque.

He retorted, “The young woman’s desire to travel to Syria has nothing to do with the Centre. Unfortunately, the Muslim community are being subjected to a burden of proof based on a ‘guilty by association’ standard”.

He rightly attacked the press’s demand, as “loaded with an Islamophobic assumption that Muslims by default condone such brutality”.

It was good to see someone refusing to bow to the frenzy, a spark of resistance in a very dark week.

There was much in a similar vein, from the SWP and groups such as Counterfire, understanding the ‘radicalisation’ of those who volunteered to be part of Einsatzgruppen and concentrating their fire on the prospect of Western intervention in the civil war.

Unlike RBSS their criticisms of the Assad regime was fairly muted.

This ambiguity continued.

When Charlie Hebdo (12 deaths) and the Porte de Vincennes Hypercacher (5 deaths)  attacks took place  in 2015, the same forces took it upon themselves to understand why this “blowback” against France in general and the ‘Islamophobic” satirical weekly took place. Charlie “had it coming to them”. Counterfire railed against ” a crude and absolutist fetish of free speech”.

These people are unable to confront violent Islamism.

With such a tainted history these groups have no moral authority whatsoever.

There are many many people on the lest who do not back groups which fail to take a resolute stand against the jihadist Islamism, and against Assad.

The fight against Robinson’s supporters, many (from the Clarion to Socialist Resistance) suggest, should come from the mass organisations of the labour movement and the Labour Party.

We cannot unite around  “defeating fascism” as Lindsey German puts it, until we have a clear view that the violent jihadists and the mouvance around them, with roots in Europe as well as the Middle East and the Maghreb,  are also enemies of the far right.

And we need to back the Syrian democrats, whose heroism is so powerfully illustrated in City of Ghosts.




Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2018 at 10:37 am

12 Responses

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    • Thanks, I failed to check that one.

      Andrew Coates

      June 12, 2018 at 11:50 am

  1. The reason Boko Haram moved to kidnapping girls was because slitting the throats of and burning young men and boys alive wasn’t getting any media attention. Basically because it was boys and young men the media (and politicians) didn’t give a damn.


    June 12, 2018 at 11:55 am

  2. This article is a bit all over the place. If you are saying that the left in this country is hypocritical about political Islam because of their need to attack everything western then I would agree with you.

    Lindsay German in particular is a vile bit of shit going back to the founding of Respect when she famously said that gay and women’s rights shouldn’t stand in the way of an alliance with the more extreme Islamist elements in this country. Much of the rest of it needs to be re-written.

    Dave Roberts

    June 13, 2018 at 8:42 am

  3. Seeing the reference to Counterfire I thought I would have a look at the site. The SWP were bad enough but these people are in La La Land. As far as I know they are a tiny split from the SWP, resigned or expelled or something, but their rhetoric is that of some sizable organisation. I think this is one of the underlying weaknesses of the left in that they seem to think that the revolution is just around the corner and with one last push the workers paradise can be achieved.

    Dave Roberts

    June 13, 2018 at 9:01 am

  4. What you trying to say Dave? That gays being thrown off tall buildings shouldn’t stand in the way of a worker’s paradise?


    June 13, 2018 at 9:52 am

  5. We have to draw a distinction between religious and political. Religious Islam is no more of a concern than any other religion. We don’t hear Tommy Robinson ranting on about the ‘Jehovah Witnesses’ ‘the Mormons’, the ‘Sikhs’, ‘the Buddhists’, do we? So it is strange that it is only Islam that has the word phobia appended to it’s nomenclature.

    That is because political Islam is a different beast entirely; like it’s unlikely bedfellow ‘feminism’ it is in fact a political force. Political Islam wants to wrestle control of the State. The UK would then be transformed into a theocracy where ideas and concepts which many of us find distasteful and indeed utterly abhorrent such as throwing gays off of tall buildings become hard-baked into Law backed up by the power and authority of the State. We only have to look at what happened during the Iranian Revolution. Do we really want to see an Ayatollah installed as the head of State? Do we really want to live in an Islamic Republic of the UK ? Do we want to see gays being thrown of off tall buildings?

    Of course most followers of Islam, or those who profess to be following Islam are in no way politically motivated; they have no desire for power or control. But we can be assured that a minority, nay tiny minority are and it is the increasing number of ‘foot-soldiers’ who would provide the ‘voting fodder’ for ‘hard-line clerics’ or whatever you want to call them to seize control by stealth. And indeed if Islam ever found itself in the minority it would be it’s ‘duty’ to implement and impose a system of government. Of course this all presupposes that the UK doesn’t suffer some form of violent revolution and isn’t transformed into an Islamic Republic overnight.

    We are already seeing concessions being granted to appease what is purportedly only a religion. And like a boiling frog we don’t notice as the temperature is slowing being increased.

    There is genuine concern out there and we need to keep a perspective. If we just sit back the ‘far-right’ are going to become more and more vocal until some sort of conflict is sparked. Or the ‘far-right’ themselves seize control. Or maybe this is the ‘plan’ all along. Whatever we are no doubt being ‘play’. And as we all know the ‘far-right’ and the ‘far-left’ are one and the same; two cheeks of the same arse.

    Offred the Handmaid

    June 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

  6. According to Wikipedia:

    “Lindsey Ann German (born 1951) is a British left-wing political activist. A founding member and convenor of the British anti-war organisation Stop the War Coalition, she was formerly a member of the Socialist Workers Party, sitting on its central committee and editor of its magazine, Socialist Review.”

    Quite an impressive CV.. 😉


    June 13, 2018 at 11:13 am

  7. As socialists we don’t take sides in capitalist wars. Each side here is just fighting for capitalism and there are many different varieties. But none can operate in the interest of the workers, so why would you take any of the four (?) sides in this war? They all seem pretty despicable.

    Steven Johnston

    June 13, 2018 at 12:48 pm

  8. Jannah, silly name and probably a silly Trot as well. Read what is on the page.

    Dave Roberts

    June 13, 2018 at 2:59 pm

  9. Sarah. I take it that your comment on the ” impressive CV” was tongue in cheek. It was, wasn’t it?

    Dave Roberts

    June 13, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    • I first saw her as the IS (predecessor of the SWP) representative on the organising committee for a demonstration in support of the Portuguese Revolution.

      She was apparently also an expert on Portugal.

      The Portuguese Workers’ Coordinating Committee did not appreciate the IS’s efforts to lead their campaign.

      Andrew Coates

      June 14, 2018 at 10:54 am

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