What strikes this reader is how quickly the veneer of civilization falls, once the task of saving one’s own skin comes to the fore.

According to these testimonies, many people in Syria enjoyed a relaxed, contemporary lifestyle: the majority of women were going to college, planning careers, marrying later and choosing their own spouses.

The uprising against the government of President Assad in 2011 and subsequent war did not impinge on the people of Raqqa until spring 2014 when ISIS took full control of the city: then in the words of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, ‘all changed, changed utterly’. This interview delineates the steps that led to this new social order where fear, aggression and collaboration prevailed until unable to bear the price being exacted from them, the three women chose to flee to another country to save their lives.

Readers (of this interview) may be horrified but those acquainted with Freud’s work will not be surprised: as in the last century Freud wrote in Civilization and its Discontents that men are not gentle, friendly creatures, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result “is that their neighbour is not just a helper or sexual object but a temptation for them to gratify their aggressiveness, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill1.

In the aftermath of the article, a lot of The New York Times readers commented and responded to this interview – many judged these young women and compared them to the German women who collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War. Yet the most highly rated comments and responses are those that do not judge but seek to understand something of this very contemporary, catastrophic phenomenon that can plunge a civilized society back into the Middle Ages with the real consequences and effects that follow from this.

For full interview: www.nytimes.com

1 Freud, S. (1930). Civilisation and its Discontents. S.E. XXI