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What Syria Stands to Lose

A View From Raqqa, Where Normal Was Hard-Won

A class in Raqqa, November 2018  Aboud Hamam/REUTERS

In April 2018, I drove into Raqqa, Syria, for the first time since reporting eight months earlier on the fight that liberated the city from the Islamic State, known as ISIS. By April, Raqqa resonated not with mortar rounds but with drilling and the rattle of generators as the city’s residents unearthed the remains of their homes from the rubble that had engulfed them. A town once inhabited by ghosts now slowly shook itself back to life, through sheer force of will and intestinal fortitude.

As I drove into the city, I found one sight particularly befuddling. There on a street full of crushed buildings was a black, proudly hanging sign, behind which a young man sat in front of dozens of glass bottles: a perfume shop, the only storefront open on its street. Who, in all the world, would open a perfume shop in a city that had just

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