In this war, to be a foreign reporter is to
be hunted by Islamists and the regime. My helmet is a veil, my hijab a flak
the rise of the Islamist resistance, parts of Syria have become off-limits to
journalists – 30 of us are now missing. Today my helmet is a veil, and my flak
jacket a hijab. Because the only way to sneak into Aleppo is by looking like a
here don't refer any more to “liberated areas,” but to east and west Aleppo –
they don’t show you pictures of their children, or of siblings killed by the
regime, but simply the pictures of beautiful Aleppo before the war. Because
nobody is fighting the regime anymore; rebels now fight against each other. And
for many of them, the priority is not ousting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but
enforcing sharia law.
is nothing but hunger and Islam. Dozens of threadbare children, disfigured by
leishmaniasis, walk barefoot in the steps of mothers, covered in black from
head to toe – all bowl in hand, seeking a mosque for bread, their skin yellowed
by typhus. In the narrowest alleys, to dodge mortar fire, boys are on the right
with their toy Kalashnikovs, while the left is for girls, already veiled.
Jihadi fathers push with their beards, djellabas and suicide belts. In July,
Mohammad Kattaa was executed for misusing the name of the prophet. He was 15.
there are only Syrians now to tell us what’s happening. They work for the major
media, and contribute to articles written from New York, Paris and Rome. They
are the famous citizen journalists, glorified by those who probably would never
trust a citizen dentist.
outcomes are cases similar to that of Elizabeth O’Bagy, the analyst mentioned
by John Kerry during the days of the chemical attack. In fact, she had just
published through the Wall Street Journal
a piece that essentially made you believe that the rebels were all good guys:
that hardliners, here, are but a handful – because the problem for the US is
that Assad might be replaced by al-Qaida. A few days later, while Human Rights
Watch uncovered evidence of rebels responsible for war crimes against the
minorities, it was revealed that O’Bagy was on the payroll of a Syrian lobby
group whose goal was to pressure the Obama administration towards intervention.
In the Twitter and YouTube era, when many newspapers save on correspondents on
the ground by raking up somebody who will summarise for them what's going on in
his own backyard, it’s on the O’Bagys that we then base foreign policy, base
our wars: on the accounts of a recent graduate, born in 1987.
not that the war has become more dangerous. Early on we were with the rebels,
and the rebels were those who were fighting for freedom: and we journalists
were those who witnessed for the world the crimes of Assad. But we suddenly
realised (especially my generation) what a war means when you are not embedded.
Today we are also here to witness the crimes of the rebels: and both the rebels
and the regime hunt us. This war isn’t more dangerous; it’s only truer: a war
where nobody is innocent, where nobody is immune; a war where nobody is welcome
– we have all run away.
as journalists have any responsibility? Our role is to question. So why are we
targeted? Perhaps because many of us were here only for money, only for the
single article – here for an award, or a contract, so that for Syrians we
became just a matter of business.
perhaps because when Abdullah Yassin, the activist who made possible the work
of many of us, was killed, and killed for protecting us, for bringing to the
police two kidnappers, none of us left a flower on his tomb? Or perhaps it is
because we have reported only the blood, because it was easier, because it was
cheaper – and so we delivered to the world a misleading portrait of this
country – that now generates unsteady and mixed-up policies? Perhaps because we
all jumped here, in the aftermath of the gas attack, just to vanish in
disappointment when Obama opted not to strike?
we are around or not, today do Syrians see no difference? Perhaps because we
are but the mirror and expression of the international community, and its
cynicism on Syria.
evenings ago I was on Twitter, when a jet swooped overhead. In a heartbeat, a
flurry of followers – many of them, I am afraid, waiting for my last Tweet from
under the rubble. And my reaction in that moment was only: Go to hell. And I
turned everything off.