City of Ferraris and tanks, playboys and Jihadists. A town where half-naked dancers twist around the pole in smoky clubs, while only glass window seperates them from an Arab women wrapped in a black niqab.
City of the arms dealers, spies, terrorists, Russian mobsters, gamblers. City of poets. Amazing Beirut, chained by snow smells like cedar, as once wrote a famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran.
Beirut is the door of the Middle East. Always was. A passageway through the entrance of the violent world that sourounds it.
Text and photos / Zoran Marinovic
Right here begins the story of Syria. Beyond the mountains and forests of cedar, smells the war. Mountain peak Zabadani is the first obstacle, and not just because of the snow which blocks the roads every winter. Every reporter in Beirut must decide how, and 80 kilometers to Damascus, can be very unsafe, expensive and complicated journey.
The famous Polish journalist R. Kapusczinksi said that the most important for reporters is to get drunk with the right people in the right place. In this case, the right people should be colleagues, reporters and cameramen, although in recent years, the competition can even be more devastating than the rebels, while the right place would be a bar in which they gather. In the Lebanese case, the smoky dens of shisha, aromatic herbs on the basis of apple or mint, not comparable with hashish, whose possession can be punished by death sentence.
Between puffs, we agree on the transport to Syria, with Ali, the fixer. Thus, in the reporter’s slang is name for the guide who knows well the terrain and people. They know how to find a newspaper story, photo, and most importantly they know how to solve the problem. Option for transport is taxi. It works on the principle of driving from point A to point B. No matter how hard you try and be ‘Frendly’ both work solely for money. My dear friend.
Syria is a war in which more journalists were killed than in any other conflict in recent decades. Journalists not only have become targets, they are part of the military strategy. So far, more than 150 journalists, cameramen, photographers were killed. It is simple calculation, lately very ‘economical’ for a number of rebel groups. And there are many of them. And there will be.
They masaccre the whole Kurdish village and there is a small piece of text about it in newspapers, only the number of victims on the news TV bar that goes below the announcers. They kill an American or European journalist, and they be-heade them, you have headlines around the world. For days. Guerilla like publicity. It makes them to become essential. And in war the most important thing is to be … important.
Fikser is seeking $ 200 per day, $ 200 more for a car, a hundred more to solve problems. It’s easy to understand why so many reporters got killed. Young, astonished at saving the world, hoping to expose they work in world’s galleries or publish them on the covers of magazines … or just if they could be seen by thousands of friends on Facebook. As lately, the digital cameras are cheap. As flights. A couple of nights at some airports and for very little money you can appear in Beirut. And that’s it. More than enough for a war reporter: We all started that way.
$ 500 per day? But the taxi driver Mohammed will take you to the border for only 60, and his cousin Ismail for only 20 to switch over. You do not even need a visa. Abdullah will wait for you right there, and for only $10, in a dusty yellow Mercedes 200 D, take you to the front lines in Syria. So you can meet evolutionaries. You can even take pictures.
So you save about $ 400 dollars. Per day. Pure business decision. But the problem is that the ISIL lately is ready to invest up to $ 50,000 in a European or American. As I mentioned, the war is essential to be important, and then instead of killing the Kurdish village, the reporter becomes a better investment. The driver from the beginning of the story has cashed five hundred dollars, and in the meantime created a whole range of intermediaries, dealers, resellers, smugglers that actually have nothing with war. Pure business. Buy. Sell. Nothing personal.
This scenario happens too often and in Syria it has become the rule. One should admire these young people, who are ready for impossible ris. But unfortunately, war is not like bungy jumping or white water rafting, nor adventure or a video game where you lose one, but you still have two lives. The stakes are high. Crossing over should never be an adventure. You don’t have a bonus. Neither credit. You can not start from the beginning.
Today in Syria there are around 25,000 foreign fighters. Jihadists. 1500 Frenchman, 800 Germans, Englishmen …, Spaniards, Americans …. Are you interested in how they come to Syria? Like famous girl from London, who few days ago, embarked on a very uncertain and complex trip. To Rakka. Capital of Isil. All of the ‘services’ went on the quest to search for her, but to no avail. It is only about three high school girls that have deviated. All size of the system, which is investing billions of dollars in technology, agents, satellites, borders, bowed before these high school students.
Most of the ‘real’ jihadists who come from Europe, arrange their plans, routes and contacts with motivators. It does not have to always be in mosques or madrasas, although usually is. It is inspired by the radical cleric, a relatively safe place from which they can promise … whatever it takes. By choice. Somewhere far away, from heaven to martyrdom, in a couple of one-sided sentences.
Jihadists avoid airports, due to the black list of Interpol, and if they travel by plane, they usually bypass final destination. Europe hass already limited its borders to a minimum. The safest, for those going to die in a holy war against the infidels, is to travel by car. As the reason for travel most frequently cited is they are going to visit relatives there.
The border between Turkey and Syria is very porous, so Jihadists can easily be found on the other side using the established and well-worn paths. By the time of Charlie Hebdo, Europe was not too worried about these departures. Western governments naively believed that this was the one- way trip. Unfortunately some of the passengers in their pockets had a return ticket.
At the end of the journey, journalists and jihadists can be found in the same place. In the case of Islamic Caliphate, more simply referred to as ISIL, ISIS or IS rules are very clear. In fact, the first clear rule is there are no rules.
It is necessary to swear allegiance and loyalty to the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to be supervised by Isil’s Media office, which works perfectly. All material can only and exclusively be published when approved by the Caliph’s office. Work or cooperation with the media that are on the black list is not possible. Journalist must provide a complete insight into the residence, property, and state and the number of bank accounts, because ISIS will continue to monitor his work, as well as all its social profile, from Facebook to Instagram. If necessary, they will call for responsibility. Whatever that means. It does not sound good. Not at all.
So, this is how the story actually begins. Whether the mountain roads across Lebanon, muddy borders across Turkey, or desert over the Jordan, all roads lead to a wonderful place. Syria. A wonderful place for the accident.