A ray of sunshine suddenly bounces off a glass. At home, in the street, I see the jolt of light and instinctively throw myself to the ground – that’s the flash before the blast. Or a car screeches its tyres: that’s ISIS, about to blow us away. On March 15, 2011, while Tunisia was celebrating the fall of Ben Ali, and Egypt the fall of Mubarak, thousands of Syrians armed with banners and loudspeakers crowded into the squares. In Daraa, eleven boys had been arrested for scribbling anti-Assad slogans on a wall. They were arrested, tortured, and maimed. Four years on, if mortar shells start to rain at the end of the block, I don’t even turn my head.
And I have learned how to determine the caliber of artillery from the intensity of the noise it makes, how far it is, and the direction it’s pointing in. Whether a jet flying by is doing reconnaissance or bombing. I’ve learned how to stop the bleeding of a severed limb. I know what a brain looks like, a liver, a thigh-bone. I know how thick a lung is. And that a skull is too hard for stray dogs to get through. I can sleep next to a corpse. Four years on, I never walk off the beaten track: there might be landmines. Even when I’m in Paris. And I can drink rain water without getting sick. I can carve a dinner out of grass and roots. And spend my afternoon shoulder by shoulder with a sniper, waiting until he hits somebody, and look at the corpse, out there, and keep on talking with the sniper, who keeps on looking into his scope: and while talking, keeps on gunning down all those who venture to recover the corpse, one by one – I can live amidst murderers. And I don’t lay out my words in any order anymore. Four years on. I don’t seek order anymore. I live everything immediately. And I never feel it’s been enough. I can’t stand those who push back against the future. I can’t stand those who have no courage. Those who always have ample excuses not to act. To stay safe. I can’t stand those who care only for themselves. The faint-hearted. And those who pretend to be neutral, because they actually side for the strongest. I can’t stand those who don’t stop for a beggar.
There are days when I just hate everybody. Four years on, I no longer take note when I am told: This is the final offensive. This is the ultimate battle. When I’m told: I fight only in self-defense. I am only protecting my country. My family, my religion. My cat. Four years on, I don’t write anymore. Or rather, I write only for newspapers. I don’t write anything else. I don’t believe in words anymore. Four years on, I’ve written a book about Syria that nobody I experienced Syria with will talk to me about. None of them. None of them have ever asked: How are you doing? I don’t listen anymore when I’m told: It can’t happen here, It can’t happen to us, when I’m asked: How can people be such savages? When I’m told: They’re not human. I just don’t listen anymore. And I can’t stand those journalists who, amidst 200,000 dead, busy themselves jockeying for recognition. Bad-mouthing everything and everybody. I can’t stand those journalists who discovered this war only once this war had discovered Europe. Who explain the Middle East from their desks in London. Via Skype and Youtube. Those who talk among themselves rather than talking with Syrians. Those who’ve never survived a barrel bombing, who’ve never heard the cries of their kids from under rubble, never dug with their bare hands, cutting their fingers to the bone, desperately, illuminated only by a cigarette lighter, another chopper already overhead, another barrel already coming: those who’ve never had to chose between saving yourself or saving your loved ones, and yet feel perfectly comfortable when they say: Assad is the lesser evil.
And I don’t trust anybody anymore. Four years on, I only think they might bomb everything here, but nobody will never ask: How are you? Not even those you were in Syria with.And sometimes I don’t say a single word for days on end. Since in the end, I only think that today you are here, today you are with me, tomorrow you will vanish. Or you will ask: But how can people be such savages?
And I don’t trust anybody anymore. I don’t update the death toll anymore, I’m still at 140,000. I’m frozen at a year ago. Nor do I update the number of refugees and displaced anymore. We’re at about 10 million, I guess. And I no longer update the list of the spokesmen for the National Coalition, Assad’s opposition. The list of the commanders-in-chief of the Free Army, and of the alliances of rebel groups. I no longer update the list of chemical attacks. I no longer update the lists of UN resolutions, of UN special envoys, of UN peace plans, of UN appeals to international donors. Four years on, I no longer answer when I’m asked: But why the hell you are still in Syria?
Four years on, I meet Syrians wherever I go. In Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Europe. At every traffic light. They’re all beggars. In Syria we are all foreigners. And I no longer cover only Syria, four years later. Now I cover both Syria and Iraq.