Best of Slow Journalism: Two years with the Nusra Front

AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

In October 2012, author Theo Padnos crossed from Turkey into Syria. He wanted to research the bitter divides among the many warring factions that have sprung up in the country – divisions that “often run through families, even individuals.”

Not long after he arrived in the war-torn country, Padnos was taken captive. He managed to escape and fled to the Free Syrian Army, who – disturbingly – passed him on to Jebhat al-Nusra, a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

What followed was two years of imprisonment, beatings, torture, a botched escape attempt and, finally, a release brokered by the Qatari government.

Padnos details his experiences in this moving essay published last week in New York Times Magazine. His writing is beautifully measured. His emotion is mostly implied rather than explicit. When he experiences an Indian doctor’s “gentlest, most silent, most breathtaking courtesy” moments after being freed, the reader can share in his joy at being able to rediscover human kindness.

Nineteen months in, he seemed resigned to his fate: “I had almost come to terms with Qaeda reality. I got along adequately with the jail administration. I had enough food and water. It seemed to me that I might someday be released or I might someday be shot, but that I had no power to affect my fate.”

With this extraordinary account of his experiences, he ultimately does exactly what he originally set out to do: provide an insight into the complex relationships between militant groups such as Isis, Jebhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. Padnos gives us precious insights into a conflict environment where the lines between friend and foe shift constantly.

If you’re not sure how to spend your Saturday or Sunday morning yet, we highly recommend you read ‘My Captivity’. The piece is available here.


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