Syrian Dust – Reporting from the Heart of the Battle for Aleppo (Francesca Borri)

BorriA seminal clarion to the obliteration of Syria. This is a very powerful, distressing & extreme account of an unbearable conflict from ground-zero. This awful internecine catastrophe churns on without abatement to the tune of external entities and their ongoing intervention & incursion… with the Syrian people suffering at the centre of this multi-faceted proxy tussling and the Assad regimes barely discriminating (if at all) butchery & besiegement of the Syrian people. A variegated & disorientating mass of resistance fighters, civilian militia & foreign-combatants/jihadi’s, from moderates to Wahhabi-die-hards under a multitude of objectives (often totally clashing) fight, maraud, impose, protect, & exploit for personal, ideological, national, globalized & humanitarian incentives with external interests & arbitrations from Iran, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Russia, China, the US, UK & of course ISIS’s & the jihadi domains many recruit rich realms & areas of unrest the world over. It’s a total cluster-fuck of unimaginable proportion securing sustained suffering & an intransigent nightmare stale-mate that’s now been elongated for years with increasing brutality. Francesca is one of those courageous journalists of conscience, of which there are not too many, that has become, clearly obsessed with this diabolical conflict, the Syrian peoples agonizing plight & the “civilized” worlds indifference or impotence (depending on which perspective you take) to this horrific mess. She has a history of working in areas of conflict, from the Balkans to Israel & Palestine (with two previous books published both prior to Syrian Dust, which is her first English translation), having turned specifically to war-zone journalism in 2012 to document Syria’s disintegration. This is absolutely front-line reportage, as it should be, living right amongst the barrel-bombs & destitution. Huge bravery & devotion is displayed & we must be grateful for her incredibly candid, raw-as-fuck & full-immersion accounts of what whole cities are suffering day in & day out under Assad’s perverse onslaught. The deprivation, squalor, relentless uncertainty, destruction & death are colossally egregious. The snipers, the barrel-bombings (night & day, without interim), the mortars – “barrels filled with gasoline and dynamite, hurled down from choppers, two, three, four at a time. They rain down by the dozens, every day, every night, every hour, everywhere, literally everywhere, an average of fifty per day”. This is not easy reading at all & the horror is unremitting, but I feel strongly that everyone has a responsibility to read this and understand just a section of what these people ACTUALLY LIVE UNDER and that it is, somehow allowed to continue under the watch of the “International Community”. Hopefully this will compel utter horror, indignation, compulsion for action & something will actually be done to resolve this total madness (not more bombing & gesture truculence). Yet again, I can only stress the acute & invaluable importance of this breed of journalism & journalist. Borri gathers many witness accounts & testimonies from civilians, doctors, rebels, soldiers & also fellow journalists, media agents & UN officials. This addition is a hugely informing measure, & shows the major inefficiency & inappropriate bureaucratic fumbling of UN impotence, much to Francesca’s chagrin. Her revelations on the competition & rivalry between some of her fellow journalists (including one that apparently directed her the wrong direction into snipers just so she could get the story first) was another stark eye-opener. Although there are episodes & examples of deep-kinship & compassion between other journalists, some of the hostilities & squabbling are surprisingly unpleasant as she describes “the fiercest competition among us, zero collaboration, zero support”. Borri also fumes at the media’s treatment of journalists & the risibly small sums they get for a report. Apparently these can be just $70 per piece, which seems beyond insane considering the dangers involved. This treatment, along with blatantly inadequate & unjust payment margins for such extremes is shocking. Naturally this also adversely affects the whole reporting process & culture in many places, hence sending your colleagues into the fucking snipers! The book is written in a very blunt manner, often with reiterated sentences. There’s no flashiness or ostentation & it can be terse & very acerbic. I think it’s a perfect format for delivering documentation of such atrocity. A form of draconian sincerity. It’s not benumb, but it’s clear from the text and events described that Francesca has been partially maimed emotionally/psychologically by the events she has withstood & the insanity she has witnessed. & who possibly couldn’t be? Her sense of obligation to Syria, or perhaps just humanity itself, & to covering what’s taking place in this battle-scape also scalds the pages. “shame”, guilt & dejection from inaction or insouciance from the world at large are a recurrent theme. & she’s totally right, it’s absurd. Whilst in Holland she writes bitterly that “Amsterdam is so beautiful. So offensive, while Aleppo is dying”.

One of the greatest achievements of the book is to completely absolve any victim that flees this conflict as the absolute epitome of vulnerable refugee. How anyone could ever condemn any human being to remain in such a hell on earth can never be justifiable in any sense whatsoever. Something you hear frequently from refugees making the perilous water crossing to Europe is that “it’s better to die at sea” than fester and or/perish in the furnace without hope, progress or any tangible solution or extrication in sight. This testimony is irrefutable evidence of just that & what is suffered, which just can’t be argued with in any way. Also, despite all complexity & all guilt, the fact that this disaster rages without requite & has been allowed to for so long under such extremes, all under Europe’s watch – is the ultimate failure & abdication of leadership & yes, – ”civilization” if not “western” – “civilization”. They ARE ENTITLED! because we totally’ totally failed them, no matter the difficulties, & that failure is just inexcusable. Syria had already taken in millions of refugees from the subsequent disaster of the 2003 Iraq invasion, despite having no participation or induction of that dreadful & appallingly gratuitous war (whilst the countries that initiated the war have taken in a microscopic quantity). Now further potency is being added to that catastrophe.

The book is very strong, at stages depressing for all but the most resilient, but I find Francesca Borri, like Anna Politkovskaya, Lydia Cacho, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad & other fearless front-line journalists of her ilk, indescribably inspiring for her ferocity for truth, some kind of justice or resolution, & caring despite the odds, in a world that does not seem to give a f*^@ or is “busy” elsewhere. Read it, it’s the least you can do.

Author: Francesca Borri

Publisher: Seven Stories