≡ Menu

Short Takes: In the Ruins of Aleppo — Want to Settle Things with a Civil War? Think Thrice.

Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, also known as Abu Omar, 70, smokes his pipe as he sits in his destroyed bedroom, listening to music on his hand-cranked gramophone in Aleppo’s formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood in Syria. Anis had recently returned to Aleppo, with plans to rebuild not only his home, but also his large collection of vintage American cars, despite everything being reduced to rubble.


When we noticed his gramophone, we asked him if it still worked.

“Of course!” he said. It was the kind that you see in old movies, the type you need to crank, so it doesn’t require electricity. Which is a good thing, because there is hardly one hour of electricity in the eastern part of Aleppo at the moment, with generators here and there.

“I will play it for you,” he said. “But first, I have to light my pipe. Because I never listen to music without it.”

His pipe was broken too, with a piece of tape holding it together. He lit it, cranked up the gramophone and out came the voice of an Arab singer from the 1940s, the same one that my grandfather used to listen to in Lebanon. For a moment I was no longer a photographer shooting ruined Aleppo. I was a boy in my mountain village, my grandfather sitting on the sofa in the afternoon listening to the “belle epoque” songs of Arab music.

Anis puffed on his pipe. He seemed to be somewhere else as well. He seemed to forget that we were there. He looked out the window and he had a look on his face of a person watching a beautiful sunset. He sat there, puffing on his broken pipe and staring out the window as the music floated over the ruins of his house and the city outside. The music over the ruins of Aleppo

Elsewhere in the Syrian Civil War:

An Iraqi special forces soldier shot dead an Islamic State suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq March 3, 2017

A Humvee passes over the body of an ISIS jihadist lying in a street in west Mosul on March 10, 2017 as Iraqi forces advance in the city in the ongoing battle to seize it from ISIS.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andrew X December 8, 2017, 10:37 AM

    Two words: Cold Harbor

  • tim December 8, 2017, 10:44 AM

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

    John Stuart Mill

  • lpdbw December 8, 2017, 2:35 PM

    I’m perfectly capable of giving up on wanting to settle things by civil war.
    Will that make civil war not happen?
    I don’t think so. There are people who want me and my kind dead.
    If it comes down to war vs. submission to Islam or Marxism or genocide, it will be war.

  • EndOfPatience December 8, 2017, 2:40 PM

    Decent people never choose Civil War.

    It as always imposed on them as the price of Decency.

  • Howard Nelson December 8, 2017, 3:21 PM

    Abu Omar, the man.
    This man knows.
    This man listens to beautiful voices and music.
    This man puffs calmly amidst chaos, and is serene.
    This man, what has he earned and learned?
    This man, what does he teach by example?
    This man chooses by certain values.
    This man acts like a man and it’s not an act.

  • Quent December 8, 2017, 4:27 PM

    It would be well worth it to break free of Abe Lincoln’s America.

  • Stephen Ippolito December 8, 2017, 11:04 PM

    Superb portrait of Abu Omar. Poignant and deeply moving.

    Love the contrast of the destruction and disorder all about him with his calm, scholarly demeanour as he seeks refuge in the order of his thoughts and in beauty through his music.

    Warfare isn’t always a choice made by both parties to it. Sometimes tyrants just decide that you, your beliefs or your kind are not to be tolerated and declare war on you. When that happens you are at war, whether you acknowledge it or not. The question then becomes whether you fight back.

  • Jayne December 9, 2017, 4:39 AM

    Outstanding. Very moving. The above comments also are thought provoking. Thanks all. Horrifyingly, war and humanity are linked in an untreatable bond. We humans are the only creature who drink milk beyond infancy, grind and cook with grass grains, and mobilize entire populations of young and old in wars. Civilization and peace are what must amaze us.

  • Jayne December 9, 2017, 4:40 AM

    ‘unbreakable’ not ‘untreatable’

  • MMinLamesa December 9, 2017, 7:23 AM

    Maybe it’s just me but the first thing I’m doing when I get back to my bombed out apartment is take the rocks off my bed

  • ed in texas December 9, 2017, 7:55 AM

    Generally speaking, it’s not a fun party to go to…

    “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

    ― Leon Trotsky

  • Charley HuaChu December 9, 2017, 11:56 AM

    Quent:”It would be well worth it to break free of Abe Lincoln’s America.”

    What is it about Abe Lincoln’s America that you think would be worth a civil war? And who the hell is Quent to make that decision.

  • Howard Nelson December 9, 2017, 12:24 PM

    Jayne, ‘untreatable’ applies as well. The bond is made from the braid of greed as motive and power as means to greed’s goal. It seems a human nature thing born of self-disrespect and fear.

  • Howard Nelson December 9, 2017, 1:03 PM

    Jayne: ‘Civilization and peace are what must amaze us.’
    Yes, these exceptions to the Foolers as Rulers proves that tyrannies are temporary things in the face civilizing, persistent courage.
    Too bad our kids don’t receive a truthFULL education regarding Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Tojo, Hitler, Idi Amin, Mugabe, Franco, Wilson, FDR, JFK, RR,
    … and their cohorts, words and deeds.
    What lessons would our children draw without them insulting logic and reality?
    How subject are they to mind-blinding mob mentality?
    Will they think on their own?

  • Terry December 9, 2017, 3:21 PM

    Dear Charley-
    Re: “What is it about Abe Lincoln’s America that you think would be worth a civil war? And who the hell is Quent to make that decision.”

    Possibly you need an education in American history before asking a question such as you did above. The Patriots of this nation did not start the current civil war. The left started the civil war that is now in progress. Wake up, open your mind and eyes or you will be hit by a truck load of s*it. Sir.

  • Vanderleun December 9, 2017, 6:37 PM

    The answer, Howard, is that we don’t know. Nor it is given to us to know.

    At some point we have to realize that, for good or ill, our children — as all others — are hostages to fortune.

    We can only hold them by letting go.

  • Charley HuaChu December 10, 2017, 6:38 AM

    Terry, it appears your reading comprehension is somewhat faulty. The first question was a direct quotation from Quent and the second wanted a response from Quent as to his/her/it’s qualifications.
    Possibly you could use some instruction in civility yourself.
    The civil war is not yet upon us but extremists on both sides seem to desire it.

  • pbird December 10, 2017, 11:14 AM

    Well, GV, easy to say hard to let go. Its so not fair.

  • Howard Nelson December 10, 2017, 6:01 PM

    Vanderleun, pbird, I’ve found kids like to hear about mistakes their parents made as kids, and what was learned, done about them afterwards. They love it if you ask them what they would’ve done if in a similar situation. The Q & A ends in hugs.
    That song, Perhaps Love, comes to mind again, something about holding on and letting go and love is everything …

  • Larry Geiger December 11, 2017, 11:02 AM

    A large portion of my family is well versed in shooting things dead from a fairly long distance away. They do no do this out of malice. They’ve been doing it for centuries. They know and understand the cost very clearly. The results of their accuracy may be sampled at the Thanksgiving pot luck where you might dine on venison or venison sausage along with the other delicacies including chicken and dumplings from a chicken that once ranged their back yard and a pumpkin pie from the pumpkins the chickens kicked around in that yard.

    These are the kind of folks that generally have little to no conflicting relations with their neighbors or anyone else. However, if some body decides to take up arms against them it would end up very unpleasant.