The brutal Syrian civil war has produced a series of stark images that bombard the western world on a daily basis.  Pictures of injured children haunt us and galvanize many to ask what can be done to stop the madness.  Video emerges on social media of dirty urban combat amongst skeleton-like remains of destroyed buildings.

My own experiences in Syria two years ago haunted me in a different way.  In the Kurdish held areas of northern Syria, I visited a hospital in Qamishli and saw injured YPG guerrilla fighters.  I saw an out-patient facility filled with injured Kurds who were still in recovery.  In Tal Hamis I sat with YPJ snipers who described killing ISIS terrorists on the front lines.  But what struck me the most was something that is harder to describe, it was a sense of uneasiness.  A quiet uncertainty hung in the air wherever I went, whether I was watching kids on their way to school, or looking at ISIS positions through a pair of binoculars on the front lines.


Damascus was different.

I stood out on the sidewalk holding a Lebanese beer and watched a gaggle of teenagers stroll down the street dressed as vampires complete with white face paint, plastic fangs, and black capes.  It was Halloween in Syria’s capital.  My friend Brad Hoff even saw a couple of kids dressed as Saudis for Halloween, mocking the Wahhabi ideology that had spread across Syria and Iraq like a cancer.  At first I was a little shocked while walking the streets of Damascus and spotting men who sported what looked like long Jihadi beards.

Entering a nightclub in central Damascus the bouncer patted me down for weapons.  He must have weighed three hundred pounds and had a long black beard that would have made Bin Laden weep with envy.  On the way out he smiled and said that we were welcome back any time.  A local later explained to me that the bearded men are normal folks.  Apparently there is a Islamic tradition to grow a beard during times of mourning.  In recent years, nearly everyone is Syria has lost friends and family members.


The main noticeable difference in Damascus, according to the old hands I spoke with, was that there were now military checkpoints all over the city.  I found it humorous that most of the checkpoints would just wave us through with little fanfare.  A couple gringos were not the Jihadists that the military was looking for.