In his new book "On the Border of ISIS", journalist Ayzer al-Masri talks of his experiences of covering the frontlines of the war against ISIS from Tunisia to Mosul.
The world saw the emergence of a new type of journalism during the Arab Spring and the subsequent wars in Libya, Syria and Iraq. The availability of high-speed internet and the emergence of high-resolution phone or Go-Pro cameras meant that activist-journalists could now record and broadcast events as they happened, giving the world a real-time glimpse of events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa perhaps for the first time. Ayzer al-Masri from Tunisia is one such journalist. His story of covering the war against ISIS from the frontlines is told in his recently-published book, “On the Border of ISIS”.
Hailing from the mountainous Kasserine region of Tunisia, Ayzer’s career as a frontline journalist covering terrorism began in the city of Tunis, following the ISIS attacks of 2015. The country was in a fearful mood at the time. The emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria was followed by the emergence of an ISIS affiliate in the neighbouring Libya. ISIS propaganda was all over the internet, its slick and well produced videos using all the modern technologies available to depict the group as an invincible force. And many Tunisian young people had fallen to the group’s allure.
Travelling to Libya first, then the Iraq-Syria Border and finally the city of Mosul itself, Ayzer sought to cover the war against ISIS as it happened, hoping to pick apart the fiction of ISIS propaganda in the process. He says that he was struck by the difference between the group’s propaganda and reality. Militants who were shown as fearless and unyielding in propaganda would often display cowardice on the battlefield, relying more on snipers, IEDs and human shields. Ayzer adds that the militants’ pretensions as martyrdom-seekers were also dispelled when they faced actual danger, many of them choosing to surrender or flee.
Some of the group’s propaganda, however, still left an impression on Ayzer who says that his greatest fear was not to be shot or bombed but to be kidnapped. He says that from everything he has seen, the group’s reputation for cruelty and barbarism was well-deserved and the fear of becoming a captive was at times, too much.
Ayzer hopes that his book can help shed some light on the grim reality of becoming an ISIS militant at a time the country is grappling with its radicalised youth and the fear of those who may, one day, return. He hopes that through his experiences, young people in Tunisia can see that the realities of the militant battlefields are far from the heroic epics shown in ISIS propaganda.