I'm having a hard time reconciling what I remember about Aleppo and what I have been reading about the city recently; an article in The Week called "Life Under the Caliphate" describes the some of the things happening in the region, which is mainly under control of ISIS:
1) unIslamic activities-- smoking, listening to music, wearing hair gel-- are punished by flogging, execution, and amputation;
2) there is video footage of gay men being thrown off tall buildings to their deaths;
3) Jews and Christians are given the choice to convert or die;
4) public executions and floggings happen nearly every day;
5) an ISIS pamphlet from Aleppo lists some crimes and punishments . . . drinking alcohol is 80 lashes, as is slander, spying for infidels and renouncing Islam both result in death;
6) women may marry at age 9 and should be married by age 16, and they must wear two heavy robes to conceal their figure . . .
and so I went back to the email updates that I sent from when I lived in Syria (200-2003) and looked at some of my recollections from our various trips to the city and surrounding regions;
1) we wandered through the Dead Cities, abandoned Byzantine olive-oil towns in the hills just outside of the city;
2) we watched Embassy folk collect ancient pottery shards at various tells and middens;
3) we stayed at the Baron Hotel-- the spooky but notable spot where Agathie Christie wrote "Murder on the Orient Express"-- drinking beer at the bar is right out of The Shining (but apparently, the place is closed down now):
4) our Syrian friend Yara told us tales of covered women in Aleppo that openly took lesbian lovers and I wrote a treatment for an erotic Syrian film:
the taciturn husband warns his wife not to leave the house for any reason, and then goes to play backgammon with his friends . . . a woman covered in black from head to toe shows up at the door, and the lady of the house invites her in for tea . . . she lifts her veil and gives her host a long concupiscent look . . . soon enough she’s shedding her robe, and there’s nothing underneath . . .
5) we ate-- notably at the Beit Sissi-- drank, wandered the city and the region, were mobbed by Syrian children who treated us like rock stars, took tours with our favorite guide in the Middle East-- Jihad-- and generally felt like we were on vacation . . . Aleppo always seemed a little less oppressive and a little more Western than Damascus, a little more like Turkey . . . but apparently those days are gone, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this (I also read that ISIS beheaded the antiquities expert for Palmyra-- the spectacular Roman city in the Syrian desert-- because he refused to reveal where valuable artifacts were hidden . . . ISIS considers preserving ancient artifacts "akin to idol worship and punishable by death" and when they say that, apparently they aren't kidding . . . if you've got a strong stomach, you can watch ISIS sponsored beheadings all day on the internet, even some done by children . . . this really diminishes my concern over my basement beer fridge, which has lost it's ability to chill beer-- though the freezer is still fully operational-- at first I thought it was a crisis, but then I read about this stuff, and now it doesn't seem all that significant).