We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

We are here to help


“Hello. Is that the Ministry of Tourism? I’ve just been captured by ISIS, and I’d like to make a complaint. A very strong complaint”.

I’d like to reassure my mother that I was not actually in Syria, but in Lebanon just across the border when my phone picked up a Syrian network. Also, the guys from Hezbollah who asked me questions about why I was taking photos were really quite friendly.

23 comments to We are here to help

  • Mr Ed

    Misread that, if you were with Syriza and those Greek Commies that really would be hairy for a libertarian ex-banker. 🙂

    I hear that if you complain in Syria, it will be a ssad day for you.

  • Jeff Evans

    “Come and explore our ancient modern ruins.”

  • Michael is fairly hairy already Ed. And I would like Michael’s mum to know that Hezbollah is nothing scary, it is just a brand of shampoo: Hez and Hersbollah, and their salesmen just love visitors to come take pictures of their factories near Baalbek.

  • RAB

    ” Sorry for the delay. All our operators are busy at the moment And I’m sure you’ll appreciate the lack of irritating mock classical electronic music while you are waiting, as it is Haram. Please press 1 if you wish to join Hezbollah… 2 if you wish to join ISIS… 3 if you want to sell us arms or launder money…

  • Also, the guys from Hezbollah who asked me questions about why I was taking photos were really quite friendly

    Did they let you keep the photos?

  • Michael Jennings (London)


  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Actually, it was pretty weird. I had a large memory card in the camera, and I hadn’t deleted the photos from it in a while. Thus it had photos from previous trips as well as this one. Thus after going through my photos of Lebanon and asking me “Why did you take this photo?” for a while, we moved on to the photos of my previous trip to Latvia. The “Why did you take this photo” thing became slightly surreal at that point, but I think they then realised this was all getting silly and allowed me to go.

  • Leave us not leave out the Baath Party. They are cleaning up.

  • RAB
    February 16, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    4 if you have private courier needs in the vicinity of Baalbeck.

  • the other rob

    Is that Bono, in the photo on the left?

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    “Gor Blimey, governor, you’re in a bit of a sticky wicket!…
    No, I’m not an outsourced Indian tele-answerer service, why are you asking? Can’t a chap do the necessary without being maligned?”

  • Surreal is the word, indeed…

  • Runcie Balspune

    That picture reminded me that the other day I was thinking about all these cartoon controversies and it is always dragged up that the human image is supposed to be forbidden yet whenever you see some big staged demonstration they are carrying thousands of photographs and drawings of their dear leaders, so how does that work?

  • so how does that work?

    Quite well.

  • staghounds

    Very deraaing of you.

    What? all the good ones were taken!

  • Michael, forgive the question, but:


    All we need is to learn that one M. Jennings is the latest Westerner to be paraded around in an orange jumpsuit prior to public execution.

    The U.S. State Department has issued stern travel warnings (all but forbidding U.S. citizens to travel there) for just about all countries in the Near Middle East. Even Turkey is no longer regarded as a safe destination. Now, young Michael, you are not a Septic, but I’m pretty sure that this would not be considered relevant by ISIS and their ideological camp followers.

    For the love of God (and/or Mammon), please confine your travels to places where you won’t become a human sacrifice. For once, I’m actually being kinda serious about this.

  • Kim,

    Nothing like being young and crazy. Once.

    I actually belonged to an outlaw MC gang in my youth. Nothing like the Hells Angels (you were not a member for life). But the occasional murder of one gang member by another was not unknown.

    But as you point out. Escaping (for one reason or another) and not going back is a very good option.

  • Michael is a stout soul, driving the ship of his curiosity to the far corners of the earth with the steely eyed determination of a Viking helmsman. He was there to see what was there 😉

    He is also experienced enough to survive the calculated risks he takes (and has the bite marks to prove it) even if that means when he checks the foreign office travel advisories before travel (which I know he does), he sees green = interesting, yellow = fascinating, red = irresistible.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    There are lots of places in the Middle East that are completely fine to go to, and where you really face very little risk. All the green places on the map are certainly included in that. Of course, Baalbek is in the red section rather than the green section, so that maybe doesn’t apply here.

    The trouble with foreign office advice is that it is written by bureaucrats who are looking to cover their arses in the event that anything bad happens. As such, it is very conservative and not very specific. Anywhere that they say is safe is definitely safe, but their information about other places is variable. Much more useful is to go to places nearby and simply ask hotel mangers, other travellers, bus drivers etc. Plus one does develop an instinct for it over time. Baalbek had a certain uneasiness about it and I was glad to be back in Beirut, but that manifested itself in being overcharged by taxi drivers rather than any actual danger. In such places, the greatest danger by far is simply being involved in a car accident, as is the case everywhere else. (Of course, given the way people in Lebanon drive, that danger is higher too).

    There are certainly places in the Middle East that fall into “Are you out of your fucking mind?” territory, which includes much of Syria and most of Iraq, and various bits of other countries. I don’t go to such places.

    That said, this may have been a little bit of an “end of an era” trip for me. I shall probably be going to less marginal places in the near future.

  • I vote (we can all vote on it, right?) for Perry’s last comment as the inscription of choice on Michael’s gravestone, when the issue becomes relevant some 100 years from now.

  • which includes much of Syria and most of Iraq

    Some parts of Kurdish Iraq are actually fairly safe.

  • Watchman

    I’m just struck by the fact that judging by Michael’s photo that Assad missed his calling – shouldn’t he be the lead in a musical version of Top Gun.

  • Mr Ed

    Much more useful is to go to places nearby and simply ask hotel mangers

    Mangers have a dodgy history what with Herod and all that.