Pipes of peace: Timeless Shisha ritual helps young Syrians escape the pain of war

Young Syrian men smoke 'nargileh' or waterpipes, which are popular among locals and tourists, at a traditional cafe in Damascus' Old City. AFP
Updated 09 June 2018
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Pipes of peace: Timeless Shisha ritual helps young Syrians escape the pain of war

  • In 2016, the World Health Organization urged Syrian officials to “control tobacco and shisha consumption
  • The hookah-smoking phenomenon has significantly increased among younger age groups in the past few years

DAMASCUS: A seven-year civil war that has left much of their country in ruins means solace can be hard to find for young men and women in Damascus.

But with an estimated 400,000 people killed in the conflict and millions displaced, younger Syrians are turning to a centuries-old ritual to help them forget the sorrows of everyday life: Shisha smoking.
Shisha pipes — water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco — have a long history in the Middle East, but their popularity among youth in the Syrian capital has grown since the country’s descent into chaos in 2011.
At cafes, restaurants and swimming pools, young men and women can be seen crowding around the pipes amid clouds of smoke, chatting or lost in their own thoughts. Even the elderly have turned to the habit to forget their woes.
Central Damascus, a stronghold of the Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been relatively untouched by the violence elsewhere in the country, but the war still preys on people’s minds.

Legal
Smoking shisha pipes — also known as hookahs or argilehs — is one of the few legal ways for people to alleviate the strain and boredom that comes with living in a city largely cut off from the rest of the country.
Malak, a 22-year-old out with friends at the Bima Enno cafe in the Old City, told Arab News: “There isn’t much to do in Damascus now that we are trapped inside the city. I first tried hookah in 2012 and now I can’t imagine going out without the smell of its smoke.”
In 2016, the World Health Organization urged Syrian officials to “control tobacco and shisha consumption,” particularly among teenagers.
At an event to commemorate World No Tobacco Day the same year, Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative to Syria, warned that smoking shisha is 20 times more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. However, her warning appears to have gone unheeded.
Marwa Al-Naal lived in Damascus until last year, when she moved to Boston in the US. She told Arab News she became addicted to shisha smoking as a result of the civil war in Syria.
“When you ask people — myself included — why they smoke argileh or cigarettes so heavily, they say it’s a way to let off steam because they’re bored and the only thing they can do in their leisure time is go to a cafe and smoke.
“Argileh is being consumed in Damascus at unbelievably high rates. I have even seen pregnant women and children as young as 10 smoking.
“It has become a huge market, with tons of new styles and flavors to appeal to the public.”
The water bubble pipes can be found in spas, public baths and parks, as well as in seating areas outside cafes and restaurants.
They are banned only in shopping malls and inside cafes, where they are deemed to be a fire hazard.
Marah Al-Saleh, a Damascus-based psychologist, told Arab News the conflict in Syria has caused people even in the relatively secure confines of the capital to suffer psychologically.
“Hookah smoking is being used as a way to vent, and relieve anxiety and stress, but at the same time people tend to smoke because of peer pressure and the need to follow the latest social trends. The biggest proof of this is the minors we see smoking in public places in an attempt to mimic adults,” she said.
“The hookah-smoking phenomenon has significantly increased among younger age groups in the past few years.”
For Ali Asikria, a 24-year-old law student, smoking shisha is the best way to unwind after a long day at work and school.
“I make my own shisha at home, it is more economical that way,” he said. “Most cafes and restaurants charge 1,000 Syrian pounds ($1.94) to 1,500 Syrian pounds for one hookah and the sessions normally last 30 minutes.
With my salary, I can only afford to smoke hookah outside the house once or twice a month,” he said.


Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

Updated 23 May 2019
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Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

  • Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other
  • The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense is considering a US military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by US Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
The Pentagon regularly receives — and declines — requests for additional resources from US combatant commands throughout the world.
One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what US officials have said are credible threats from Iran against US forces and American interests in the Middle East.
The Pentagon declined to comment on future plans.
“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Trump had warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.