Jad Sleiman didn’t wait long to make his degree work for him.
Sleiman, 25, graduated May 15 with a journalism degree from Temple’s School of Media and Communication and the following week, he was in the heart of the Syrian warzone for three days. And the week after that, The Washington Times ran his story on Harakat Hazm, a new conglomerate of two dozen rebel groups.
The trip to Syria was Sleiman’s first time in reporting from a war zone. He wouldn’t speak about how he got into Syria and made connections with the rebels. Those are facts that he had to keep close to his chest to be able to go back.
But there’s more to the story than how Sleiman wrangled his way into the country.
Generally, in the coverage of wars around the world, Sleiman said the fighters always seem “so foreign.”
“I wanted people to see people like their friends and neighbors,” he said. Much of the coverage of Syria he has seen “was focused on extremism, the destruction of everything and not making the people seem like real relatable human beings.”
Sleiman set off for Syria with the intent to tell the story of another organization, but he was cut off from that group by a government offensive. Still, he’s happy with where he landed.
The people behind the fight
The four-minute video focuses on the Aleppo suburb of Daret Ezzah, which has become a more frequent target of bombings. He interviewed rebel fighters who have been forced into a new way of life.
“The group was very open to filming,” he said. “I just explained that I was an American journalist, talked a bit about they project and asked them one-by-one to join me in another room for short interviews.”
These interviews unveiled the reasons these everyday people have chosen to risk their lives and fight for what they believe is right.
A 21-year-old fighter told Sleiman that, “The first day I held a rifle, I was here in Daret Ezzah.” He had seen women and children dying as a result of the war and said, “I decided to pick up a weapon before the same thing happens here.”
The fighters in his story are wearing civilian clothes and aren’t brandishing weapons, which Sleiman said counters how much of the coverage he’s seen portrays the rebels.
In many news stories, “often, they speak the way they’re supposed to sound.” With Sleiman’s small camera and ability to speak Arabic fluently, “my hope was that I would be able to get a more intimate picture of these people,” he said.
Sleiman plans to return to Syria to expand his story into a feature-length documentary about how living in a war zone changes everyday people into soldiers. He thinks it’s an important story to tell because, “I think America plays a huge role in global affairs, so Americans need to be informed.”
He starts graduate school this fall at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where he will focus on international reporting. Since he hopes to continue doing multimedia journalism on foreign conflicts, he is off to a good start.
By Jeff Cronin