Bad Tattoos of Bab Tabbaneh
After several days of street fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, things cooled off a bit about a week and a half ago (aside from, of course, sniper fire every hour or so, but that’s a given here). A precarious ceasefire agreement was struck, the Sunni fighters from the Bab Tabbaneh neighbourhood put away their assault rifles and RPGs and, on Friday, I decided it was a good time to go back up and snap some pictures of their incredibly bad tattoos.
One of the guys I met on Syria Street, the dividing line between the rival neighbourhoods of Bab Tabbaneh and Jebel Mohsen, is a legendary gunman. Another recently spent a short time in prison for stabbing someone repeatedly in a vegetable market. A kid named Ehab, 22 years old with a body full of battle scars, told me he has a ying-yang tattoo on his penis. I passed on seeing it, though.
A stone-cold killer with a ying-yang permanently etched into his skin is indicative of how little sense one can make of Bab Tabbaneh. There’s also the sheikh who collects World War II-era firearms and, according to some, drinks a lot of locally brewed moonshine while managing a cadre of fighters. And, of course, there's the ridiculous things that can ignite a week's worth of heavy machine gun and mortar exchanges: kids setting off fireworks, or the oft-used excuse “a personal dispute”, which often results in a dozen or so deaths and many injured. As with every place where armed conflicts occur, civilians end up paying the highest price: injury and death, a total shutdown of the already paltry government services, loss of work and a bunch of other terrible things.
Things jarringly come into perspective once you realise that these fighters are simply kids caught up in a feud they don’t fully understand, trapped in a slum with few, if any, prospects besides killing their neighbours on behalf of opportunist politicians.
With that, here’s just a small sample of the bad tattoos of Bab Tabbaneh.
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