A fighter from the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra in the Syria city of Ariha, May 2015.
Ammar Abdullah / Reuters

Nestled between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east, the lush green fields and quaint rustic shacks of the Bekaa Valley look remarkably idyllic from a distance. Famous for its wheat and wine, this vale on the Syrian-Lebanese border has been a breadbasket in the Levant region since the time of the Romans. When I visited in the summer of 2016, however, amid the rich orchards and sweet vineyards were nearly one million shell-shocked and hollow-eyed refugees, huddled together in crowded and underserviced settlements.

Syria’s raging civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and turned the country’s formerly shining cities to rubble. The resulting anarchy has given birth to a multitude of new jihadist groups, each more violent than the last. In the chaos, Bekaa has become a magnet for terrorized civilians fleeing violence, extremism, and persecution.

Among these refugees was Nazih

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  • AISHA AHMAD is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Director of the Islam and Global Affairs Initiative at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and Senior Fellow at Massey College. She is the author of Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power (Oxford 2017), from which this essay is adapted.
  • More By Aisha Ahmad