A majority of people think smoking is bad for the smoker and others, but it’s hard to not support Mohamed Ahmed Saleh’s smoking habit when you hear his reasons.
Saleh spoke with Rukmini Callimachi, a veteran reporter for the New York Times, in Badoosh, Iraq. As Callimachi got out of the car, Saleh asked her team for a light. Callimachi said she noticed at that point that several people were “wearing” cigarettes.
She asked Saleh about it, who told her his his village near Badoosh was liberated from ISIS just 10 days ago. He said ISIS fighters would not allow people to smoke, so cigarettes became a symbol of freedom for them.
A brand called Akhtamar Classic was the only one that could be found in the territory after ISIS took over, and while a packet used to cost 750 dinars ($0.63), under ISIS, “it spiked to 20,000 or $17.” Saleh couldn’t afford that, so he had to pool his money with friends.
When ISIS left, Saleh told Callimachi he chain-smoked four packs of cigarettes.
“I just like to walk around holding it in my hand because I can,” he said.
Other residents of the area told her a similar story. People under ISIS control near Mosul also lit up as the terrorists were driven out, according to prior New York Times reporting.
ISIS claims that smoking is not representative of Islam, and even severely punishes its own fighters for smoking, according to the International Business Times. The first a person is caught smoking they are subjected to 40 lashes, and following transgressions can include confinement, whipping or being placed in a “punishment camp.” Videos have also shown ISIS members punishing others for smoking by stomping on their heads.
Another young man around Badoosh told Callimachi that ISIS started with 20 lashes as punishment for smoking, but by the end they were “chopping fingers.”
Saleh’s story, as told by Callimachi, inspired people on Twitter.