By Lily Purqurian, Staff Writer

After being held captive by the al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda front in Syria for almost two years, American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, or Theo Padnos, released a harrowing narrative on his kidnapping and subsequent release. While Padnos maintains a legible reading by refusing too much gruesome detail, he leaves just enough space to accommodate for our underlying fears.

Originally from Vermont, Padnos writes that his initial trip in 2004 to Sana, Yemen was an effort to polish his studies in Arabic and Islam. He reached fluency in Arabic at the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2012, inspiring him to reach Syria via Antakya, Turkey. It was there he met three young Syrians who eventually led him to his captivity for two years.

The three were al-Qaeda operatives, and although Padnos managed to escape them, he ended up in the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra instead. Prison to prison, extremist to extremist, Padnos details his confrontations with unassailable Islamic militants who seemed to be playing hot potato with him after subjecting him to a series of drubs.

But Padnos isn’t writing so much about the horrors of his experience as he is the vicious cycle of violence contaminating the area. And Padnos’ anecdotes are the closest some of us can get to a first look at the trauma looming in on and suffocating, the Middle East. Theo Padnos is not just a survivor, but a portal: a man who came in direct contact with the very affiliates who have shaped not only the political climate of country’s overseas, but also ours.

The intersection of media and politics has stranded the layman, in many respects, into a field of lush fear. So much that even today’s access to a digitized warfare has call-drops. Bowe Bergdahl’s relieving return from being a prisoner of war to the Taliban may have come with a beard, but not much clarity. James Foley’s barbaric beheading was clear as could be to offer a datum rounding our disgust for ISIS, but it didn’t tell us much about ISIS aside from what ISIS wanted us to know: nothing.

But Padnos gives us more than fear-mongering. He tells us about the al-Nusra that can be (weirdly) insecure, the al-Nusra that is curious about Western girls overseas, and the al-Nusra that is even unstable and wobbly. The criminals we are so used to being kept shadowy have now been humanized – and it almost clarifies our understanding of them.

Padnos not only survived captivity after getting into a United Nations truck, but he is also giving his readers the tools to survive.

A message from Theo Padnos while in captivity: