Beyond the Headlines – The Investigation of the near and far By Ala Oueslati, Tunisia

The war in Syria? Who hasn’t heard of the war in Syria? A carnage so painful to witness, yet impossible to ignore. We didn’t own a TV to watch what happened in Syria every day. We did however, have something better than TV: WIFI. It is as quick as asking a genie for another wish. You log in, and here they are: all the breaking news, the latest updates, the new photos and videos taken by some brave CNN reporters, the horrors told by survivors of war and rape, and also the hopes and prayers of people.

I would be drinking my morning coffee in the backyard, enjoying the mid-morning sunshine streaming through the gently-waving branches of the olive tree, right before it would transform into hellish unbearable heat at noon. I would finish my coffee, my dearest drink of the day, and I would stay logged in for a little longer, reading more news, scrolling down Facebook and Twitter, reading all sorts of comments, and commenting on something myself, if I found enough urge to do so.

In spite of the repetitive news about Syria that I get exposed to every single day, I must say that it never felt like a normal thing, because it isn’t. The news is not bringing much change into the discourse or any significant piece of information that can concretely change the narrative. Similarly, the political talks publicized and broadcasted on hundreds and maybe thousands of media outlets and channels are not extricating Syrians from their daily constraints and difficulties.

What the exposure to all these seemingly never-ending sources of information and news are doing to us however, is much more complex than just keeping us in the loop of what’s occurring. They are undoubtedly shaping the way we think, the way we perceive things, the way we look at the world and the circumstances around it. They are affecting our reactions, controlling our emotions, and I could go as far as saying that they are changing the nature of the humans in us. Wars, genocides, and revolutions have happened because of the change our ancestors experienced in their way of thinking, their beliefs, and their causes.

One thing we always read about is the amount of pain our brothers and sisters in Syria are enduring. This pain has somehow become usual, or constant.  I’ve heard once that when you get used to pain, you don’t feel pain anymore, for it becomes part of your regular day-to-day life. Pain becomes part of you, part of what you know, what is normal to you. In other words, it identifies you. Like for example when you have a constant back pain after you sit at your desk for so long, until you almost don’t feel the pain in your back anymore after long hours. Perhaps that’s why there is no real radical and solid action towards the conflict in Syria. If Syrians got so used to pain and war that this story doesn’t feel urgent or shocking anymore, then it would be accurate to say that the news did, to an extremely large extent, change the nature of the humans we are.

But back pain is indisputably not the same as the pain caused by war and conflict.

But how can we hear and read about Syria and its conflict in a different manner? How can we be part of this mega news’ production cycle without losing our true selves? The answer to these questions lie in the fact that we, as safe individuals far away from the Syrian conflict, are undeniably affected by the situation in Syria. Some might say this isn’t true, because who would want to be affected by war and conflict? But it is true, so true that Syria-related movements and protests have erupted in all continents. So true that countries thousands of miles away from the Middle East are changing parts of their policies and laws. So true that at times, if you dare mention “Syria” in a public place, you would get a reaction not so different from when you publicly say that you’re a supporter of terrorism.

So let us not create more divides and disconnect from our human nature that links us all. Let us not be blinded by our own quest for comfort and torment-free life. Let us not incite more violence in the name of making our countries great again. Let us not close our doors to those in need, let’s open them clear and wide, and hear the stories that are lived so far away. Let us not ban those who worship and pray differently, and let us not threaten people’s freedoms and restrict their rights. You can of course speak of safety and security and be “vigilant” by closing all borders and building walls that you ask other people to pay for, but if you do so, what contributions will you have made to our world that would be worth telling to the next generations? What heights will you have reached and what dreams will you have helped achieve? What purpose will you have gained?

People often ask me “but what can you do about it?” The truth is, I might not be able to do much, or anything at all when it comes to the Syrian conflict, or any other major conflict happening anywhere in the world. But what I can do though, is telling people that this is not and should not be the norm, that no story is disconnected and that no human life is alone.

Well, you might not want to think of all this and engage in this disturbing subject while enjoying your mid-morning coffee. You might not want your conflict-free life to be interrupted  by the story of other humans, humans just like you, who have families and homes, who have the same dreams and aspirations, make greater accomplishments, who have the same love for their children and families, just like we do. You might not want your distress-free life be interrupted by inescapable facts, facts that do not affect you directly, but in one way or another, shape the entire world.

 

I would like to thank YaLa Young Leaders for the rewarding experience I lived by being part of the YaLa Citizen Journalism Program, an experience that opened my eyes and taught me to look beyond the headlines, the stories, and our daily customary news’ consumption.

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