“I can’t follow the news anymore, it’s too much.” Over the last two years, I’ve heard this sentence over and over again from friends and family who no longer live their lives to the soundtrack of Arab satellite channels, from local variants like Libya Al-Ahrar to the pan-Arab channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera. It has become too much. When they say this, they’re talking about car-bombings in Iraq, drones in Yemen, militias in Libya, the “second revolution” in Egypt, and most of all these days, the tragedy in Syria. The accumulated bad news has become overwhelming so they’ve consciously deafened themselves to everything. “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. It’s all a big mess.”
They don’t even get their news digitally, as all the social media gurus tell us “we” are increasingly doing. To mangle Henry Reed parodying T.S Eliot, these people have “turned off the wireless/And sit in Stockholm or Manchester listening appreciatively to the silence.” This is the other side of the coin to the news-obsessed state of an Arab world described in Tamim Barghouti’s poem, In the Arab World You Live, which ends with these depressing lines:
In the Arab world you live,
One eye on your watch
Afraid that you’ll miss the news
To see people in the Arab world die.
Once in a while though, something cuts through that deliberate deafness: a “story.” The human interest, in media terms. And it’s almost always a story about one person and their inconceivable loss. Like the story of Suha Omar Ali.I heard about Suha’s story first from someone whose only remaining contact with the news is a radio alarm. Half-asleep and half-awake, she heard something on a Swedish radio broadcast about a Syrian woman who had lost three daughters to the sea, and who was being detained in Egypt with her one remaining daughter. I heard another fragment of the story from two women on the bus, one an older Iraqi woman, established in her adopted country, and another a newly arrived young Syrian who called the older woman “Aunt” and asked about bus routes. They spoke about Suha. One of her daughters was disabled. She’d been hoping to come to Sweden, where the daughter would be treated, where they would “become human.”
These women on the bus, they had arrived. [Read more...]