DAMASCUS – After more than a year of avoiding the news on TV, and about six months after deactivating all my social network accounts, last week I found myself sitting in front of a big LCD screen, watching the news. The newscaster’s head filled the screen as he told me about the Syrian army making gains retaking eastern Aleppo, using slides and videos to show the mass destruction of the city, and how the international community was outraged.
I put my head in my hands and pressed hard, trying to push the anger back in again, trying not to blame my frustrated Aleppan friend sitting next to me on the sofa for making me watch the news once more.
I logged into Facebook: a huge room full of friends, and friends of friends all talking, or rather, yelling, at the same time. It was true chaos, like a battlefield where you see airplanes, bombs and dead bodies. Desperate video messages were all over the page, many from civilians filming what they believed was their last call for help. When you’re Syrian, you can actually gain access to scenes of the war by opening your Facebook account during such events as the battle for Aleppo.
A few days later came the dramatic scene of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov’s assassination, on the same day as the terrorist attack on the public market in Berlin. The internet was burning. Online, people were going crazy, driven by any fraction of emotion, aroused by any piece of news, comment, picture or even, as we say, a “sneeze at a wrong moment!”
Some made the photo of the young man who killed the ambassador their profile pictures; some considered him a hero. Others were then outraged over how these Syrians were able to betray the Syrian revolution by defending a killer. Some would happily share a random militia’s declaration of responsibility for the assassination, and others would wish for a shooting star to hit the planet and be done with it all. The e-fight went on and on, as statements of love and compassion for Berlin and its people overflowed, and the #ichbineinberliner hashtag popped up every few seconds.
During this chaos, it wasn’t so hard to see how the “cyber activism” of friends inside Damascus is lacking, compared to the “cyber and on the ground” actions of Syrians outside Syria in their hope to change something, anything.
But I just sit here, unable to even finish reading a headline, because I am too aware of the fact that we are only pawns being moved on a chessboard. Keeping up with our day-to-day life here is the best way for us to push back the feeling of helplessness and uselessness as a citizen and a human being on this planet. That’s our strategy: to keep busy thinking of ways to manage lunch for our families the next day, or ways to keep ourselves a bit warm in this dark winter.
Off goes the electricity again, and I ask myself why am I not in Turkey or Berlin right now? I’m on a cold mattress in a dark city, unable to think of anything more than the strategic plan I must carry out to wash my clothes and take a shower within the two hours that the electricity and water are on here at the same time.