The war in Syria through the eyes of a child

“Modern-day Anne Frank”: Bana's English-speaking mother helps her send her tweets. © Getty

Is Bana Alabed’s book about life in Aleppo more valuable than official reporting? The eight-year-old found fame after live-tweeting the Syrian civil war last year. Now she wants peace.

“I want to be able to go home and live in Aleppo one day. But most of all, I want people to stop fighting with bombs and guns in Syria and all over the world.”

These words come from Bana Alabed’s extraordinary new book about her experience living in the besieged neighbourhoods of eastern Aleppo.

In September, she started school in Turkey, where she and her family were granted asylum. “Today I can go to school without fear,” Bana tweeted this week.

Last year, her simple tweets brought Syria’s plight to the world’s attention. Her first message in September 2016 said simply: “I need peace.”

The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimates that around 470,000 people have died in the bloody conflict. Bana’s family was lucky; they finally managed to flee Aleppo in December 2016. When she was safe in Ankara, Bana was asked if she would like to write a book.

“I am helping people by bringing attention to war and how bad it is — especially for children,” she writes.

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace is “the testimony of a child who has endured the unthinkable”, according to J.K. Rowling.

At just eight, Bana can tell the difference between a cluster bomb, a phosphorus bomb and a chlorine bomb. “I want to never have to hear or see a bomb again,” she says.

Meanwhile, reporters in Syria live on a knife edge. Last year the Committee to Protect Journalists judged Syria to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter.

What’s more, journalists often have to rely on hearsay to write their reports. “There is a tremendous hunger for news from the Middle East, so the temptation is for the media to give credence to information they get second hand,” wrote Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

But Bana saw it with her own eyes. “For better or worse, this book is a very matter-of-fact child’s account of what happened during the war,” says her editor, Christine Pride.

Is Bana’s account of the war more valuable than official reports?

War child

“Bana is showing things as they really are,” argue some. Whereas journalists get bogged down in geopolitics, Bana focuses in on the fundamental issue: that thousands of people are dying in Syria. We are seeing the war through the eyes of a child whose life has been turned upside down. This new book will make people sit up and pay attention.

“Emotions aren’t enough — we need information,” reply others. Bana’s story is awful, but reporters give us the facts so that we can really understand why things are so bad in Syria. What’s more, the fact that Bana’s mother manages her Twitter account raises doubts over whether the tweets are really Bana’s. Proper reporting will always win over emotional memoirs.

You Decide

  1. Is Bana’s account more valuable than an official report in learning about the war in Syria?
  2. What is more powerful: emotion or understanding?

Activities

  1. In groups of three or four, note down everything you know about the conflict in Syria. Now join up with another group. Then share your ideas with the whole class to create a mind map of facts. Ask your teacher to write it on the board. What have you learned?
  2. Bana Alabed has got in touch with you — she wants to understand more of the nitty gritty detail about the war in Syria. You need to find a way to explain it to an eight year old. Research the conflict since its start in 2011 and write a short explanation to give to Bana (no more than 200 words). You will need to use simple language to explain this complex conflict to a child.

Some People Say...

“Every war is a war against children.”

Eglantyne Jebb, founder of the Save the Children organisation

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Half of Syria’s population of 22m have been uprooted by the conflict. Of those, 5m are registered in neighbouring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt). Turkey has by far the most refugees, hosting nearly 3m. In Europe, Germany has accepted the most refugees. Nearly 1.1m arrived in 2015 alone.
What do we not know?
Whether Bana’s story is completely true. Some think that Bana appears to be reading from a script in some of her videos. Others doubt that she is even real, but is simply a fictional online personality created by the US government in the fight against President Assad’s regime.

Word Watch

Syria
Protests in 2011 against President Assad’s regime descended into civil war.
World’s attention
Bana has over 363,000 followers. She has been in New York this month, promoting her book and meeting celebrities like Colin Kaepernick.
December 2016
After years of trying to hold on to Aleppo, rebel forces lost the city to the government last year. There followed a ceasefire, giving families like Bana's the chance to leave Syria.
Children
UNICEF reported that 652 Syrian children were killed last year alone.
J.K. Rowling
The creator of Harry Potter was touched by Bana’s story and sent her e-texts of her books.
Most dangerous place
Although there is no exact figure, it is thought that more than 100 journalists have been killed in the war in Syria.
Hearsay
It is very difficult to get accurate information about the conflict, as so much of Syria is inaccessible due to fighting.

Subjects

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