Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is the World Indifferent?

New to this site? Here's what I'm doing.

My 40 day challenge is nearing the home stretch! The last day of my 40 days is March 6th. I've been keeping up with my yoga practice every day, although my work schedule has made it impossible for me to make it to my home yoga studio over the past couple of days. Fortunately, I get to hit up an awesome hot power yoga class taught by one of my favorite teachers this morning! I'm still having some issues with my knee, but I know that just getting to class is going to help loosen it up. It's also going to help me sit for hours today at work as I wade through a mountain of paperwork at my desk.

And now, for the reason I'm doing all of this yoga:


Yesterday morning, I heard this episode of the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio, about the world's "failed response" to the Syrian refugee disaster. After delineating the fact that there are now upwards of 9 million displaced people inside and outside of Syria as a result of the civil war--a staggering, mind-boggling number--one of her guests pointed out that it has been more difficult than normal for relief agencies to raise the money they need to provide assistance to refugees. To paraphrase, he presented this example: an unnamed agency was able to raise more money in three weeks for the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan than it had been able to raise for Syrian refugee relief in three years. It's a major problem that is making refugee relief so difficult in Syria and in all of the countries that are hosting refugees, both in official camps and in their societies at large.

Why is it that the world has not been better equipped to handle this situation, nor responded with the same sort of outpouring of other horrible events? And why is this not a major news story all the time? I would suggest that the answer is one I'm well aware of, as someone who works as a Middle East historian. The general public in the USA has an image of the Middle East as a violent, always troubled region--one they do not understand, and often do not care to understand. Despite the fact that our lifestyles and economies are entirely dependent upon the natural resources of the region, despite the fact that our monotheistic religions come from the region, and despite the fact that the USA meddles constantly in the region, Americans just do not know about regular people's suffering there. And sadly, when they do learn about it, a lot of people just do not care. I'd like to be wrong about this, but I do not think I am.

Syrians and other Middle Easterners have been dehumanized in the media, and, as a result, it's hard to get the general public to think of them as just regular people trying to live their lives, raise their families, and be happy--just like everyone else in the world. That's why we need more stories like this one, a blurb from Michael Abramowitz of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial, discussing the destruction of Syrian childhood as a result of this catastrophe and the responsibility of the world community to protect these kids. We also need a lot more visual and audio images of regular people in this horrifyingly irregular situation, such as these powerful photographs of "Syria's Lost Generation" by Elena Dorfman. Click on this link and follow the slide show -- you can listen to teenaged refugees' stories as you look at their portraits.

And here's another photo by Dorfman, taken in Lebanon for the UNHRC. I don't know about you, but I cannot turn away from these babies.

Original caption: "Dorfman captures a baby in the box that serves as his crib on the grounds of an active slaughter house near Tripoli [Lebanon]."

I know this is an overwhelming problem, but I believe it is imperative that we all face it head-on and work to curb this humanitarian nightmare. It's not just the right thing to do, but it's political pragmatic as well. My fundraiser is small, but if we all put our small work together, we can make something big. I've made my living off the study of the Levant for many years. This is the least that I can do. Please, consider supporting my fundraiser for the International Rescue Committee and their work with Syrian refugees by making a contribution and/or spreading the word via social media. Thank you very much. 

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