It needs to be said that the pain that Syrians/Diaspora experience from the violence and separation from our families is real. There is an ocean of tears to prove this, formed between two mountains of solid jade. And the lack of compassion towards Syrians from other Levantines and other MENA (so proclaimed) human rights activists is also real: The Syrian narrative doesn’t fit neatly within the context of anti-US imperialism, and out of annoyance at having to update their human rights standards many people chose to pull up a chair in the shadows of Silence, or even in the shadows of Bashar al Assad himself.
It is true that the Syrian revolution was orphaned by MENA/Diaspora activists and MENA-Phile researchers. And because Syria is largely “muslim on muslim crime”, there wasn’t so much compassion from Western Muslim activists, a group who is preoccupied with combatting the Islamophobia generated in their locales by terrorist groups that spring up in brutally violent geographies like… Syria.
However, all this means is that the Syrian cause won’t passively permeate into the world. We will not see massive worldwide vigils spontaneously organize on their own to commemorate Syrian massacres. If things don’t change, we will continue to see the same small group of people celebrating the accomplishments and mourning the deaths of Syrian civil society activists. We need to actively permeate through communication channels: we live in a world where human rights causes must be marketed in an unwilling attention economy.
There has always been an attention economy, but with the emergence of new technologies and competing products, the attention economy has become a harsh market to navigate. In the attention economy, human rights is a product that has to be sold via storytelling and new media channels. Human rights advocacy is about marketing, and marketing is an actual full-time job in consumer-based societies.
For the past two years, I have been searching for Syria jobs. Syria jobs are found at the Syrian border, with groups like Save the Children or International Rescue Committee. Syria jobs also exist in Lebanon or Turkey or Jordan with new Syrian-run NGOS. My brilliant Syrian American peers, for lack of job opportunities here, have been drawn to the borders to do Syria work. All these jobs have one thing in common: they’re virtually all humanitarian.
Syria jobs in America largely don’t exist. At my estimate, there may be 20 actual paid Syria jobs in America. Some are humanitarian, and all others are based in DC. There is one group that focuses on communicating the Syrian story to Western audiences, and they’re an underfunded group of 5 people. There was one field organizer working in the West Coast, but she had to quit due to emotional and physical abuse from another person in that organization. (Expect another post analyzing the structure and strength of our institutions).
Human rights advocacy is not our Facebook statuses. Our Facebook statuses are for connecting with other Syrians — no one else uses Facebook like we do (and I personally think it’s a special thing). Other people are more interested in telling the story of their own lives on Facebook and getting feedback from their friends who are also living the same story.
Why don’t people care about Syria? Because we haven’t created jobs to make people care about Syria. There literally are no marketing, communications, and event planning jobs available.
I’ve been bringing this up for at least a year now to other Syrian Americans.
It started off as:
“Hey, shouldn’t we be creating jobs?”
Answer: “Yeah I guess we’re ineffective as volunteers for Syria” or “No, we should all pull double duty as doctors/engineers and activists”
Then it became:
“How do we create jobs?”
And now its:
“Okay guys, no more volunteer run events, let’s figure out a project proposal so we can get this work funded.”