What Calling Bana Alabed ‘Syria’s Anne Frank’ Cannot Capture

Keep refreshing.

On Nov. 19, 7-year-old Bana Alabed; a little girl who according to her Twitter timeline loves Harry Potter, her dolls, and her two brothers; posted a photo on the social platform, sporting a green print sweatshirt, twin braids and the toothy grin typical of 7-year-olds.

"No one knows my life is difficult when I smile," she wrote.


Though poignant, the tweet's message doesn't echo the context in which it was posted. For months, the world has been following the precocious Syrian girl's posts from rebel-held eastern Aleppo, posts that catalogued a childhood interrupted by air strikes and food scarcity. In October, Bana tweeted that the tooth fairy was too afraid to visit the children of eastern Aleppo, and was forced to take cover until the war is over.

Bana shares the Twitter account with her mother, Fatemah, an English teacher who helps Bana recount her experiences in Aleppo online in the hopes that international community will take heed and move to intervene in the increasingly desperate situation in Syria. Two days after asking Bana's followers to trend the hashtag #EvacuateAleppoKids on Dec. 3, Fatemah tweeted that the family was in imminent danger of capture by the Syrian army, saying, "Nowhere to go, every minute feels like death."

A woman walks near a house in the city of Homs destroyed in the fighting between the rebels and Syrian National Army. ART production / Shutterstock.com.

For many in the United States, Bana and her missing front teeth have become the face of the Syrian civil war. Her tweets have humanized the ongoing humanitarian crisis, bringing the struggle of Aleppo residents home to people across the globe. In recognition of this fact, many publications, including The Washington Post, have dubbed her "our era's Anne Frank."  And it's true, the parallels are significant. Anne Frank, too, was a girl who turned to books and story-telling for solace while in hiding, whose diary entries became the defining narrative of a people under assault. Anne Frank, too, was a girl who demonstrated remarkable grace and wisdom amidst a society's rubble.

But calling Bana the Syrian Anne Frank obscures something all-the-more critical in light of Aleppo's fall to the Syrian government and its allies: as noted by a number of publications, we are receiving her updates in real-time. By the time Anne Frank's diary was published in 1947, it was too late to save Anne and her schoolmates. But it is not too late to save Syrian children like Bana.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Syrian rebel forces agreed to withdraw from Aleppo, following months of heavy bombardment. The news was accompanied by U.N. reports of war crimes in eastern Aleppo, including "execution-style" killings of those who, like the Alabeds, have not been able to escape the city. 

Tonight, with news still coming in from the front lines, the best way to help residents following this most recent offensive is somewhat unclear, although publications like The Independent are echoing previous calls to donate to relief efforts and contact local politicians. As the dust settles, we'll learn more about what efforts are most sorely needed.

Bana last tweeted 15 hours ago, while the bombs were still falling. "This is my last moment to either live or die," the 7-year-old wrote. The Alabeds' fate in the aftermath of this offensive is unknown, although Fatemah had previously expressed concern that her family would be targeted by the Syrian army. As before, the world waits and refreshes their screens in the hopes that Bana will tweet again and indicate that her family has made it to safety.

Like Anne Frank before her, Bana is not alone. She and her little brothers, Mohammed and Noor, are just a few of the hundreds of children trapped in eastern Aleppo, just a few of the millions of children affected by the Syrian civil war, just a few of the millions more children worldwide threatened by armed conflict.

In Hotel Rwanda, there's a heartbreaking scene in which a visiting photojournalist explains how audiences react to stories of foreign tragedy to the Kigali-based hotelier: "When people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they'll say, 'Oh my God, that's horrible,' and then they'll go back to eating their dinners."

But, as Quartz observed, the tragedy in Aleppo is being recorded in real-time. There are no commercial breaks. Do not turn off your TVs — or your Twitter apps. Take interest. Take a stand. 

And, for Bana's sake, keep refreshing.


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