What You Can Do About Syria

by Jackie Outka

With all the news about Syria in the media lately, it's hard to sort out which bits and pieces to focus on or care about.

No. Wait. That first line was a test. I wanted to see if you were paying attention. For there has, in my opinion, been unconscionably little about Syria in the media since the civil war began. Like many other conflicts in formerly colonized parts of the globe, it seems to be a struggle that strikes close to the heart of those directly linked to it (in this case in the US, Syrian and Arab Americans and Arab immigrants), while leaving others cold.

Now those of you who know me know that it's easy to kick-start my sadness and frustration at human apathy in the face of humanitarian crises and overall injustice. And you may also know that brief spurts of sympathy I find almost more irritating than simple (if terrifying) amorality.

But I'm not going to devote this piece to those emotions. I'm going to restrain myself, I'm going to be more concrete and frame the rest of this article around two questions and three answers to them.

How and where can I learn more about the Syrian war?

1. Get a Twitter

The idea that Twitter is just for celebrities is now vastly outmoded - Twitter has proven itself to be a solid political and information-gathering tool. "Following" news agencies will stir up some information; however, another good way to learn more about day-to-day conditions in Syria is to "follow" those who are more directly or indirectly involved. Examples (just to name a few) include Rafif Jouejati (a Syrian-American activist), ThatSyrian (personal updates from Damascus), Free Syria (which collects news items in English on the Syrian conflict), Syria Campaigns (which runs Twitter campaigns), John Wreford (an English photographer based in Damascus)…and more. I deliberately chose a wide cross-section here to highlight the diversity of perspectives Twitter brings. If you want to get a glimpse of the stories behind the facts, Twitter's the place to do it.

2. Stay up-to-date on humanitarian agencies and their work

This is one of the best ways to gather information about the situation on the ground in Syria. Organizations like the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) publish up-to-date humanitarian statistics (ie how many people are food insecure in Syria, how many more women are getting C-sections, where refugees are headed, and more). For an illustration of what such statistics can achieve (and the important distancing perspective they have vis a vis more overtly "political" articles), take a look at these links here and here (now! stop! before you read any further).

What can I do to help?

1. Consider a donation

Most people have a strong opinion regarding donations (whether to do it/who to donate to/possible ethical quandaries/etc). I'm not going to get into that discussion here. However, regarding reputable agencies to donate to (this being many people's first and understandable concern), UNHCR (the UN's refugee agency) immediately comes to mind. A smaller but equally reliable organization worth considering is RefugeAid, a Canadian student-run group that has partnered with Doctors Without Borders to raise money for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon. RefugeAid's project has the advantage of greater transparency (another typical and legitimate prospective donor concern); contact refugeaid@gmail.com to find out more.

2. Don't forget

There's an Islamic idea I once read about that resonated with me deeply: the conception of forgetfulness as a great, and possibly the greatest, sin. The quotation that stuck in my mind (forgive any possible misquotation) was something like "Adam didn't sin, he forgot"/Adam's sin was his forgetfulness.

This human tendency to forget, to drift away, to become distracted can cause irreparable damage. In that sense, almost the most important action to take for Syria is to resist such inaction. Even if you don't donate or read the news or learn a single scrap of information about the conflict, try not to forget that it exists. Try to think of the struggles of Syrians without mentally flinching or turning away.

If you do nothing else, perform this one act of empathy.