Bana al-Abed has been making international news as “our era’s Anne Frank.” She is a seven-year-old Syrian girl who was previously trapped during the siege in Aleppo but has safely been evacuated since. So why has she been compared to Anne Frank? This little girl was live-tweeting the atrocities from Aleppo during the siege.
My name is Bana, I’m 7 years old. I am talking to the world now live from East #Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die. – Bana
With over 360,000 followers and with the help of her mother Fatemah al-Abed, Bana has been updating the world from the middle of a rebel-held war-zone. Her account is wrought with descriptions of daily life amongst the loud barrage of bombs and gunfire. It is also riddled with desperate cries of help which were aimed at and often ignored by world leaders and the United Nations.
Bana’s savvy use of social media erased any excuse we could have given ourselves of not being able to take action against atrocities happening in Aleppo. It raises an interesting question in the age of social media. Are we going to be able to bury our heads in the sand anymore? Bana defiantly made sure it’d be pretty hard to do so.
We are today appealing to the world, to everyone to do something for me, Bana, my family & the remaining people inside East Aleppo to make
Yet, we underestimate ourselves. We can still be as ignorant as ever. Critics attacked Bana and her mother in an attempt to discredit her tweets. They pointed out that the account was too active for someone who is living in a city with frequent power cuts. Even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad labeled the account as “propaganda,” as he falsely tried to maintain a façade of control and content.
Twitter as a tool has been paramount in activism and politics for the Western world in this decade. But that’s the West; we are used to being aware of what’s going on in the West. Following any tragedy that happens in the West, social media sites roll out photo filters, people update their statuses, and corporations launch ads all in solidarity with Western victims.
But what about the East?
The West is notoriously popular for ignoring the unrest and conflict in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East. North American news outlets report extensively on any attack in the West by Muslim extremists, such as Paris, Orlando, and Brussels.However, the constant violence inflicted upon the Middle East by the likes of the same Muslim extremists, Russia, or even the United States of America isn’t talked about.
There were numerous terrorist attacks in multiple places which include Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India. Yet the Western media tends to ignore these events very often. And even when this news is covered, it’s done hastily and not given the proper coverage it deserves.
Syria, however, has been different. Many major news networks and outlets are covering the conflict in depth. The issue of Syrian refugees has been widely discussed and debated, as unrest in the Middle East seeped into the Western world. Yet, this entire debacle has been met with a strange quiet when it comes to taking actual and effective action. These sentiments are echoed by Bana herself, who found the lack of response during the siege in Aleppo to be heartbreaking.
I am very sad. No one is helping Syrian children. Please please please evacuate all of them out of the war.
We must ask ourselves: Would World War II have been different if Anne Frank’s diary was published simultaneously as she wrote it? Bana al-Abed proves it wouldn’t.
Fatima Ahmed is a 1.5 generation Pakistani working on her degree in English Literature in Vancouver, Canada. She has an interest in human rights activism, social justice affairs, literature, and art as well as excessive chai drinking. You can find her on twitter @FattyA123 or read more of her articles at schemamag.com.
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular