Ireton students gain new perspective on Syria

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More than 100 students filed into the Bishop Ireton High School auditorium in Alexandria to hear Honey Al Sayed speak about her experiences and her perspective on Syria March 15. Al Sayed was the host of a popular national radio show in Syria before the Syrian uprising broke out. Al Sayed’s show had many of the typical elements of popular radio shows, but she worked also to empower her listeners by supporting women’s education, bilingualism, and working to bridge the gap between Syrians and Westerners.

 

But when the Syrian government began to pressure her to change elements of her show in early 2012, either deemed too Western or otherwise against the image the government wanted to promote, she decided to relocate to the United States. While in the United States, Al Sayed has worked as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, co-founded the independent nonprofit online radio station, SouriaLi, and now works as an independent creative consultant.

Ireton extended an invitation for  Al Sayed to talk to students who are taking classes in Government, AP Human Geography, and Journalism, or those who are a part of Model United Nations, so that they could begin a dialogue between these students’ perspectives on Syria and the reality of Syria today.

During her talk, Al Sayed discussed how there is a one-way flow of information between the U.S. and Syria, the narratives about Syria that exist in the West, and how individuals can make a difference in advancing peace building. In her speech, Al Sayed made it clear that there is no way to make statements that are “blanket to the Arab world, to Syria, or to the U.S.,” because every person’s experience is different. As Al Sayed explained, in Syria there is a one-way flow of information from the West, which influences Syrian culture due to their exposure to Hollywood movies and American music. While Syrians are aware of American culture, the average American cannot name one Syrian musician or movie star; a two-way flow of information between these nations is necessary to help bridge the gap between them. Al Sayed also discussed how with a two-way flow of information, the narratives on Syrians can be corrected, because Syrians are not just statistics or refugees searching for asylum; at their core they are people, and it is necessary to “put a human face to this conflict.”

Due to  Al Sayed’s unique position as a media specialist through her extensive career, she pointed out how important it is that everyone uses their voice to help forge a cultural dialogue, whether that be through social media, radio or beyond. There are millions of Syrian stories to be shared, and to spread awareness of the Syrian experience, these stories need to be shared to “humanize all the data” that is shown constantly in media coverage of the Syrian conflict.

After Al Sayed’s talk, the students were all invited to have a dialogue with her, and many of the students asked insightful questions. One question was what can students do to help to bring a two-way flow of information between the Arab world and the Western world. Al Sayed answered that students can share positive media about global regions that may have an incorrect negative image in traditional media, and the students should use their voices to speak out. All in all, Al Sayed’s visit to Ireton helped open students’ perspectives about Syria and brought a greater spirit of inclusivity to the school.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018