Tulane Hears Voices from Syria

     In the lives of some, self-expression is encouraged. In the lives of others, individual thought can lead to imprisonment, or even death. When thousands of Syrians took to the streets in protest against an authoritarian government, they were quite literally putting their lives on the line. What started in a small town, a few people brave enough to speak out, led to an ongoing conflict that launched the country into civil war. The catalyst that started the Arab Spring is courage. It was this story of pure and steadfast determination that attracted political scientist Wendy Pearlman, of Northwestern University, to tell the story of Syria, from the view of Syrians. 

    Pearlman was the closing presentation of the Refugee Speaker Series at Tulane University, and on November 2nd, she packed Rogers Memorial Chapel with people eager to hear about her new book that recounts an intricate and detailed first hand account of life in Syria. Pearlman has spent the past six years interviewing Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and the U.S. All of these stories are compiled in her new book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria, which offers an intimate perspective on the Syrian Civil War. The book started as an academic project, when Pearlman was eager to find out what motivated people to protest, knowing that they could be tortured or killed if caught. After beginning interviews, she soon realized that these stories needed to be contextualized prior-revolution, within the authoritarian regime present in Syria, and post-revolution, with the way the rebellion evolved after the initial peaceful protests. 

   When I walked into the chapel, I expected to sit through an academic lecture where I would learn a few things, be generally satisfied, thank the presenter, and go on with my day. However, as I'm sure everyone else in the audience would agree, I experienced one of the most impactful, emotional, and incredible presentations I've ever seen. Pearlman described the Syrian conflict with sharp clarity, but she let the Syrians themselves tell the story. Firsthand accounts were shared, from children to the elderly, about life under the regime, during revolution, and throughout the war that followed. What distinguishes the book from others is that it told exclusively by those that experienced the conflict. "I first wrote the book, and I narrated it. But then I realized, I needed to take the white voice out of it. This wasn't my story to tell," said Pearlman, when asked about the stages that the book went through until it was finally published.

    The Syrian conflict is a whirlwind of complexity and gray areas. It's easy for someone to cast aside the matter due to the fact that comprehending the conflict in it's entirety is nearly impossible. Which is why what Pearlman is doing is one of the most noble and important things that one can do: sharing a story. The truth is, the Syrian conflict is a humanitarian tragedy. Everyday, civilians are tortured, displaced, or killed. And to turn a blind eye is to neglect our responsibility to protect human rights across the globe. Pearlman's presentation and book are a strikingly authentic and profound way to hear the voices of those affected. But the Tulane community was able to hear a voice even closer to home, when a man sitting in the front row spoke up to say, "That's my town. I'm from Syria, and that's where I lived." The presentation featured photos of where the attendee had lived, and even people that he knew.

    If you're looking for your next read, I implore you to put this on your list. It feels less like reading a book and more like having an endearing, heart-wrenching, and inspiring conversation with some of the bravest people in this world. In the words of Pearlman, "I hope that it will encourage readers to put themselves in Syrians’ shoes and respect their bravery and resilience as people who have made great sacrifices to fight for freedom."