In the 1940s, Anne Frank wrote a diary that would become famous posthumously, about her experience as a Jewish girl living under Nazi rule. You probably read it in school at some point, if you grew up in North America.
In September of 2016, Bana Alabed opened a Twitter account from Aleppo, Syria about the war from her perspective as a seven-year old girl. In one month, she amassed over 71k followers with tweets like “Good afternoon from #Aleppo, I’m reading to forget the war,” and "My brother really scared of being killed by one of the shells -Bana #Aleppo." In case you haven't caught onto Bana's posts yet (she shares the account with her mom, who sometimes posts as well), you can check it out here: https://twitter.com/alabedbana
Both of these girls belong to a group of young women who, in formats appropriate to their times, leverage their stories of atrocity to effect social change. Anne Frank wrote in a diary that only became public after her death, but which has come to be emblematic of the Holocaust and which is used in classrooms to inspire students to consider major atrocity and the role of an adolescent girl living at that time. Contemporary girls follow in Anne Frank’s footsteps, relying on participatory media platforms to allow them to intervene in global conversations about gender and persistent inequity in real time.
I'm really struck by the way these narratives about life in really drastic, really dire situations are being taken up by those of us in North America. How do we interact with these stories? Who are those seventy thousand people following Bana? I'm willing to bet- though I've yet to look at the analytics- that most of them are not in Syria. Most of them, I think, are consuming her 70-character messages about life as a little girl in a war from vantage points like mine. It's as though she provides an unfiltered view of the war, one unmetered by popular media. But then again, she's seven. I have a seven year old niece. She's concerned with what flavor ice cream is in the freezer and which rides she is going to pick to go on at the county fair. I cannot even fathom her tweeting about war. And yet- I consume little Bana's brief messages, interludes from her world, on the daily, and my heart grips. Reading to forget the war. Her brother is afraid. Boom, Boom, Boom.
And what of these narratives? What can be done with them? If I download all of Bana's tweets, and analyze where her supporters are located geographically, and watch all the videos, and think with her mother's perspective, what then?
Will Bana's words be used like Anne Frank's, an entre into a world so foreign, a story that helps us make sense of atrocity? Some people worry that Anne Frank's diary is merely a balm for normalizing the Holocaust, that it takes the edge off the sheer violence when it celebrates Anne's indomitable spirit, her hopeful words, her little-girl outlook.
How can we take up Bana's words in ways that move us to action, that connect young people globally, that inspire the urgent, urgent need that for peace that is communicated every time she connects and reminds us that somewhere, very far away, many little girls are trying to avoid dying from bombs?