Ala'a Basatneh: "I'm always online."
Ala’a Basatneh didn’t do much sightseeing during her visit to Sun Valley this past weekend. Rather, the 22-year old used all her spare time doing what she does almost every hour of every day: checking social media for the latest on the civil war in Syria.
“I’m always online. Always. I wake up in the middle of the night and check on my accounts and I go back to sleep. It’s just nonstop,” she says.
But Basatneh, the focus of the documentary #chicagoGirl
, which screened Feb. 28 at the Family of Women Film Festival in Sun Valley, doesn’t just monitor the situation in the country where she was born. From a suburb of Chicago, she also coordinates rallies by anti-regime activists in Syria and sends video of the protests, as well as footage of human rights violations, to media outlets all over the world.
It’s a life documented by director Joe Piscatella, and it’s one that has taken on increased urgency with the actions of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), which has grown since #chicagoGirl
Basatneh said the brutality of the group has drawn attention away from the mission of the original revolutionaries she supports, who want to see the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Because the media finds the story of ISIS sexier, and all they’re covering is ISIS, activists like me and expatriates have to double up their work,” she said. “We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness and to show that as we speak right now there are TNT barrel bombs dropping on top of civilian neighborhoods.”
Basatneh can’t forget the images she’s seen on clandestinely uploaded videos, including one recently of a boy eating cardboard boxes because he was starving. She sent the footage to news outlets, but it wasn’t carried.
“And then a couple weeks later, I get a message from one of the activists that the kid was sniped and killed,” she said. “So he’s dead. And the world is going just day by day, not acting. It’s depressing. But I don’t let it bring me down. Because if I stop, and every expatriate stops, and every activist stops, then we are betraying the blood of the people that died.”
She wishes the international community would do something, whether that be boots on the ground or enforcing a no-fly zone. Any action, she maintains, would help the rest of the world in the long run.
“We don’t want to see the chaos and the extremism from ISIS in our backyard. So by helping the Syrian people, we’re actually helping ourselves; we’re helping Europe,” she said.
In the documentary, Basatneh is shown briefly visiting Syria, which her parents left in 1992. She went one other time, but can’t go back until the country is safer.
“Not only have I gotten threats from the Syrian regime, but now I have threats from the extremist groups” like ISIS, she said. “Through activists, they sent me verbal messages that if I were to go back to Syria, “not good” things would happen to me.”
The name of the film, #chicagoGirl, came from an online threat Basatneh received.
To the young girls now joining ISIS, she would say, “Seek help and try to talk to family members about it. Syrian people and girls their age are struggling for freedom. They should be on the right side of history.”
Basatneh hopes more people will see #chicagoGirl and realize that the Syrian people are the ultimate victims of the civil war.
“I love the film. I love it,” she said. “And I want the children of the martyrs and children of the victims and the activists that died 20 years from now to see this documentary and think, “Oh, my God, my dad and my mom have suffered so much for me to live in such a free country and a democratic country.'”
For her part, Basatneh wants to use her freedom to get a Masters in international human rights and work for a global agency helping children.
“Since I was very little, my dad always said that the greatest weapon I could have is a degree,” she said.
She believes that in the end, Syrians will live in peace.
“We’re walking in a very dark tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel we see the light," Basatneh said. "We just don’t know how long that tunnel is."
Ala'a Basatneh: "We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness."