At Ajyal Film Festival 2014 I had the pleasure of meeting Alaa Bastneh who is #ChicagoGirl, an International Political Science student, a social media political activist and the focus of the documentary. She is a great inspiration and I really enjoyed the talk, which went like this:
KM: When you agreed to be part of the film, have you considered how you, your family and what you do to help the rebels would be exposed?
AB: I wasn’t prepared for the responsibility and I didn’t have a plan, but when I saw children were being killed, that’s when I decided I want to help and I want to go online to find the activists and connect with them and see how I can help them. And yes, it reached to a threat or someone’s following me and taking pictures, but that is nothing compare to TNT barrel bombs, chemical weapons and starving children who are eating cardboard boxes and grass in sieged areas in Syria because of the Syrian regime.
KM: This is really inspiring, but how did it all started?
AB: I saw the children being tortured in Syria and I said that’s not fair. I have to do anything to help them, so I went online looking for activists on YouTube who are uploading videos of protest. I checked their names and I looked for them on Facebook, added them, sent them messages and started skyping with them. I never took out my photos online and never used faked names. I always have my full real name available, because I want them to trust me and talk to me. I wanted for them to think: “Oh, she’s a girl from Chicago, she’s not going to harm us, but she’s going to help us.” And that’s how it all started.
KM: From your experience how could you tell us people who live outside of Syria, how can we help the refugees and the cause, other than the normal charity?
AB: Being Qatari and asking this question is great because your country government and citizens were the first to be true brothers and sisters to the Syrian people and that is something the Syrian people will never forget. I would’ve wished all the Arab countries will do the same and I say this with true honesty. As an individual the important thing is to raise awareness, to tweet and to keep talking about the Syrian revolution. Talk about the humanitarian side of it if you don’t want to go into politics and just keep talking about it. People are still protesting every week so we need to keep the conversation.
KM: And with the film, you are re-opening the dialogue, which is great! Can you tell us a little bit about the film’s journey? How people reacted to it in the West?
AB: The film played throughout around 50 countries in the west and this is the first Arab country to screen it. Being here gave me the opportunity to be interviewed by people who know about the Syrian situation. Everyone else said: “We don’t know about the Syrian revolution and we need to know more. And now after knowing how can we help.” This kind of stuff we hear in the west, so it’s so excited to hear, “Oh, we know so much about the Syrian revolution.” And after the movie was screened I received so many messages from the youth telling me they watched the film and that they want to help. And I’m very happy for that.
KM: So what’s next for you? Do you think that being a political activist would harm your career?
AB: I’m an international political science student and I’m planning to take a Master in Human Rights and focus more on children’s right. My plan is not to only help the children in Syria but also children throughout the world.
Thank you Alaa for this great talk! It was a pleasure meeting you and wishing you all the best in your future! Read my review on ‘#chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator’ by clicking on this link.