By Nicole Plyler Fisk
Today on Morning Joe, Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson asked, “What is Aleppo?” in a truly cringe-worthy video. For those of us closely following news from Syria, Aleppo is not only the war’s fiercest battleground but also has become synonymous with Omran Daqneesh and Abu Wad and Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel (i.e., those people from this ancient, beautiful city, caught in the crossfire … the people for whom Gary Johnson, in his ignorance, seems to know or care little).
This morning, a friend texted me and told me to turn on Morning Joe. I did. And I saw you, asking, “What is Aleppo?” I’m sympathetic, in a way, because sometimes I say stupid things (e.g., I mispronounce words a lot, because I learned them incorrectly as a kid and sometimes find it hard to shake off my original mispronunciation).
Luckily, we live in the Digital Age, so when I have trouble with a word, I look it up and hit “audio” and am able to hear how to pronounce it correctly. You, likewise, could harness the power of the Internet, social media even! We don’t have to be detached from what’s going on in other parts of the world, when we can — you know — talk to the people who live there.
Take, for example, the Facebook group Il gattaro D’aleppo, featured recently in Syria Direct. Through this group, you can follow and aid Nobel Prize candidate’s Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel’s humanitarian efforts in rebel-controlled east Aleppo.
After I heard about your “What is Aleppo?” question, I went downstairs to find my six-year-old son. I asked him if he knows about Aleppo. His response? “Of course I do! What makes you think I don’t?” He proceeded to remind me that we have friends in Aleppo, Syria who are in the middle of a war, and then he looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
And he’s right. Just last week, through the Il gattaro D’aleppo group page and Facebook-live-video, we woke up to a birthday party in East Aleppo. My kids watched as others their age, nearly 7,000 miles away, sang “Happy Birthday” in Arabic, and lit candles, and had cake. They watched as little red hearts danced across the screen, because people from all over the world were at the party with us. We clicked Facebook’s heart-shaped emoji and watched our love float across the screen too.
I heard a siren in the background and felt real panic. I remember watching the Challenger explode on live television when I was in the first grade, and I worried (first and foremost) for those children in Aleppo, but also for my children, because: What if the bombs start falling again, during the party? What if my children witness the unthinkable?
I voiced my concern, and my 12-year-old daughter’s response was: “Well, then, it’s even more important that we watch — because it’s dangerous there, and we need to know if something happens, so we can send help.”
After talking about how to get more people connected, more people to serve as witnesses and as helpers, we started a Facebook page, Cats of Aleppo, and have been posting cat-a-day photos, from Alaa’s collection. Our goal is to direct more people to Il gattero D’aleppo, where crowd-funding has financed an animal shelter, a playground, ambulances, wells, and more.
Here’s hoping you’ll join, Gary. I promise that, if you do, you’ll never have to ask “What is Aleppo?” again. And that’s a good thing.