29. Europe’s Selective Compassion

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Published in The Independent on 31st August 2015 here

A Palestinian-Syrian refugee from Yarmouk has become the latest viral sensation to hit the Internet. Abdul, a single father of two, was photographed with his daughter slung over his shoulder, selling biros in the streets of Beirut. An activist utilized the magic of the Internet to find him and within just three hours thousands of dollars were raised. On the face of it, such outpourings of compassion demonstrate the collective power of the Internet – of humans helping each other out.

But stories like Abdul’s are not uncommon. His plight is echoed in millions of people across the region and across the world. In Lebanon alone, Syrian refugees make up 1.2 million of a roughly 4.5 million population. Indeed Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other nation in the world (hear that, Europe?). Lebanon has no ‘formal’ refugee camps, and beggars and street children are a common phenomenon. In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp houses over 80,000 Syrian refugees with the camp rapidly becoming a permanent settlement. In fact, one in five Syrians are now refugees according to the UN. All these numbers represent individual lives – lives we will never hear of nor see. What about those displaced people who are systematically ignored, marginalized and unheard?

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6. Mashrou’ Leila: Never heard of them, went to a gig, loved ’em

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On Friday night I went to a Mashrou’ Leila gig in Paris with some friends from Arabic class. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know who they were before the concert, but being the good sheep I am, I went along anyway and it was great. Admittedly not knowing many (rather, all) of the songs could be seen as a disadvantage but my fresh eyes showed me lots of things I probably would have missed, like how diverse the crowd was, filled with old and young, grey hair and pink, Parisians, Europeans, Arabs, (and those inbetween), gay, straight (you get where I’m going with this) all dancing like crazy to the sounds of Mashrou’ Leila.

Mashrou’ Leila are a Lebanese band formed at the American University of Beirut in Feburary 2008. I’m usually skeptical of Arabic popular music, filled as it is with boring gender roles, emotionally tortured love ballads and a disproportionate amount of plastic surgery. But these guys were different, they seemed to understand what originality, youth and music really meant (and good God were they a good-looking bunch). I got the impression that this was a group who loved creating together – exploring new styles, genres and audiences. It was refreshing and exciting.