This weekend, I watched the film Hunger Games. I know, I know, I arrived at that show a bit late. But I knew it would be intense viewing so I wanted to be prepared and a brutal sinus thingy ensured I had plenty of time lying around on my back.
Most things in my life these days come back to Syria, and Hunger Games was no different.
From the very first second, the film captures a world where life is a daily struggle. Hard. Heavy. Exhausting at the deepest level. Children are raised into a life where there is little to hope for and much to fear. A life in which, however, the odds were “ever in their favour” – because in actuality almost all of those children would survive the fear and go on to live mundane yet peaceful lives.
Much as it pains me to think it, this reminds me a bit of Syria before all this mess began. There wasn’t all that much hope going around. There was quite a lot of fear. But all in all, a predictable and even somewhat happy life awaited most Syrian children.
At the annual “Reaping”, when one boy and one girl from each “District” were chosen to represent their district in the yearly “Hunger Games”, an event in which kids would fight each other to the death, a military propaganda film is shown. The film reminds people that they once knew war and chaos, but now they live in peace, and they are reminded to thank their ruling authorities for the stability they now enjoy. And, out of that gratitude, they are required to sacrifice one boy and one girl to these murderous games. The stability that was Syria for many years was also a trade: don’t ask questions in exchange for peace.
At this point in the film, I began to really hope that the chosen kids, the main characters in this film, would challenge the status quo. And for a while there it looked like they might inspire a revolution in the so-called Districts. But it didn’t happen.
Instead, when the Hunger Games began, they learned to fight, they learned to kill, and they became brutal, mostly heartless. What truly broke my heart, and brought tears to my eyes when I thought of Syria, was that it was the grown-ups who inspired the children to become evil. The grown-ups taught them to fight and reminded them that victory would only come if they killed other children. How can the leadership of a country, or of an opposition militia for that matter, intentionally raise up children to maim, murder and torture?
And yet they do. I never wanted to believe it, but they do. Syria is not the only place in the world where I’ve lived that has child soldiers, but it is the only place where I knew those children before they became soldiers. I saw that they had promise and potential. I saw them giggling, playing in the streets and hugging their mothers.
In Hunger Games, I wanted the children to fight back. I wanted the millions of TV-viewers watching the fictional Hunger Games to be inspired by children who did The Right Thing. But the competitors are, at the end of the day, just children. And power is a tough force to reckon with.
In Syria, there are people fighting back, standing up for peace and non-violence and cooperation. I feel honoured to have met some of those people and am endlessly inspired by their courage. But they are so few, and the tidal wave against which they are standing is so massive.
on a different [side] note, Dreams in the Medina, my novel about Syrian women, is now available in print form! Do check out the links by clicking on the cover image…