By Abigail Roberts
While the world fears Syria’s leader Assad may again attack his own people with chemical weapons, the country is promoting itself as a 'desirable' tourist destination. Is young social media star Lulu Mohamad-Ali helping it to do so? What is so enticing about a place that over 5.6 million others are fleeing?
Looks like the page of your average Instagram model, right? Generic happy poses, filters galore, beautiful destinations surrounding her. But I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to guess some of her Instagram posts and stories were taken in (and are promoting) the not-so-popular tourist destination of Syria. Lulu Mohamad-Ali, a marketer from Qatar, released a vlog on top of her social media posts in Syria this year. The vlog was perfectly polished and seemed professional, as if she was marketing visiting the active warzone that is Syria. This led me to question… why? Has the Syrian government paid her to promote tourism to its war-torn country? I asked her this directly on social media, but she made no comment. Therefore, I am still led to question why one would travel to a place which most governments, including our own, advise people not to visit at all… especially since she comes from Qatar: a country which is is in a current conflict with Syria.
The most striking thing about this dangerous visit which was masked as safe and care-free by Ali, was that whilst there are 5.6 million refugees who have fled Syria for their safety (and 6.1 million displaced within the country), someone would choose to visit it. But it’s not just Ali we should be questioning … the Syrian government is encouraging tourism on YouTube and social media whilst continuing to wage war against the rebels in its own country. Whilst babies are being pulled out of rubble, she sips champagne in silk dresses.
So before we explore the Syrian government’s efforts to entice people to this “blissful” war-zone, here’s a recap of the current devastating situation in Syria, and why those fleeing Syria need our help.
Before March 2011, Syria’s name did not make you immediately flinch or think of war and destruction. However, many parts of what was once a relatively functional country filled with historic sites and culture, are now unrecognisable. Bombs are being released, babies are being found under the remains of buildings, over 470,000 people have been killed, 80% of the population are in poverty and 95% don’t have proper healthcare. Below are some images of Syria before its civil war compared to now.
The 11.7 million refugees or displaced Syrian people should not be seen as a threat to Australia, and we must understand that they simply have no option but to flee their homes. To help these people, you can donate to charities such as House of Welcome or World Vision to provide them with aid or assistance in settling in to countries where they have sought refuge or asylum, or simply change your perception about the so-called “dangers” or “threats” posed by Syrian refugees. Children are scared of the airstrikes flying over their heads, large portions of cities lie in ruins, and many people are captured by the Islamic State.
Despite tourism promotion by governments or perhaps Lulu Mohamad-Ali, it is impossible for many Syrian people to maintain safe lives whilst remaining in their homes. Below is a very different type of “vlog” compared to that of Ali, and it is crucial that one takes the time to watch the journey of Syrian refugee, Rania Mustafa to develop understanding and empathy towards the struggle and humanity of people like herself.
Despite this, what is shocking is the Syrian government’s efforts to attract tourism in a time like 2018. According to Bassam Barsik (Syrian Ministry of Tourism), 2018 “is the time to rebuild Syria and [it’s] economy.” The Syrian government’s hopes for this year were that 2 million visitors would visit this country. Between 2016-2018 despite the civil war, they have released videos promoting the “beauty” of visiting this location, such as panning shots of its coastlines, or montages of people enjoying themselves there… which are rather fascinating to watch, as again this country has more reasons to be fled than for people to flee to it.
Here is another professional and polished influencer’s tourism video, which is disturbingly perfect for a country at war. It’s very fascinating to pan over, as the influencer's true motivation behind travelling to Syria are unclear.
Overall, there are two entirely different portrayals of what is happening in Syria. There are people using social media to expose the pain and suffering due to the civil war, but on the other hand the government appears to be aiming to normalise visiting their country, whilst threatening to kill their own people in Afrin with chemical weapons. It is rather suspicious in my personal opinion that these vloggers are “popping in” to the warzone of Syria… perhaps due to the government’s attempt to change the perspective of gullible tourists. Controversies like these remind us to question the motivation behind what we see in the media. Additionally, despite the “enjoyment” of some of Syria’s visitors, it is our responsibility to care for the victims of this civil war, specifically by maintaining an empathetic understanding towards refugees, especially those longing for safety in Australia.