Jan 302013
In the midst of a bloody civil war, protesters use humor against Bashar al-Assad (Image source: FreedomHouse2 via Flickr).

In the midst of a bloody civil war, protesters in Idlib use humor against Bashar al-Assad (Image source: FreedomHouse2 via Flickr).

As a brutal civil war continues in Syria between the rebel groups of the Free Syrian Army and forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, website Latitude News shows how one Bay Ridge hair salon owner is using social media sites such as Facebook, as well as an interactive smart phone app, to keep tabs on loved ones back in his native country.

Reporter Justin Mitchell introduces us to 25-year-old Shadi Batal, who has been running a successful hair salon on 3rd Avenue for 5 years. While Batal is in many ways living the American dream, the true indicators of his happiness are much more complex than material accomplishments in his adopted home.

As someone who was born – and still has family – in Idlib, the northwestern stronghold of the FSA in Syria, he knows all to well what it’s like to mourn relatives killed in a conflict taking place halfway across the world from the safety of Brooklyn.

From Latitude News:

For Batal, the need for quick and up-to-date information is personal: his brother was a member of the FSA. One day in August, one of Batal’s friends in Brooklyn told him that his brother’s name was listed among the day’s casualties on the Facebook page focusing on news from Idlib. Batal immediately called one of his relatives back in Syria, who told him that the news was incorrect and his brother was only injured.

But just one hour later the relative called back. Batal’s brother was dead.

According to Batal, he had been hiding at a friend’s home, drinking tea, when the Assad forces fired a missile at the house, destroying it.

“I was engaged with this situation before it happened,” Batal explains, “but after he passed away, I became even more addicted.”

And that was just the beginning. On January 16, Batal’s uncle was injured when government forces bombed Idlib. The day before, one of his cousins was killed when bombs struck the University of Aleppo as students sat for their exams.

“I wish I could stop watching,” Batal says. “But I can’t.”

Syrian Americans such as Batal can’t speak freely with relatives back home, who often talk over bugged phones. And regional news sources Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic, and CNN International, while an improvement over mainstream American news, are neither quick enough nor sufficiently hyperlocal for those whose friends and family face immediate danger on a daily basis.

This is where Facebook and Souria Wa Ba, (“Only Syria”), “a mobile interactive app which provides up-to-the-minute updates on the battle in Syria,” come in handy.

“You don’t have to wait for the news,” Batal says. “Something happens, they post it after a half hour.”

You can read Mitchell’s complete story at Latitude News.com.