The two faces of TikTokers promoting Syrian tourism

By | July 13, 2023

Jessica Roy writes:

“Get ready with me to go clubbing with this bitch!” commands a recent TikTok posted by an Arab International University student named Patricia. In the clip, two college-aged girls in one’s childhood bedroom apply bronzer, chat and listen to music as they prepare to go out to a party. Both wear the uniform of a 20-something in 2023 — denim and a going-out top — and one sports a tattoo along the blade of her collarbone.

The scene is a familiar one for young women everywhere, but the setting is not: The girls are getting ready to go clubbing in Syria, a country that not so long ago was embroiled in a bloody civil war that killed upward of 500,000 civilians and displaced more than half of the country’s population of 21 million. According to a 2023 report on Syria by the U.N., 15.3 million people will require humanitarian assistance over the course of the year, including 2.1 million internally displaced persons living in last-resort sites; critical infrastructure and many essential services are on the brink of collapse; and an economy crippled by high inflation and sanctions has made essentials like food and clothes wildly unaffordable. The report explains that people in every one of Syria’s 270 subdistricts are experiencing humanitarian stress, and conditions in 203 areas are classed as severe, extreme or catastrophic.

To recap: Things in Syria aren’t great. But Patricia isn’t here to talk about all that. With more than 106,000 followers and counting, she’s one of a handful of young creators on TikTok who have begun to gain global followings with promises to show the “real” Syria, one that is remarkably different from the Western media’s depiction of a war-torn nation led by a maniacal dictator. In her videos, Patricia goes to techno parties on rooftops, hangs out with friends and explores the streets of Damascus.

“The media doesn’t show the beautiful places in Syria,” Patricia says in one video. “That’s why I started uploading in the first place, because I was like, people don’t know what Syria actually looks like, they think that it’s only damaged and there’s no beautiful places, we are not cultured, we don’t have fun and we just live in a war. No, it’s not like that. It’s actually the opposite of that.”

Tara, a 19-year-old Damascus native who’s studying psychology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., has a similar perspective. Having grown tired of the ignorance her American peers would display when she would tell them she was going home to Damascus for the summer, Tara began creating TikTok videos of how she spends her days to show her friends what living in Syria is “really” like. Her videos, which show her going to the gym with friends, eating at trendy restaurants and vacationing on the beach at Latakia, quickly gained steam, netting her more than 30,000 followers.

“I just want people to know that Syria is really, really beautiful,” Tara told New Lines. “And as much as it went through the years of war, problems, it’s still here. And for me, it’s as beautiful as ever.”

Narrated in English and with an eye for dispelling stereotypes, the videos of the lives of Syria’s young TikTok creators are clearly meant to be consumed by a Western audience — and, judging by the comments sections, that’s exactly on whose “For You” pages they’re appearing. [Continue reading…]

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