Personally, I would wish for the child a life of normality out of the public glare. Bana’s parents and their associates, however, have wished instead to maximise her public exposure. In this, they have had the support of publishers, media, politicians and celebrities, notably J K Rowling.
As citizens, and as parents, people will all have their own views on this. What citizens and parents will not necessarily be able to do, however, is express those views with complete freedom in public; nor will they be able to inform them as fully as a free society would permit.
Anybody who wants to think and say things that conform to the carefully managed narrative from the authorised channels remains free to do so. Anybody who seeks to question it in public is liable to be censored. All critical reviews of Bana’s book, for instance – and I personally saw scores of them when they were first submitted – have simply been deleted by Amazon. But that is the least of it.
Two previous blogs I wrote on Bana (here and here) provided introductions to video reports by Khaled Iskef. These featured visits to the apartment where the Alabed family had lived, and they demonstrated how this was at the heart of the terrorist quarters in the Eastern part of Aleppo. The journalist interviewed local residents who told of the appalling treatment meted out by those terrorists and described how nobody would dare even to take a photo in that part of town, let alone maintain a running conversation with all and sundry in the wider world. He presented evidence to suggest that the paternal side of Bana’s family was closely involved with the terrorists.
Those videos have been removed from Khaled’s Channel on Youtube. The grounds for the removal, apparently, are not that they are false nor that they are defamatory but that they contravene privacy.
As said at the outset, I would be entirely in favour of Bana having privacy. For although all the other children who remain in Syria, or who have fled in more difficult circumstances, should perhaps command our greater sympathy, Bana is still, after all, just a child. However, given that an authorised version of her story is being given maximum publicity, the pre-emptive silencing of attempts to correct its omissions or falsehoods would be a blatant attack on freedom of expression.
If you can be prevented from seeing Iskef’s videos, or from critically reviewing Bana’s book, I dare say you may one day be prevented even from reading blogs like this. Certainly, bloggers and commentators with a higher profile than mine are already reporting dramatic falls in traffic due to filtering on search engines and social media. Increasingly, it seems, any unauthorised versions of current affairs are being flagged as fakenews or spam.
At present, those who know there is something to look for can still track down videos like those of Khaled Iskef. But how will people in the not too distant future even know they might be missing something?
For myself, I have to say, whenever I encounter PR featuring Bana smiling sweetly, I cannot help but feel worried. Only a little because of her lack of privacy, but a very great deal because of the ruthless privation of free public space that this campaign participates in.