Visiting professor discusses book on displaced Syrians

Maysa Mustafa

More than 80 voices of Syrian civilians and their stories came to campus when Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University political science professor, presented her book on Thursday.

Pearlman discussed her book, “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria,” at the Black Box Theater in the Student Activity Center. Pearlman said she envisioned her book giving voice to the 6.8 million internally displaced Syrians.

“The book walks through the Syrian story through individual narratives,” Pearlman said. “(It does so) both by explaining the events and the way Syrians analyze them.”

Many Middle Eastern countries have gone through political revolutions after decades of frustration since the Arab Spring in 2011, Pearlman said. A majority of the civilians Pearlman said she spoke with were opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria. 

“Assad tamed the Syrian people by using security and military rule,” Pearlman read from her book, quoting a Syrian man named Mohammed. “He killed political life.”

Pearlman said she wanted to shine light on the feelings of those who still feel the Syrian government is watching them, even after emigrating from the country. A well-known Syrian phrase, “Hush, the walls have ears,” was a reoccurring statement in her collection of interviews, Pearlman said.

“When you meet someone coming out of Syria, you hear the same sentence — ‘Everything’s great.’ It takes at least six months for them to say what they feel. They won’t speak loudly, it’s too scary.” Pearlman read from her book, quoting a Syrian man named Husam.

Whitney Reid, international relations and global studies junior, said the book provides clear portraits that capture the obstacles Syrians faced. 

“I think it’s important to have these stories combined in an easily accessible format that allows people to learn more about them in an easier way,” Reid said. 

Biology sophomore Leah Jeemon said events such as Pearlman’s help students be mindful of what’s going on in the world.

“With school starting to really pick up, it’s easy to focus on ourselves and our own goals,” Jeemon said. “Having events that highlight the needs of others reminds us to see the perspectives of others in our world.”

Pearlman said she hopes these stories can help the public to view the Syrians on a more humane level.

“If we are not trembling, then we should be, because this is a human conflict that is happening under our watch,” Pearlman said.