Ishaan Tharoor writes: Between 2012 and 2013, Mansour Omari spent a hellish year in a number of underground Syrian prisons. The activist and journalist was blindfolded and crammed into a dark cell with dozens of other detainees. Roaches crawled across the floor. Prisoners itched and scratched with open wounds and sores. Their gums bled because of malnutrition. “The smell,” Omari said, “was unbelievable.”
But even in their depths of despair, they clung to a form of hope. Omari recalls how he and some fellow prisoners sought to keep track of everyone around them: They collected the names of 82 inmates locked in the secret government facility where they were detained. Then they mixed their own blood with rust filings to create ink, used scavenged chicken bones as quills and carefully wrote down all the names and numbers they had gathered on rough strips of fabric. These were hidden inside a shirt that Omari put on the day he was released.
Those five pieces of cloth are now on display in a chilling exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Framed in individual display cases, they look like ancient artifacts, faded canvases etched with runes from a distant past. But they tell a very modern story.
Visitors to the building, which chronicles the horrors of the 20th century’s worst genocide and the context of how it began, are now confronted with a contemporary calamity: The ongoing war in Syria, which has claimed the lives of about a half-million people, forced 11 million people to flee their homes and upended one of the Middle East’s most venerable societies.
“Syria: Please Don’t Forget Us” also is a pointed critique of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is an accomplice to the ravaging of the nation and the disappearance of countless of dissidents and ordinary civilians into a network of clandestine prisons and torture houses. It sits alongside another installation on Syria featuring the photography of a former Syrian military police photographer, whose images show how detainees were maimed, their eyes gouged out and limbs gored.
“So many people go through this museum and wonder, ‘What would I have done if I was living in 1930s Germany,’ ” Cameron Hudson, director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, told Today’s WorldView. “What we want them to think is, ‘I’m living in 2017, and this stuff is going on around me.’ ” [Continue reading…]