As part of my social media class we are reading Andy Carvin’s book Distant Witness, which is focused on the numerous revolutions and uprisings that took place in Northern Africa and the Middle East during 2011. However, the style of Carvin’s book is different than what you may expect from a book documenting recent events. His book is not from his own eye-witness perspective, nor is it a compilation of facts based on research and interviews conducted after the event passes, as are many books about historical events. Rather, Carvin’s book reflects a new way of reporting that he crafted during the Arab Spring.
During the many revolutions and protests he communicated to the world the realities of what was happening. Via Twitter and social media he was able to directly communicate with the people involved who were expressing what was going on via social media. He did not filter or reframe what they were saying. Rather he relayed information “as it was” to the world. Thus, his reporting wasn’t a high level summary of the events that incorporated the views of only a few top level officials. Rather, it was a compilation of many short updates directly from the people involved on the ground. His book portrays events that happened during Arab Spring through this very personal lens of tweets and social media posts, almost like reading a diary.
The chapter I was assigned focused on Bahrain.
The story of uprisings was told through the tweets of people involved on the ground, especially Zainab Al-Khawaja and her family. I would encourage you to read the book for yourself, but if you don’t have time here are five key pieces of information from the chapter that form a brief overview.
- Bahraini’s were frustrated with the government, which was run by a Sunni royal family. Most of the population was Shia, and many believed that Sunnis received better treatment by the government. Activists who opposed the government were often imprisoned or tortured.
- This unrest led to peaceful, even somewhat celebratory protests in the Lulu Roundabout. Protesters were both Sunni and Shia, and some even brought their families and spent the nights at the roundabout.
- A couple of days in to the protest, the Bahrain government began to attack the peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. The attack happened around 3 AM Bahrain time. Carvin first learned of the attack via Twitter and monitored the situation by reading tweets. The use of hashtags such as #lulu helped organize the protesters and the tweets.
- During the weeks following this incident, Zainab Al-Khawaja’s father, husband, and brothers in law were forcibly removed from their home, beaten, and jailed by the Bahrain government. Zainab Al-Khawaja witness their beatings and reported all of it on Twitter. Her father is a human rights activist.
- After this Zainab Al-Khawaja did not retreat. Her involvement continued to grow. At one point she went into the road to block a convoy of security vehicles by standing in their way. They had to wait for female officers to arrive to arrest her, giving other protesters time to escape. According to Carvin, Zainab Al-Khawaja continued to be arrested and in and out of jail after the publication of Distant Witness.
The chapter concluded with another arrest of Zainab Al-Khawaja as she sought to visit her father who was still imprisoned.
Currently Andy Carvin is still involved in sharing information from the frontlines around the world. After working at NPR, he went on to found Reported.ly, a website with new updates from all over the world. He continues to share information in his style of personal accounts from people involved in the ongoing unrest in Northern African, the Middle East, and most recently the civil war in Syria.