We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know: Dispatches from an Age of Impunity
Publisher: ABC Books
We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know by Sophie McNeill is an evocative and powerful book that thrusts readers into the midst of lives and locations devastated by war and oppression. In rough chronological order, McNeill movingly recounts the stories of those living and dying in conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen. Born out of her experience as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, McNeill offers the human face of suffering and injustice in the region.
It may be easy to glaze over such conflicts in the media, but it is much harder to look away when we are introduced to the people experiencing it firsthand. Few of McNeill’s subjects would call themselves heroes, and yet many of the stories reveal acts of bravery, of standing up for what they believe in and setting out to make a difference despite great personal cost.
There are those like Khaled, a nurse who could have escaped danger and hardship but chose to stay and provide medical assistance in a besieged Syrian town. And Noura, whose husband was imprisoned and later killed at the hands of the Syrian Government. Instead of giving up, she created an NGO to raise awareness about the plight of partners and relatives of those who have been ‘disappeared’ by their own government. Ahmad was forced to choose between killing or being killed in Syria, or fleeing and risking dying at sea. Hear about the war on the people of Yemen, those living under ISIS rule in Iraq, and the Saudi women attempting to escape an archaic system that cruelly punishes them for seeking independence.
Although the focus is on those affected by such conflicts and oppression, McNeill weaves in the broader historical, social and political contexts in a way that enriches the stories she is sharing. She also addresses the difficulties of discerning the truth about such events in an age of disinformation and fake news.
At times, McNeill becomes part of the story instead of simply recording it. While on the Greek island of Lesvos reporting on the refugee crisis, she and her team assist 61-year-old Nazieh to locate his wife and children after he becomes separated from them on the boat trip from Turkey. On another occasion, she feels compelled to book a plane ticket to Bangkok in order to assist Rahaf, a young Saudi woman holed up at the airport and fearing for her life if she is forcibly returned to the custody of her male relatives.
We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know is a must-read for anyone who cares about what is happening in our world. But be forewarned: as the title suggestions, you will no longer be able to say you didn’t know. Furthermore, McNeill leaves readers with a final challenge: what are you going to do about it?