We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know: Dispatches from an Age of Impunity

Sophie McNeill     Recommended by Gideon    

International Affairs / Politics 

Whilst we sit cooped up on the couch unable to leave our dwellings, it seems that these scribbled-upon-pieces-of-bark we call books, have become the most important means to escape into some illusionary bliss. Meanwhile, around us chaos continues; the scurrying of rats, the imagined screeching of bats, sincerely accounted elbow coughs, indeed most prominently the ‘one at a time’ use water troughs. Bearing all this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I sat down one evening to browse through the first few pages of Sophie McNeill’s new book, We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know. My apprehension was of course ill-considered, I had fallen foul of the stereotype that sees the ‘Middle-Eastern situation’ defined and labeled by the abhorrent acts of a select few. The terrorist narrative is, of course, only a tiny piece of the puzzle.

McNeill’s account instead guides the reader through a collection of distinctive stories, proverbial anecdotes and personal triumphs, over seemingly insurmountable odds. Reporting on the ground on all issues and written with a gracious and personal delicacy are stories like those of  Khaled Naanaa, a nurse turned YouTube doctor who cared for the entire town of Madaya while they suffered a siege to the point of starvation from Assad’s forces, the distressing voyages of Nazieh and Ahmad, afloat atop the pitch black Mediterranean sea, and of the brave Ruhaf Mohammed, who fled her homeland under the gendered confines of the Saudi state to seek independence and autonomy as free woman. These stories, among others, recognize that despite the savagely unbridled rule of those such as the Assads, Netenyahus and Saudi Patriarchs, the fearless actions of the avowedly inconsequential mob act as the true emblems of hope and truth in a time where intergovernmental intervention is certainly failing.

It is time to turn our eyes from the spurious jaunts of the Hollywood elect, and instead focus on instigating change. At the very least recognizing the oppression of those 411 million who have for decades, been without even the most basic human rights.

If there is one book that everyone should read whilst in isolation, it is We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know. Indeed, we may just realize that sitting in the comfort of our homes is after all, not that bad. Perhaps then we might better be able to, like McNeill, give those who have been so persistently silenced a voice again.

HarperCollins 2020

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