Shin and Samar. From Syria to North Korea

They went to the same school, wearing the same uniform, entering the same classroom and seeing the same portraits of the Dear Leader and the Great Leader and yet they didn't know each other. They always averted their eyes and bowed their heads while speaking to their teachers, probably that's why their eyes never met? Or is it because one of them was living in Syria and the other in North Korea?

Anyone who reads Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden will be deeply distressed by the inhumane treatment of North Koreans in labour camps. For Syrians, however, the book will be even more sorrowful, because the unimaginable human suffering described in the book is actually conceivable for Syrians. Ideally, all human beings should not be able to imagine the horrendous stories Shin Dong-hyuk tells, but alas, our world is far from being ideal. In this regard, Syrians find themselves in a surreally superior position because they can relate to the ongoing North Korean ordeal, while the majority of humans cannot do. Mass starvation, forced disappearance, and systematic torture are common to Syrians and North Koreans alike.

Needless to say that tyrants tend to use the same tactics all over again. In the case of the Assad and Kim dynasties, however, the ugly resemblance is so prevalent and disturbing. Any Syrian who reads Escape From Camp 14 will feel home at some point, and she or he might be galvanized into action. Besides being spitting images of the tyrant as presented by Orwell, Assad and Kim rely on security apparatuses that are alike even when it comes to peculiar incidents. In the book we read: “Sanitary napkins were not available [in the camp], and the seamstresses' uniforms were sometimes stained with menstrual blood”. Not long ago, Touhama al-Jundi described in this article how female prisoners in al-Khateeb Security Branch in Damascus asked for sanitary napkins for twenty-five prisoners and were given only one and told to share it. We are also reminded of the thousands of Syrians eating grass and cat and dog meat to survive, when we read about Shin scrounging for spilled cabbage soup in school cafeteria. Park telling Shin about the existence of television, computers and mobile phones and explaining that the world was round, is actually Michel Kilo trying to tell a story to a kid born in the prison cell who did not know what is a bird or a tree, a kid who has never seen the sunlight or stepped out of the prison cell's door.

It is especially alarming that such atrocities are continuously happening in North Korea while many media outlets are ridiculing the unfounded story of Kim Jong-un haircut and failing to emphasize the human suffering in North Korea. As Syrians, whose cause is also misrepresented, we feel the responsibility to stand with North Koreans. Some might say “Syrians are better off taking actions for their own cause”, but, while this might be a valid point, it also does not invalidate our universal fight for freedom, and in the end “no one is free until everyone is free”.