BEIRUT -- People who live in the Syrian city of Aleppo confirmed Thursday that they haven’t heard of a U.S. politician named Gary Johnson, an outlier candidate for the U.S. presidency who has caused a furor by acknowledging that he doesn’t know anything about the war-ravaged city.
Many Americans hadn’t even heard of Johnson until he made headlines Thursday by asking in an interview, “What is Aleppo?” thereby establishing that he was unaware of the existence of the city at the heart of the Syrian war.
But news of the uproar failed to reach the people of Aleppo, who spend more time dodging airstrikes and chemical weapons attacks than following news about politics in the United States.
“Can you repeat the name, please?” asked Omar Shaban, an Aleppo resident and student, speaking over the Internet. “No, I don’t know him. Who is he?”
“Oh my God,” he said, after hearing the explanation. “That’s weird.”
“It’s really weird because news about Aleppo is everywhere, even in America, I think,” he said. “But people here don’t get any information about politicians in America. They are just thinking about how to survive, how to live.”
For Aleppo residents, wrapped in the daily tragedies of their heavily-bombed city, it came as something of a surprise that their plight is not being widely tracked by the outside world.
Johnson “is just a person, so it’s normal for me not to know his name. But Aleppo is a city at war, and for a politician not to know the name of this city, it is very shocking to me,” said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher in Aleppo.
For Hamdo, it is also sad. When he is not teaching, he works as a media activist, striving to bring his city’s daily tragedies to the attention of the outside world. Dozens of those media activists have died in the attempt. The thought that some people in the United States still haven’t even heard of Aleppo troubles Hamdo.
“We are trying to tell the world the details about what is going on,” he said. “I feel like what I am doing doesn’t make sense.”
Videos and photos taken by media activists do occasionally cause a stir, such as those of Omar Daqneesh, a 5-year-old boy whose stunned response to an airstrike there captured the horrors of war. But it is rare for the footage of the daily carnage to have such an impact, and Johnson’s comments have come as a reminder that most people aren’t paying attention to Syria or its suffering, said Aref al-Aref, another activist in the city.
“Unless you are living on Mars there is no excuse not to know about what is going on in Aleppo,” he said. “But I guess Aleppo doesn’t know who Gary Johnson is either, so we're even.”
Heba Habib in Stockholm contributed to this report.