Syria: A case of viral pictures, brutal war, apathetic world


Each day the horror show that is Syria gets worse


Social media is an interesting beast where things often go ‘viral’ and when that happens, you’ll find an image or story circulating everywhere. There’s literally no escape from it. If you won’t see it on facebook then you might see it on twitter, if you won’t see it on twitter then you might see it elsewhere. In your online newsfeed, chances are that multiple people would be sharing the same thing. There would be a cacophony of voices where some voices would know a thing or two about the background of the conflict, but there would also be a large number of people for whom this would be their first time reading about Syria. By design, viral images or news stories have a brief period of stay before some other story starts capturing the world’s imaginations and people move on.

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? The previous year, the image of the drowned toddler Alan Kurdi, his lifeless body resting on a beach in Turkey, seemed to wake up the world to the misery and terror of the Syrian refugee crisis. There were loud noises even then and a plethora of people talked about doing something for Syrians in order to help them get rid of their woes but nothing changed.

Instead of things getting better for the Syrian refugees after this wave of sympathy and outpouring of grief, it actually became worse for the refugees. The fears over terrorism and integration saw Europe getting more hostile towards Syrian refugees, thanks largely to the far-right parties and the sheer paranoia created by the media regarding the Islamic State (IS). Kurdi’s father ended up returning to his ravaged city of Kobane, along the Turkish border, which sums up the whole Syrian tragedy and largely lackadaisical attitude of the Western world.

He doesn’t cry once. That little boy is in total shock. He’s stunned. Inside his home one moment, and the next, lost in the flurry and fury of war and chaos.

“I’ve seen so many children rescued out of the rubble, but this child, with his innocence, he had no clue what was going on,” Mustafa al-Sarout, who filmed the video that went viral, told a British newspaper. “He put his hand on his face and saw blood. He didn’t even know what happened to him,” he added while describing the shock on the face of the young boy named Omran Daqneesh.

Sarout went on: “These are children bombed every day. It’s not an exceptional case. This is a daily fact of Russian and Syrian government airstrikes. They take turns bombing civilians in Aleppo before the whole world. This child is a representative of millions of children in Syria and its cities.

Each day the horror show that is Syria gets worse. On Thursday, Amnesty International released a new report looking at the abuses carried out in the Assad regime’s prisons, based on the testimony of dozens of “torture survivors.” The rights group estimates that 17,723 people have died in Syrian regime custody since March 2011, when the uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began. Reports and findings like these keep coming out of Syria but then they are largely forgotten. Imagine if IS (Islamic State) had done the same; the coverage would’ve been drastically different.

In a more poignant moment that also spread all over the internet, while narrating footage of the boy’s rescue, CNN anchor Kate Bolduan struggled to contain her tears.

According to reports, around 50,000 children have been killed in Syria and the ones alive won’t be getting back-to-school photos anytime soon.

“What strikes me is, we shed tears, but there are no tears here,” she said.

“He doesn’t cry once. That little boy is in total shock. He’s stunned. Inside his home one moment, and the next, lost in the flurry and fury of war and chaos.”

“At least three people were killed in the bombing in his neighbourhood. This is Omran. He’s alive. We wanted you to know,” she added.

Saudi media figure Jamal Khashoggi tweeted: “It is as if he is sitting at the Arab summit or the Security Council chiding those who are silent with his own silence and looks.”

Oftentimes, it is only a gripping image that evokes a strong response out of us from which, for a brief moment at least, we can’t turn away. But afterwards, we, as readers who are very much removed from the Syrian crisis, struggle to stay invested and continue on with our lives.

The children in Aleppo face the horrors of war on a day-to-day basis but thanks to the ‘viral’ nature of social media it doesn’t get anywhere near as many likes or shares. The children that should be in school often struggle to survive and as we saw in the breaking of the siege of Aleppo by the rebels, the children were actually busy burning tyres. According to reports, around 50,000 children have been killed in Syria and the ones alive won’t be getting back-to-school photos anytime soon.

Omran’s parents told the medical staff they would not speak for fear of reprisal from forces allied to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. This is what many of the Syrians have to deal with. Even the Syrian refugees in Europe have to constantly watch out about what they say against the Syrian regime because Assad’s spies or the infamous ‘Shabiha’ are there who often report these findings back to the regime, which puts the families of these refugees, which are still in Syria, at a greater risk or reprisal.

Dr Mohammed, who treated Omran, said children with his injuries usually come in crying and screaming.

“But he didn’t cry, only astonishment,” he said.

The image of Omran is going to haunt the people for a while but as we have seen before it’ll be forgotten eventually.

“This is not an icon. This is Omran Daqneesh. He is a Syrian boy. He is alive. There have been enough remnants and relics of humanity left on this earth to dig that boy out, place him on a safe chair, inside an ambulance, go to rescue the rest of his family, and carry them “to safety”. But behind him, before he was “saved”, and for a moment staring into the shameless lens of a camera, Omran Daqneesh has left a damning indictment,” wrote Hamid Dabashi, a Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York in his latest piece.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated in April that at least 400,000 people had been killed in Syria in a five-year-long war that has uprooted nearly half of the country’s population. The war in Syria continues unabated – Assad and Russia keep killing with civilian causalities mounting at an alarming rate – but for a few, Syria only ever matters when a picture of a kid goes viral. So we wait till we witness the next “iconic” image of a Syrian kid land on our phone screens while the slaughterhouse in Syria keeps churning bodies after bodies at an alarming rate.