Omran Daqneesh’s message

Even after hundreds of thousands of deaths, picture of one single casualty in Syria’s bloody war can still move us.

Omran Daqneesh, with bloodied face, sitting with his sister inside ambulance

2016/08/21 Issue: 69 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

If truth is the first casualty of war, children are a very close second.

The advent of the modern media — the constant bombardment of information, the 24-hour channels and the internet with hundreds of websites offering news from all perspectives along with social media — has rendered many people almost immune to the harshness and the realities of war. Chronicling the violence of conflicts has become so common that we hardly flinch at the monstrosities unfolding on our television screens, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

However, every so often there emerges an image — a single image — that makes us pause and reflect. A particular photograph that succeeds in capturing a fraction of an instant, the fraction of a second in the immense drama, giving us a very brief aperçu into the insanity and the cruelty of war. If you have any doubts about how cruel war can be, especially on children, take a good look at the image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh.

This image of another Syrian boy, identified as Omran, shows him moments after he was rescued from the rubble of a building in Aleppo that was destroyed by aerial bombardment by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad or Russian warplanes.

What is particularly gripping about this image is the look on the boy’s face. Omran’s eyes are focusing off into space. He is quite possibly reliving in his mind the horror of what he just lived through; playing back memories of events that just occurred, reliving the horrendous sound of warplanes sweeping over the city, the sound of rockets fired, the explosions, a tremendous bang, death knocking on his door, the smoke, the dust, the building collapsing around him. The cries of pain from the wounded around him and the eerie silence of those killed.

The young boy who has become overnight an iconic symbol of Syria’s tragedy has the same look in his eyes found in many soldiers after a particularly vicious battle. As with the previous image of the tortured Syrian youth, there will be many calls for an end to the violence, regretfully a call that will very likely also be ignored.

Earlier in the Syrian civil war, there was the unforgettable image of Aylan Kurdi, an innocent 3-year-old Syrian whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey. That image moved the world to tears and led to cries for greater efforts to stop the war in Syria, a war that has driven nearly a quarter of the country’s population into exile, claimed the lives of some 450,000 people and maimed possibly more than 2 million others.

Well, the war did not stop, the fighting continues and now there emerges another iconic moment from the madness of this conflict, now in its fifth year.

Much like the picture of the boy who drowned, the heart-wrenching pictures of young Omran, showing him moments after his rescue, his face and body covered with dust and dirt, will undoubtedly raise new calls for cessation of the fighting and killing.

Worldwide reactions to Omran Daqneesh’s picture tell us something fundamental: Even after hundreds of thousands of deaths, the picture of one single casualty in Syria’s bloody war can still move us. That’s probably the only glimmer of hope in the tragedy.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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