Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, with bloodied face, sits inside an ambulance after he was rescued following an airstrike on Aleppo, Syria
A chilling picture of a child – identified as Omran Daqneesh from Aleppo in Syria - is making international news and creating much debate in the social media, but it appears that the whole exercise of showing a child to win sympathy or demonise the enemy has a war agenda.
Pictures may tell more than a thousand words, but do they change policy?
If the Omran picture was posted with the aim of stressing the need for meaningful and urgent peace talks, it was then certainly praiseworthy. But if those who posted the picture were killers posing off as members of a British-funded rescue group, and they did so with the intention of providing an excuse for Western nations to intervene in Syria in a robust way as they had done in Libya, then their action is as reprehensive and shameful as the killing of children caught in war zones.
Besides, they are also highly mistaken if they think that pictures can make policies of the United States. The US is cautious about picture-driven policymaking. It once happened during the 1992-93 Somalia famine and civil war. As the mainstream world media showed live footage of famine-stricken children of Somalia, pressure grew on the Bill Clinton administration to intervene. But once the US troops landed in Somalia, footage of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu forced Clinton to withdraw the troops amid growing domestic opposition to the US military involvement.
What happened in Somalia was an example where media coverage led to policy change. This phenomenon is described in foreign policy circles as the CNN effect.
US foreign policy experts such as George Kennan have warned of the adverse repercussion of policy decisions based on news accounts that by their very immediacy are incomplete, with little context and sometimes wrong.
If pictures can change policy, it could have happened in September last year. The picture of Aylan Kurdi, dead on Turkey’s Mediterranean beach, made hearts melt. Yet the war mongers -- call them big powers -- showed little or no urgency to end the Syrian war. Perfunctory peace talks, as expected, made little or no headway, but they paved the way for more heads to roll, literally, as the Syrian conflict intensified with the ISIS and other terror groups, some of whom were backed by the West and its Arab allies, capturing more territory, provoking Russia’s intervention to prop up the Syrian regime.
If pictures of children affected by war could bring peace, wars that erupted since the day photography became part of war journalism, would have ended no sooner they started. Who could forget the Pulitzer Prize winning AP picture of nine-year-old naked Kim Phuc wounded by the Napalm bombs the United States-backed South Vietnamese planes dropped on the village of Trang Bang, on June 8, 1972? The people the world over were moved by the black-and-white picture, but the war continued for three more years with the United States sending in more troops to prop up a puppet government.
Then take Israel’s war on South Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. More than was thousand children died in the two wars. Many were the photographs of dead and wounded children that journalists captured and sent out from the two war zones. They were as heartbreaking to watch as the pictures of Aylan and Omran. Yet the big powers were muted in their condemnation, for it was Israel, their beloved, which was doing the right thing – defending itself from groups such as Hezbollah. While the United States and its Western allies gave their tacit approval for Israel’s military action to punish Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations stood helpless to stop the massacre of children. Its inaction proved once again that it was only a tool in the hands of powerful nations.
The less we talk about the United Nations’ commitment to protect children caught in armed conflicts the better it is. That it has an Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict and the annual reports it publishes to name and shame the perpetrators do not absolve the Secretary General or the world body of their culpability in the massacre of children. Their culpability comes in the form of their slow response to situations which require urgent action to save children caught in armed conflicts. The Secretary General’s Special Representative, Leila Zerroiugi, talked early this month about a 15-year-old Iraq boy who was brutally killed by the ISIS. Her speech before the UN Security Council made little sense or only raised more questions on the UN’s efficacy, because the UN was not right there for the little boy or had no mechanism to protect him when ISIS tied his legs to two vehicles moving in opposite directions.
The Office of the Special Representative publishes annual reports and participates in debates in the UN Security Council – a routine. But we need to ask how committed the Special Representative is to the cause of children caught in armed conflicts when she made no protest over Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s surrender to the money power of Saudi Arabia, which is accused of killing children in Yemen. Following Saudi Arabia’s threat to withdraw funding to the world body, Ban removed Saudi Arabia from the report the Special Representative prepared to name and shame countries and organisations that have killed children in armed conflict. And also not named and shamed were those Western countries killing children in indiscriminate drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other places. In Pakistan alone, according to Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates, some 966 children have died in US drone attacks. So the picture behind the picture is that the high and mighty to can kill children and get away.
Coming back to the picture of little Omran, evidence is now emerging to claim that the picture was a setup. But the mainstream western corporate media which have joined the greed driven wars in the Middle East, would not talk about such evidence. The Russia Today and Chinese state media, however, not only analysed the picture but also exposed the men behind the picture.
Showing what they claimed to be evidence, the Russia Today television in its lead story on Tuesday identified the men who carried Omran to the ambulance as the very killers of a 12-year-old Palestinian-Syrian boy two months ago. The boy, whom they accused of being an informant, was beheaded and the footage showing his severed head was posted on terrorist websites. But the slaughter of the Palestinian boy by terrorists whom the West fondly calls rebels did not make world headlines. The China Central Television (CCTV) in a news report on the Omran picture said, “Critics have suggested that [the video] is part of a propaganda war, aimed at creating a ‘humanitarian’ excuse for Western countries to become involved in Syria…. The workers did not make rapid rescue efforts and instead quickly set up a camera.” The CCTV report was subtitled “Posed picture? Exaggeration? The video is suspected of being a fake”.
Crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, centre, run down a Vietnam highway after they were wounded in an aerial napalm attack.