Newspaper article International New York Times

Syria's Unwitting Poster Child ; Stunned 5-Year-Old Boy Becomes Latest Symbol of War's Harrowing Misery

Newspaper article International New York Times

Syria's Unwitting Poster Child ; Stunned 5-Year-Old Boy Becomes Latest Symbol of War's Harrowing Misery

Article excerpt

Images of the dazed and injured child have quickly made him an emblem of the harrowing misery of Syria's five-year-old civil war.

In the images, he sits alone, a small boy coated with gray dust and encrusted blood. His little feet barely extend beyond his seat. He stares, bewildered, shocked and, above all, weary, as if channeling the mood of Syria.

The boy, identified by medical workers as Omran Daqneesh, 5, was pulled from a damaged building after a Syrian government or Russian airstrike in the northern city of Aleppo. He was one of 12 children under the age of 15 treated on Wednesday, not a particularly unusual figure, at one of the hospitals in the city's rebel-held eastern section, according to doctors there.

But some images strike a particular nerve, for reasons both obvious and unknowable, jarring even a public numbed to disaster. Omran's is one.

Within minutes of being posted by witnesses and journalists, a photograph and a video of Omran began rocketing around the world on social media. Unwittingly, Omran -- like Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned last September and whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach -- is bringing new attention to the thousands upon thousands of children killed and injured during five years of war and the inability or unwillingness of global powers to stop the carnage.

Maybe it was his haircut, long and floppy up top; or his rumpled T-shirt showing the Nickelodeon cartoon character CatDog; or his tentative, confused movements in a widely circulated video -- gestures familiar to anyone who has loved a child. Or the instant and inescapable question of whether a parent was left alive to give him a hug.

In any event, by Thursday morning, Omran's image had been broadcast and published around the world, and Syrians were sharing mock-ups of his photograph in memes that both cried for help and darkly mocked the futile repetitiveness of such pleas.

One, riffing on Omran's officelike chair, showed him at a desk as if representing his country to the world.

Another pasted him like a silent accusation between President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir V. Putin.

The drafting of Omran as an emblem of despair is not new; images of dead and injured children from Syria are shared daily on social media, many of them indescribably more harrowing. Pieces of children's bodies being pulled from rubble are photographed with appalling regularity in a war of indiscriminate attacks, most often from government airstrikes and shelling but also from rebel mortars.

But while the mind revolts against looking too long at those pictures, and many news media shun them as too gruesome, it may be the relatively familiar look of Omran's distress that allows a broader public to relate to it.

In the case of Alan, the Syrian toddler who washed up on a beach last year, after his family tried to reach Europe on a smuggler's boat, the child was dead. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.