The boy in the ambulance

Omran Daqneesh sits stunned and bloody-faced in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria

Editorial August 19, 2016
A still image taken on August 18, 2016 from a video posted on social media said to be shot in Aleppo on August 17, 2016, shows a boy with bloodied face sitting in an ambulance, after an airstrike, Syria.

Wars tend to produce dramatic images, from King Harald struck in the eye by an arrow depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, to a screaming girl running towards the camera, her skin hanging in strips from her burnt body — to Aylan Kurdi picked from the surf and carried lifeless to the beach. And now Omran Daqneesh sitting stunned and bloody-faced in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria. His image flashed around the world as it was picked up by news agencies and social media, and quickly became that most modern of entities — an icon. A symbol seen and understood by all whatever their race or creed or affiliation, of the horrors of war. A CNN news presenter wept as she talked over the image, her piece ending with the words, “We just wanted you to know he was alive.”

There are now less than 35 doctors left in Aleppo to treat an estimated 330,000 who remain. The photographer that took the picture commented afterwards that it was just one of perhaps hundreds of similar images he had taken. The UN administrator responsible for organising relief in the city walked out of the latest meeting convened to agree safe passage for convoys after eight minutes, exasperated with the combatants. And the image of the child lying on a gurney with both legs severed above the knee; or that of the woman leaning forward, her right eye hanging from its socket like a small red-and-white ball on a string — will not go on to become iconic because they are deemed too horrific for either television or print media to air or publish. The civil war in Syria has now raged for five years. It shows no sign of abating and none of the many factions now engaged are interested in peace and are more than willing to go on to their own bloody extermination. This is a war the world is weary of and has largely walked away from — those with vested interests aside that is. Iconic images inform us and prick our consciences, but rarely influence the tides of war.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2016.

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