An image we must not forget

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” goes the often-used idiom. The expression certainly applies to the haunting image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, who was pulled from the rubble after an airstrike in war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 17. 

Who but the most heartless could not be deeply affected by this pathetic image of a small, innocent boy who has become a living symbol for the despicable actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad and this merciless siege of Aleppo? 

Although the photograph of Omran has captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide, only a few consistent voices among mainstream journalists have expressed authentic outrage not only over the powerful image, but also the unfolding crimes against humanity in Syria. 

In a recent op-ed,  Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal decried the fact that the candidates of both major parties have been silent on the crisis. She and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also take to task the White House and President Barack Obama for their feckless lack of meaningful response or action to stop the carnage. 

Kristof’s Aug. 11 column, headlined “Obama’s Worst Mistake,” compared the “blanket news coverage and national trauma” that resulted from the killing of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June to the Syrian massacre. He asked readers to “imagine that such a massacre unfolds more than five times a day, seven days a week, unceasingly for five years, totaling perhaps 470,000 deaths. That is Syria. Yet even as the Syrian and Russian governments commit war crimes, bombing hospitals and starving civilians, President Obama and the world seem to shrug.” 

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Kristof stressed that he admires Obama for his domestic policies relating to health care and his efforts to avoid a nuclear Iran, “but allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged has been his worst mistake, casting a shadow over his legacy.” 

He added: “It is also a stain on all of us, analogous to the indifference toward Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.” 

In an Aug. 25 column, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen joined the chorus of denunciation regarding the lack of action to end the carnage in Syria. He wrote that the photo of Daqneesh “may go viral just long enough for people to lament the Syrian debacle. Lament and forget.” 

A few questions cry out for answers: 

• Why has Assad not been indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal? He has already presided over a genocidal campaign using poison gas and barrel bombs against hospitals and schools. The president of Sudan has been indicted as a war criminal, as has an extremist who desecrated ancient monuments. Why is Assad let off the hook? 

• Why has the United States and its NATO allies failed to mobilize any kind an effort to stop the rivers of blood in Aleppo? No-fly zones were used very effectively in Iraq. Why have they not been set up in liberated parts of Syria,  which would reduce the bloodshed and the exodus of thousands of desperate refugees pouring into Europe? 

• Why has the United States continued to vainly seek the “cooperation” of Russia to bring about a cease-fire in Syria, when all such efforts have failed in the past? Vladimir Putin has doubled down on backing Assad, his puppet in Damascus who will assure continued Russian dominance and a secure seaport in Syria. 

There have been other haunting images of the innocent sufferers of the tragedies in the Middle East: a small boy who lay dead on the shores of Turkey after the refugee ship in which he was riding capsized; a 28-year-old protester in Iran in 2009 who was allowed to bleed to death after being shot on the streets of Tehran. 

Kristof has evoked the image of Anne Frank as “a Syrian girl” to link the tragedies suffered by Jews at the hands of the Nazis to the murderous actions of Assad and Putin in Aleppo.  

Will the image of the bloodied and soot-covered Syrian boy be the latest image that we will “lament and forget”? 

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?