Syrian boy’s image shamelessly exploited for West’s war agenda

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
© Mahmoud Rslan
How many times have we seen this before? Western media selectively focusing on, or distorting, human suffering in order to fulfill a base political agenda – war – for powerful interests.

It is no coincidence Western media fevered with images of a five-year-old boy, pulled from rubble in Aleppo after an alleged air strike by Syrian government or Russian forces – and the very next day US warplanes were scrambled over northern Syria reportedly to ward off Syrian Su-24 fighter bombers.

American political analyst Randy Martin at crookedbough.com told this author: “This is a prelude to an all-out war in Syria – one that would inevitably bring American and Russian forces into direct confrontation.”

Martin says a warmongering cabal in Washington wants an “existential showdown” with Russia. This “war party” comprises hawkish think-tanks, military corporations, the Pentagon and CIA whose world view is predicated on American total domination. “They are counting on Hillary Clinton for president,” says the analyst. “And a war with Russia in Syria is an opportunity for this cabal which Clinton seems more than willing to accommodate.”

Perversely, the image of a suffering child is being exploited to solicit an outcome entailing many, many more children suffering.

It is no coincidence either that last week saw Western media reports alleging that thousands of detainees have died during incarceration in Syrian prisons.

There were also reports claiming that since President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian military intervention in Syria last September his forces have “killed more civilians than terrorists” belonging to the Islamic State and other extremists. The latter claim was based on figures from the so-called Syrian Network for Human Rights, which, according to reliable sources, is a political front for Western governments. Tellingly, the UK-registered network refers to Russia as the “Russian regime”.

The unmistakeable context is to further discredit and demonize the elected government of Syria and its foreign allies, which then gives pretext for further Western intervention in the country – intervention that under any normal, rational perspective would be viewed as illegal aggression.

Several alternative media observers have questioned the validity of the now-iconic image of the five-year-old boy, named as Omran Daqneesh. Commentators at the OffGuardian site, for example, have pointed to anomalies in the video footage suggesting that it was staged for propaganda effect. The so-called Aleppo Media Center that fed the images to Western outlets is evidently embedded with the proscribed terror group, Fatah al Sham (previously Jabhat al Nusra).

Other observers noted that the self-declared “photojournalist” Mahmoud Raslan has also been spotted in selfies posted on social media in which he cheerfully enjoys the company of militants belonging to the Nour al Din al Zinki – the very same individuals who last month posted a video of themselves decapitating a 12-year-old boy near Aleppo.

The Russian Ministry of Defense refuted claims that its aircraft were involved in the Aleppo blast. Major General Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces were not operating in the eastern district of Qaterji on the day of the alleged strike. He also said that footage of the blast site indicated it most likely was caused by a mortar shell, which could have been fired by anti-government militants. This is consistent with claims that such militants are holding civilians in eastern Aleppo as hostages and human shields.

The politicization of an image purporting to show a little boy with bloodied head, covered in dust becomes obvious when we step back from this emotive singular focus. Why do Western media outlets not give the same prominence to thousands of children who have been killed or maimed by the anti-government militants or US warplanes?

Why, we should ask, is this particular image made “iconic”? What about the countless children suffering in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and elsewhere where Washington and its Western allies have waged dubious wars and invasions?

In the same week that the image of five-year-old Omran was plastered all over Western channels, in Yemen US-backed Saudi warplanes bombed a school killing 10 children. Where were their images on Western media?

Almost invariably, Western media focus on human suffering is hardly as simple as relaying the story that meets the eye. Russia was right this week to denounce the “cynical manipulation” of images as an attempt to score political points and orchestrate public sentiments.

Notorious incidents recall how Western media have actually engaged in not just “selective focus” and “omission” but fabrication. Recall the image of the emaciated girl whom Western media claimed was from an enclave in Syria besieged by “regime forces” in a policy of starving rebel-held populations. Turns out the little girl is Lebanese, unrelated to the Syrian conflict.

Or remember the Houla massacre that occurred in May 2012? Over 100 villagers were butchered in that attack and Western media rushed to assign blame on militia supporting the Assad government. Turned out that it was Western-backed mercenaries who perpetrated the atrocity, with the aim of incriminating the Syrian government.

Perhaps the most notorious “false flag” massacre was that of the chemical weapon attack on the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta in August 2013. Images of children suffocating were broadcast across the Western media. Again, it later emerged that it was US-backed Jaish al Islam militants who likely carried out the massacre in a deliberate attempt to prompt Obama’s “red line” for American air strikes on Syria.

Shameless Western media manipulation over Syria’s conflict – as with so many others, for example, Gaddafi’s “imminent butchering of Benghazi” which served as a pretext for NATO bombing of Libya and overthrow of its government in 2011 – is always correlated with a desired policy shift.

The Houla massacre back in 2012 happened only days before the UN security council was to meet on ramping up sanctions on the Assad government. The East Ghouta atrocity was around the time Washington was looking for a red line excuse to impose its military directly in Syria.

The image of the boy from Aleppo falls into the same pattern of expediting political objective.

The battle for Aleppo marks a last stand by the Western-backed militants. Their likely defeat by Syrian, Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces portends the end of a six-year war that Washington and its allies covertly embarked on for the illegal purpose of regime change. As many as 400,000 Syrians have died in this Western-fomented war.

Washington desperately wants to thwart the Russian-backed offensive, which is putting paid to its regime-change scheme.

Western outcry for ceasefires and No-Fly Zones are animated by emotive images of children suffering. But the real, underlying concern is to afford respite to the West’s proxies in Aleppo and to stave off terminal defeat.

Much more than this, however, is the perplexing sign that Washington wants to go to war in Syria, as US analyst Randy Martin and others point out.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has already stated that she will escalate American involvement in Syria. Her backers in the CIA and Pentagon are also advocating“killing Russians” and supplying anti-aircraft missiles to their jihadist proxies.

In this prelude to war, we can therefore expect many more such images of children shamelessly exploited to condition the public to accept Washington’s despicable agenda.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.