If I were asked to highlight some of the many images that have come out of Syria in recent days, there are three that immediately come to mind: first is that of the thousands of people trapped in the rubble of Yarmuk, who came out begging for their lives and to be spared a slow death. Second is the video of a sobbing young girl, pleading with the person bandaging her still bleeding wounds not to take away her new uniform, stained with her own blood. And third is an image broadcast by the regime and pro-regime media of a bulldozer lifting dozens of corpses, said to be rebel fighters, killed in an ambush.
Choosing these images and publishing them, either in the media or on private websites, is a daily exercise that has become part of our routine as we monitor what is happening in Syria. We lift them from the videos and stills that reach us, whether taken by rebels, soldiers or civilians or even broadcast by the regime itself. We choose the ones we find shocking and expressive, but eschew the ones whose horror we are unable to bear.
And yet we find ourselves unable to resist this daily flogging of the soul. We have become like addicts who, while a small dose used to satisfy their craving, now cannot get their fix no matter how much they increase the dosage of their chosen poison. Our situation is just the same, as we find ourselves unmoved by everything going on around us.
We know that the picture from Yarmuk shows the consequences of the government siege and the slow death it is inflicting on Palestinian refugees as well as its own people. That video of the wailing girl is the pinnacle of the sadness thrust upon the children of Syria, their safety and their dreams. And then there is the third image with all its contempt for the enemy, even in death. Yet nothing has changed now that we have seen these scenes and know the background to them. Everything is exactly as it was three years ago.
The Syrians are approaching the third anniversary of their revolution, which has become a nightmare with levels of violence nobody predicted. Everyone has succeeded in making the death of Syrians easy, cheap and almost meaningless. On this third anniversary, there is a monotony about all the pain in Syria, perhaps due to people’s grim memories of the conflict so far—but there are no lessons to be learned from looking back.
Perhaps at such a time we ought to employ the cool logic shown by the documentation research centers that strive to keep people wondering how many of the images we see in social media from Syria are authentic and how many are misleading. It is not unreasonable to mention the harm inflicted on the Syrian opposition movement by images that have been fabricated or show atrocities that have been provided by people assumed to be members of the opposition. After three years and millions of images, we have to return to the core of the crisis—how could the world leave the Syrians to die this way?
In three years the government has turned the country into a wasteland. There is now a government that is little more than a group that exists only to kill with heavy weapons, planes and poisonous gas, an opposition with no clear structure and no future, and vicious gangs that grow more insane and bloodthirsty by the day.
The prolific photographic record of all the death and grief is all that thrives, but both sides have become unable to use these images effectively. We don’t know exactly how many lives the crisis has claimed or how high the death toll will rise in the future. Indeed we are still asking the same question as three years ago: who is responsible?