Now that we have seen tow photographs of two little Syrian girls raising their hands in a sign of “surrender” to what they believed to be “gun” pointed at them instead of camera; we should be willing to discuss the phenomenon on a much more structured and principled levels.
The first image broke the news after Gaza-based Palestinian photojournalist Nadia Abu Shaban tweeted on 24 March 2015 the below tweet in which she featured a photo taken by Turkish photojournalist Osman Sağırlı in 2014 in Atmeh refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian borders.
— Nadia AbuShaban (@NadiaAbuShaban) March 24, 2015
News story appeared in the BBC on 31 March 2015 reported that the photojournalist who took the picture was contacted in an attempt to clarify authenticity of the photo. BBC said Sağırlı confirmed that pictured child is four-year-old girl Huda and that it was taken in December 2014. Sağırlı told BBC that Huda travelled to the camp with her mother and two siblings.
Second image found its way to the news only this week when the Daily Mail Online among others said that a Red Cross worker took picture of another Syrian girl who “became scared and raised her arms to surrender after mistaking his camera for a weapon”. The picture was taken in November 2014 in a refugee camp in Jordan.
Children are vulnerable. While Huda in the first published picture has been reported to be four years old, we do not know the age or name of the other girl who was pictured by the Red Cross worker in a Jordanian refugee camp. Age may not be a decisive factor in making a certain child eligible for fear, anxiety and ultimately being impacted by what they saw, witnessed and experienced. They are vulnerable for too many reasons, but most apparently, because they are not capable of overcoming tragic experiences without appropriate emotional and physical sheltering, care and assistance from adults.
In the span of four years, many Syrian villages and cities have seen massacres, killing of civilians and lynching. Story after story kept emerging over the past four years of men and women, of all ages, who have been collectively executed and there are cases when children themselves were butchered and killed. Scenes of armed men pointing guns and shooting at mother, fathers, sisters and brothers before those turn into lying corpses on the floor of a house, street or somewhere else, have all been stored by youngsters (children) as moments when precious connection to their lives were destroyed, forever.
Was it an entire surprise for the two little kids in the two pictures to reflect on an approaching man with a tool in his hand, in ultimate fear and submission the way they did when they raised hands above head in a sign of surrender? Maybe not, but we should know better.
Whether the UNICEF initiative “No Lost Generation” in Syria means we have lost the opportunity to remedy the effects of war on the country’s children, or that we are about to lose such a chance, and an entire children generation, altogether- we, as a large extended community of media practitioners, aid workers, rights workers and even bloggers and tweeps need to shoulder some of the responsibility- the ethical one at minimum. Traumatized children need help and care, and while there is no precise indication on whether exposing them to photography (for instance) may negatively impact their recovery of horror experiences they have been through, we still need to give a careful thought to how to apply the principle of “doing no harm” as token of contribution to the effective healing of traumatized children in Syria.