What is the relationship between imagery and action in Syria?
Following the horrendous chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, two international actors have made statements that suggest some link.
In UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s 26 August “Remarks on Syria” he stated:
We have all seen the horrifying images on our television screens and through social media. Clearly this was a major and terrible incident. We owe it to the families of the victims to act.
Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, tweeted:
Haunting images of entire families dead in their beds. Verdict is clear: Assad has used CWs against civilians in violation of int'l norm.
— Samantha Power (@AmbPower44) August 27, 2013
Images distributed via social media have been significant throughout the war in Syria, especially as photojournalists were barred from entry in the early days of the conflict. And it is interesting to note how Ban Ki Moon spoke of television and social media, and not newspapers and magazines.
Atrocities like the chemical weapons attack are made present through videos uploaded to social media sites – The Guardian reported that within hours 120 videos had been put online:
most depicting scenes of men women and children in respiratory distress, on watery floors, and doctors describing the victims’ symptoms. Other videos showed scores of bodies wrapped in white shrouds, or lying on grey concrete. White foam was bubbling from the mouth and nostrils of many victims. Some writhed in distress, apparently struggling to breathe.
The connection between imagery and action is not strictly causal. Streams of distressing images over the last two years have not forced international action despite the death toll in Syria exceeding 100,000. Yet now, when the “red line” of chemical weapon use is crossed, high-level officials invoke imagery in order to establish a reason for action. That suggests images do not automatically produce specific responses, but they can function as the impetus for a response when backed by political will.
Note: thanks to Mark Esplin for the Ban Ki Moon reference to social media.
Photo credit: ‘This image provided by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show mourners next to bodies of victims of an attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network).’