Most Americans do not know Omran Daqneesh’s name. But nearly everyone knows his face. In 2016, footage of the young Syrian boy went viral. He became the face of a mainstream media narrative urging intervention in Syria.
As I reported at The Stream last year:
There have been several spikes of gruesome, heartbreaking viral reportage on the Assad regime’s aggressive actions against jihadist cells in Aleppo. One of the first viral images was of a little boy, bloodied and covered in powder and rubble from the latest bombing. Too stunned to even cry, no parents in sight, sitting momentarily alone in an ambulance chair after busy rescue workers rushed to aid more civilian victims.
Along with the rest of the world, I was moved to tears.
But now Omran Daqneesh’s family has come forward with a story that flies in the face of that narrative. Omran’s father Mohamad Kheir Daqneesh complains his son was used for war “propaganda.” He says it was rebel “gunmen” who took Omran to the ambulance to be filmed.
What Daqneesh Says Happened
As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, Daqneesh says one of his sons was killed in Aleppo. While Daqneesh gathered his family, anti-government activists “took Omran.” Then they “got him to the ambulance, where they filmed him.”
“It was against my will,” he says.
Later, he was pressured by Syrian rebels to “talk against the Syrian regime and the State.” He was offered money. He was even intimidated by armed militants. They threatened to kidnap Omran. “They wanted to use his photo and use him. …”
The Syrian military eventually routed the rebel cells from Aleppo. Like thousands of other civilians, Daqneesh chose to live in the government-controlled city rather than move to the rebel-held Idlib province.
Publications Like the New York Times Still Want War
The first half of Tuesday’s New York Times report does not inform readers. Instead, it purports to explain why Mohamad Daqneesh should not be taken seriously. Daqneesh is not quoted until the ninth paragraph.
Daqneesh is not quoted until the ninth paragraph.
The article refers to Daqneesh’s testimony as “part of a calculated public relations campaign by the Syrian government.” This claim seems disingenuous coming from a publication engaged in a calculated campaign for war.
“Syrians appearing on state television or on channels associated with the Assad government are not able to speak freely,” the article warns.
So far so good. But the report shows no such skepticism about the claims of Syrian rebel groups. The authors even admit the New York Times got Omran Daqneesh’s age wrong last year. Their faulty information came from anti-government activists in Syria.
The article weakly argues that the misreported age shows “how difficult it has been to verify the facts of his story.” What it really shows is the mainstream media’s unhesitating trust of the Syrian opposition. The New York Times simply reported their claims without verification last year.
Mainstream media outlets often treat Syrian rebels as heroic underdogs. But the opposition has a history of mixing with terrorist organizations that represent an existential threat to the region.
The Stakes are High
Last year, thanks to a highly coordinated media campaign, Omran Daqneesh’s face was everywhere. That face brought the U.S. to the brink of war.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton threatened strikes in Syria. She planned to confront the Russian presence in Syria. Prominent Republicans agreed with her. The aggressive rhetoric moved Senator Rand Paul to warn of “World War III.”
Middle Eastern minorities have pleaded against such threats for years. U.S. support for regime-toppling rebel groups attracts Jihadists bent on destabilizing and then dominating the region.
Ultimately, this leads to genocide. Middle Eastern Christians have not forgotten the tens of thousands slaughtered or displaced by genocidal Jihad. This is what happened in the wake of American interventions against the governments of Iraq and Libya.
As Stream columnist Jason Scott Jones argues, Americans should also remember how such interventions are sold to the American public: With emotionally charged images just like the footage of Omran Daqneesh, and trumped-up stories that were only discredited long after they had served their bloody purpose.
Publications like the New York Times tell us not to trust Syrians like Mohamad Daqneesh. But with so many lives at stake, and the live options so stark, the onus is on those calling for war. Not the other way around.