x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wrong message in Syria's war imagery

A grisly video of cannibalism from the war in Syria threatens support for rebel fighters. But it is precisely the opposite message this image should invoke.

Can a single image summarise the horrors of a war? One only has to recall the photograph of children running from a napalm attack in South Vietnam, in 1972, to know that it can.

Some might argue that Syria's conflict has now produced its own similarly seminal image. On Sunday, a video emerged showing what was later identified as a rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a pro-regime fighter. The man frantically cuts up the dead body, removing the heart or lung. At the end of the video the rebel brings the organ closer to his mouth and bites. He then threatens to do the same to Assad's soldiers.

Predictably, the video has caused outrage, and prompted some to question the wisdom of supporting opposition fighters.

But it is precisely the opposite message this image should invoke. Rather than push support away from those fighting the regime it should accelerate efforts to find a solution to a conflict clearly fracturing the Syrian state.

Scenes of horror are not new to the Syrian crisis; for two years, YouTube has been saturated with scenes of killing and torture. People have been burnt or mutilated amid laughter. Children's heads have been severed. Women have been raped and killed. And just last week, a slew of videos and pictures showed piles of women and children after they were slaughtered by pro-regime groups in the coastal town of Banias.

Sadly, the international community seems inured to such imagery. Numbers like 70,000 dead are incomprehensible. Now it takes an act so barbaric that it is almost beyond words to garner interest.

There are glimmers of hope that this can change. Russia and the United States have agreed to organise a conference that promises to bring together representatives of the regime and the opposition. But even here the hope is faint; the two have not even agreed on a date.

Syrians from both sides have begun to condemn atrocities no matter where they originate. For one, prominent regime supporters have condemned the Banias carnage - one supporter acknowledged that perpetrators were on the regime's side and described them as "sectarian" and "criminal terrorists".

These recent videos portend darker days to come for Syrians. And the world's response must match the brutal, barbaric and gruesome tempo of the conflict.