Covered in dust and bruises with hair disheveled from having survived a blast, the blood beginning to crust over half his face, a seeming placidity — hands anchored on his legs, all-but unmoving — could not mask the stoic trauma in little Omran Daqneesh’s eyes.
Gazing hauntingly from the back of an ambulance in Aleppo in August 2016, Omran’s image snared the heartstrings of the world — even those previously hardened to the hopelessly tangled morass in Syria — transmogrifying into a single human form the suffering of innocent Syrians at the whims of entire nation-states embroiled in proxy war upon war in the name of political squabbles.
But, while the West took up Omran’s cause, Westerners did so under the pretense the child had been bloodied by an airstrike or missile launched by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or their allies from Russia — his image rekindling the fire of contention propaganda designed to support the United States’ goal of regime change.
But it was a lie — from mass media’s parroted claims the boy had escaped an airstrike within an inch of his life, to bandages eventually wrapped around Omran’s head — virtually none of the narrative stemming from the starkly persistent image bore the weight of truth.
“We did not find out how the incident happened,” Mohamad Kheir Daqneesh, Omran’s father, told reporter Kinana Alloush and others in interviews this week. “I pulled my family members out of debris. Omran was with me, while White Helmets took him away and started taking photo of him.”
Daqneesh, noting the sound of fighter jets or missiles did not precede the blast which ultimately killed Omran’s 10-year-old brother, explained he had to shave the boy’s head and ferret him away from overwhelming media attention — and from rebel fighters and sympathizers who sought perhaps to wrest the symbolic child from the relative safety of his family.
Journalists allied with al-Nusra Front — variously, Fatah al-Sham or Levant Liberation, an offshoot of al-Qaeda — demanded the father adhere to the narrative Assad was responsible for Russians bombing the neighborhood, and, thus, their suffering and tragic predicament. They even offered sizable sums to sweeten the pot.
He refused — on principle, as well as on the basis of knowledge likely some contrary was true.
In fact, the attempt to wrangle a narrative favorable to the U.S.-led coalition hasn’t ceased — even amid the emergence of the family’s actual plight, pro-Western media outlets like the Guardian and Washington Post maintained speculation and withheld details disputing the original maudlin horror evinced in the August 17, 2016, image of Omran in the ambulance’s orange chair.