The power of pictures

omranFriday Forum
Your views on the news

An image of a little boy, bloodied and covered from head-to-toe in dust, has come to symbolise the suffering endured by a whole generation of Syrian children.
The boy, later identified as five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, did not cry or shed any tears. His eyes stared blankly into space.

On World Humanitarian Day, perhaps it is a time to examine our responses to human suffering. Do we need powerful images to galvanise us into action?

The Syrian conflict is now in its sixth year and stories like Omran are a daily occurrence. Similar to the image of Alan Kurdi last year, the photo of Omran captures the human toll of the global refugee crisis.

The now iconic image of Alan Kurdi, which The Age dubbed ‘the picture that moved a world’, shamed governments throughout the world into action. The Australian government promised an additional intake of 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

However, nearly a year on from that announcement, only 300 of the refugees have resettled in Australia. Canada has welcomed more than 29,800 Syrian refugees during that time. The Justice and International Mission unit has launched a petition calling on the government to speed up the resettlement process.

In our busy day-to-day lives, we can become desensitised to news about war and human rights abuses. It is easy to grow indifferent to statistics or lose interest in the same stories of injustice.

But images capture our attention in a way that words cannot. It forces us to confront the brutality of war and the realities of human suffering.

The horrific images that emerged from the Don Dale youth detention centre was met with a swift response by the government. Within 24 hours of the Four Corners report, a royal commission was announced.

Like the Syrian conflict, the mistreatment of youth in detention has been going on for many years. Yet it took footage of a child strapped into a chair and covered with a spit hood to stimulate the government into action.

Meanwhile, behind the heavily fortified fences of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, similar stories of abuse and trauma are taking place. But the difficulty in obtaining images from these detention centres has potentially made it harder to generate similar levels of public sympathy and support.

The recently published Nauru Files revealed shocking reports of mistreatment, violence and self-harm. But on the day Guardian Australia released its report on the files, the majority of news outlets focused on the census crash. It seemed a technological inconvenience generated more public indignation than the systematic, state-sanctioned abuse of children in detention.

On this week’s Friday Forum, we ask:

Do we need to see images of human suffering to galvanise us into action?

Image: Aleppo Media Centre

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