Syrian rebels hold their RPG and their guns as they stand on alert during a battle with the Syrian government forces, at Rastan area in Homs province, central Syria, on Tuesday. In addition to rebel strongholds like Homs and Hama, opposition has spread to the outskirts of Damascus, with the Saqba and Maleiha areas apparently in rebel control, and Assad's troops pushing to regain full control of the capital.

Graphic images flood out of Syria. Why no world uproar?

Grainy videos depict the violence that has killed at least 6,000 Syrians, but the prospects for international intervention appear dim. Is the world inured to the ubiquitous images?

A long, tense public session in the UN Security Council yesterday on a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and allow a transitional government to be formed can be summed up with one word: "Nyet."

That appeared to be the position of veto-wielding UNSC member Russia. The NATO intervention in Libya, which tipped the scales of that country's rebellion against Muammar Qaddafi, infuriated Russia, which says it's taking a hard line now to prevent a repeat.

Following Syria's war from abroad can lead to a day filled with horrors. Social media networks are filled with daily footage of the carnage uploaded by amateur cameramen and pictures of the dead and dying – men, women, and children all. But the excitement of 2011 about the Arab uprisings internationally has started to wane. At the start of last year, it seemed the whole region could be transformed with nary a shot being fired. Now that optimism has been replaced with an almost numbing wash of pictures and videos that, due to their very ubiquity, are losing their power to mobilize international action.

Years ago, when I went to work for the Far Eastern Economic Review, my boss John McBeth summed up successful magazine writing in two words. "Think pictures," he told me then. And he was right. If a story could be built around arresting images, it always had much more impact.

In the late 1990s, I covered the end of Indonesia's long occupation in East Timor. Many of the Timorese activists and rebel fighters who had opposed Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975 and annexation of the former Portuguese colony were convinced that a single piece of footage had tipped the international scales in their favor. In 1991, a British journalist going by the name Max Stahl (his real name is Christopher Wenner) had sneaked into the territory and was filming a protest march at Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili when a confrontation with Indonesian soldiers devolved into a massacre.

Dozens were killed, and when the footage was slipped out of the country and ended up being run on broadcasts around the world, it inspired an international solidarity campaign for East Timor that put pressure on Indonesian allies likes Australia and the US. In 1996, East Timor's main international advocate José Ramos-Horta (currently the tiny country's president) and Dili-based Bishop Carlos Belo were awarded the Nobel Prize, upping their own profiles and the ante against Indonesia.

When Indonesia's dictator Suharto fell in 1998, a large segment of Indonesia's establishment had tired of constant international opprobrium over Timor. The country's longstanding foreign minister Ali Alatas called Timor "the pebble in our shoe" and an exhausted Indonesia allowed Timor to go via a UN-sponsored independence referendum, albeit with a punishing scorched earth coda as Indonesian troops withdrew.

When the rare becomes commonplace

That was the power of images then, not so very long ago. But what had been a rare journalistic feat is now commonplace. Anyone with an Internet connection can fill their days looking at footage of protests, shootings, and their aftermath. But their ubiquity has drained images of some of their power.

To be sure, it isn't entirely clear what comes next. The Syrian regime isn't giving up, and its opponents don't appear to be willing to give in. Monday was filled with fighting across Syria, and every sign is that battles raged again today. In addition to rebel strongholds like Homs and Hama, opposition has spread to the outskirts of Damascus, with the Saqba and Maleiha areas apparently in rebel control, and Assad's troops pushing to regain full control of the capital. 

The draft resolution against Syria at the UN appears to be a dead letter, but its language is stronger than an earlier version that Russia and China opposed, reflecting the frustration of countries like the US with the ongoing carnage in Syria. On Monday, for instance, fierce fighting in Homs left the dead scattered across a public street.

But for now, the daily dose of war and suffering, delivered to anyone with the stomach to watch it and a Facebook or Twitter account, will continue.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Graphic images flood out of Syria. Why no world uproar?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today