Often referred to as the most documented war of the 21st century — if not ever — the Syrian war and the trove of reporting, images and videos around it, have introduced a new dynamic into the modern mediation of war. The removal of major media empires from the day to day of war reporting and the involvement, instead, of Syrian citizen journalists has seemingly righted a wrong intrinsic to journalism, namely that the role of the discipline is to give voice to the voiceless — in this case, by allowing the voiceless to speak and broadcast for themselves. The rise of Syrian citizen journalists and their filling of a major gap in news reporting has engendered an entirely new way of communicating the daily terrors of war, one that does not shy away from the activism inherent to journalism, and has created an ecosystem that privileges truth over the valorized objectivity and distance of traditional media reporting.
Emerging from this landscape is the particularly unique phenomenon of the child reporter and narrator. For many, including American and European celebrities like J.K. Rowling and Alyssa Milano, the 2016 fall of Aleppo was made profoundly more palatable and poignant thanks to the reporting of Bana Alabed, a seven-year-old girl who live tweeted the battle and her family’s subsequent displacement from Aleppo. There was something particularly heart wrenching about bearing witness to Bana’s pleas, her terror, her seeming normalcy in the face of unimaginable violence that ignited a digital storm of solidarity and support, propelling Bana into fame and eventual safety for her and her family. Soon, she was out of Syria, in the arms of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and eventually o the stage at the 2018 Oscar awards.
Since Bana, a crop of Syrian child reporters documenting the daily tragedies of life under siege has risen on Twitter and Facebook. These include Noor and Alaa, two girls from Eastern Ghouta, who, like Bana, speak English. The girls’ social media accounts broadcast pleas to the world to bear witness to the Syrian war’s horrors. Affective as it is, however, their reporting also occupies an ambivalent space in the saturated media terrain on Syria . To scroll through the girls’ accounts is to confront the moral vacancy that now characterizes much of our consumption of images, reports, and statistics coming out of Syria. That children under the age of ten are necessary, in order to legitimize the depth of suffering in Syria and command the attention and sympathies of the world says much about the time we live in.
After all Syrians have been through in the past 7 years, it is shameful that children are bearing the brunt of narrating the war’s effects. This phenomenon not only elides the complexity of the conflict, flattening it into a lazy politics driven by a simplistic morality, but it also creates a dynamic that transforms these children into martyr-angel-icons who are wrecked twice over: once by war and a second time by the public’s ambivalent gaze .