From Florida to Syria, children are vilified mercilessly

Why some people are attacking outspoken Florida school shooting survivors and war-traumatised Syrian children.

Florida shooting
Student survivors of the Florida school shooting legislative committee hearing, to interrupt and challenge legislators on gun control reform, in Tallahassee, Florida [AP/Gerald Herbert] [Daylife]

Describing the human depravity it takes to insult and throw accusations at children facing deadly violence is quite difficult to do in any language, polite or otherwise. 

It is absurd and unnecessary to have to say that it is wrong for adults to attack children, who have survived a school shooting or facing facing bombardment on a daily basis. But apparently, we live in a world where children in distress are seen as “fair targets”, accused of everything and anything from being actors, to being exploited for regime change, to being al-Qaeda agents.

This was recently the case with a Syrian boy, 15, who has been viciously attacked online and in the media for posting videos showing the devastation of Eastern Ghouta.

The reaction against him was hardly surprising. Syrian children have been mercilessly killed by the regime and its allies for seven years now and there has been a constant stream of images of their bloodied faces. But the response to them has been scepticism and online attacks instead of sympathy and an imperative for change; news outlets and activists alike, in a bizarre vague manner, mention the “deaths” of these children but somehow fail to say who murdered them.


For children in the Middle East, this is nothing new. For more decades than I have lived, children who are victims of murderous US and Arab foreign policies have been treated with a shocking lack of sympathy by both the mainstream and alternative media.

To be perfectly clear, this is not the fault of any of these children: It is the fault of adults who claim to be up in arms about US imperialist ambitions, yet defend Russian imperialist ambitions.

Palestinians have fought the battle of “humanising” their victims for over 100 years, documenting their victims, giving media interviews, creating their own media, and generally using any tools at their disposal to show how Israel is an aggressor. Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis have had to do the same.

In some cases, they have succeeded. Yet, some of the very westerners who were thought to have finally admitted the nature of the aggressor that Israel is or that the US is, have now turned around and used Israel as an argument against another oppressed people: the Syrians who rose up against Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). They, this “logic” goes, are pawns of Israel, so vilifying them and their children amid death and destruction is acceptable.

Many failed to recognise the danger of these attacks on children, until this type of human depravity came home to roost. 

From Florida to Syria to the West Bank, children are victims thrice over

When a young man shot and killed 17 children at a Florida high school, the aide to a local legislator accused the students speaking out against guns and the National Rifle Association (NRA) of being paid actors. Some conspiracy theorists went so far as to claim the whole thing was suspicious because one of the outspoken students’ fathers was a retired FBI agent.

This wasn’t the first time children in the US were accused of being crisis actors, but the difference between them and children from the Middle East who have faced the same accusations is the ferocity with which they have been defended. For example, actor Mark Ruffalo, who has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, is on a crusade to defend Florida students against the NRA’s attacks (as we all should), but when it came to Syria, he called media coverage on the Assad regime’s crimes “propaganda”.


When Bana al-Abed went viral for her daily reporting on her life as a child in besieged Aleppo late 2016, so-called journalists began to question her motives, making fun of her English and calling her a paid propaganda mouthpiece for “jihadists”.

Sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi of Palestine received the same treatment, with commentators obsessing over her looks, accusing her family of being paid actors and claiming she was at fault for slapping the Israeli soldier.

Now, as the Assad regime and Russia pound the Ghouta region’s people into oblivion, the anti-imperialism crew is reacting with its usual attacks on the children who are trying to use social media to save themselves and their families while at the same time defending children in the US who are speaking out against the NRA.

One of the biggest and yet-unaddressed problems with this “political tactic” is that it abuses these young people on three different levels. They are victimised by the oppressors, such as the Assad regime in Syria, or Israel in Palestine, or the shooter in Florida; then by the “alternative” media which accuses them of being paid to publicise their reality; and finally by the political actors, both for and against these children.

Children can and have been exploited by actors in conflicts. But those who deny them the freedom to express their reality and discount their very real experiences of fear are the bigger criminals.

This is not about us

There is a reason I limited myself to linking to those who vilify children rather than mentioning them by name. They have been named and shamed by several outlets and countless activists, and there is no need to rehash their crimes against these children.

Yes, we must challenge the narratives produced by these child attackers. However, tempting as it may be, we must also avoid falling into the trap of focusing our discourse on responding to their bogus claims. 

It is time to refocus all efforts on the children who are living in these adult-created hell-holes and trying to survive by telling their stories in the ways they believe will reach the widest audience possible. A suffering child in the US deserves our attention and for us to come to his or her defence, and so do the suffering children in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.