On October 5th, 2016 the Newhouse Global Center for Global Engagement hosted their first event on campus: “Running for Cover: Politics, Justice and Media in the Syrian Conflict.” The day-long, live streamed event focused on accountability in the Syrian conflict, with dialogue between expert panelists from around the world leading the discussion. An empty chair also was available on the panel as an opportunity for audience members to join the conversation.
Professor Ken Harper commenced the event by addressing participants in the jam-packed Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, urging them, “Remember the humanity in our conversations today and respect them by having strong conversations in coming up with new ideas. It’s important. It’s out of respect. Everything that we’re doing today is out of respect for those suffering.”
While the panels each had a specific focus – the geopolitical situation in Syria, accountability for atrocity, the media’s role, social media in reporting war, and next steps – that respect for those suffering was at the heart of each conversation. Founding director of the Syrian Accountability Project and SU Law Professor David Crane encouraged audience members, “Keep reporting, keep seeking justice…At the end of the day, this is about human beings. There are things that you, in this room can do. Talk about this issue. Don’t forget Syria.”
Although the Syrian conflict, also stated by panelist Sherine Tadros as “humanitarian political crisis of our generation,” seemed insurmountable at times throughout discussion, panelists encouraged and urged attendees to take action – no matter how small. Andrew Beiter, education director of I Am Syria, observed, “The bad guys are collaborating, but so can we.” Bill Wiley, founder and director of Commission for International Justice and Accountability, added, “It takes time. It takes patience. We keep moving forward.”
To add to the event conversation and create a fully immersive experience, three photo galleries capturing the horrors of the Syrian conflict, provided by Pictures of the Year International, Reza Visual Academy, and Ed Kashi, hung on the walls of the event space. Attendees also had the opportunity to view 360 videos, provided by The New York Times, ABC News and ROYT, virtually placing audience members in the shoes of the suffering.
At the close of the event, Professor Harper again reminded the audience, “Get up and go do something,” with Professor Crane adding, “You don’t have to go out and save the world. Any step forward is important.” “Running for Cover” garnered over 700 social media engagements across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the event’s hashtag, #SUSyria. Posts on social media reflected Professors Harper and Crane’s passion.
“The focus was raw and often difficult to hear,” said SU Chancellor Kent Syverud. “There were accounts of atrocities against children, of cities brought to rubble, of refugees with nowhere to go. Some of the world’s great and courageous journalists described the struggle to fully convey the horror in this changing era of digital media. The stories and images were a reminder of an unbearable reality—but the symposium raised that reality into the light. No one with a conscience could leave that auditorium unshaken. It was exactly what a great University is called to do.”
Refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat piloted by smugglers reach the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. (Antonio Masiello / Zuma Press with Permission from POYi) Pictures of the Year International is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Panelists addressed the historical context of the conflict and offered a critique of the political, military and humanitarian responses of the international community, including an assessment of where we stand now.
This panel explored the various justice options available to the people of Syria and the surrounding region who are victims of the atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict, and the likelihood of those options being utilized by the international community.
A once well-funded international press corps has been depleted to the point where accurate reporting on one of the most complex conflicts of the 21st century is almost impossible. This panel looked at how the conflict has been reported and how reportage can be improved.
Social media has forever changed the way we report on and bear witness to conflict and atrocities. This panel explored the intersection of social justice and oppression. Is social media aiding transparency and accountability in Syria or is it a tool of oppression?
Now what? This panel discussed current and new initiatives from NGOs, media, governments and the academic community that address the complex challenges of the Syrian conflict, and outlined action items for moving forward.