After putting up with years of hearing about dead or maimed Syrians, millions of people outside the attention-starved country are getting fed up.
“They’ve been doing this for so long,” said Sally Yasui, a veterinarian living in Hawaii. Yasui has started a Facebook group called “Syria? Yawn!” in order to give people tired of getting news about the conflict a place to vent their frustration.
“You reach a point where you just don’t want to hear about it anymore,” Yasui said. “Sometimes I don’t even read Yahoo news, because I know it’ll be Syria this, Syria, that.”
“What’s it been, like ten years?” said Ellie Norris, a nurse from Wales who, in the beginning of the uprising in Syria, cared — if only a little bit. She is also a member of the Facebook group.
“At least ten years,” said Alfonso Jiménez, a student from Argentina who joined the group in June. “Or more. Half of my life, it seems.”
Many observers are shocked to learn the uprising has only been going on since March of 2011. Even more surprising is that a paltry 100,000 people have been killed. Sensationalist reporters who give the impression the number of dead is higher are to blame, Yasui says.
“Amir,” a media liaison for the Free Syrian Army, says he understands that people are getting sick of hearing about those killed by a despot who looks like a cross between Mr. Bean and Adolf Hitler. He worries that the loose coalition of rebels has made poor use of evidence documenting atrocities carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“We realize now we went overboard,” he said. “Instead of releasing a dozen photos of villagers killed by [paramilitary] snipers working for that [expletive], we should have only leaked one, waited a week, then leaked another. And so on.”
“Also,” he said, “we should have held off another year before trying to get the international community to intervene. Too much, too soon. What were we doing meeting with the UN so early? And we’ve been pestering the Turks to get involved since this whole thing started. We are like a teenage boy fumbling in his wallet for condom before we even get to first base.”
There is one aspect to the PR campaign, however, that Amir and other rebels feel has been successful. They have aided the UN in a recalculation of total deaths, yielding a very humdrum sum — sparing people around the world from having to hear about it.
“For a long time,” he said, “the death toll was lingering around 95 or 96 thousand. Numbers like those draw a lot of attention. When you read in a newspaper that 96,273 people have died, you think, ‘wow, what a number — that’s almost 100 thousand.’ And then the journalists get aroused, and news stations start a running death tally. One day it’s 97,524, then it’s 98,005.”
“Fortunately, we were able to get the UN to include some previously uncounted deaths in Al-Rastan and other towns. We are proud to say that the death toll is now around 101,000. That figure is far less electric. Hopefully, people won’t have to hear about it now. Death tolls tend to make people cranky.”
Yasui, Norris and Jiménez all look forward to the day when journalists stop giving any attention to Syria. They and other members of “Syria? Yawn!” are uncertain about how they would like to see this conflict end — they just want it to end soon. If not, Norris says, she and other weary non-Syrians might start calling for a media blackout of the uprising.
“Why do people in these war-torn countries always want us to look at them?” Norris said. “As my mum used to say, ‘the best way to starve an attention seeker is to look the other way.’”