No words are adequate to describe the heartwrenching picture of Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach. What we can say without any equivocation is that this dead 3 year old Syrian boy symbolises the cruelty and inhumanity that underpins what passes for civilisation in the West.
Denying sanctuary to human beings desperately attempting to escape war and chaos can be described as many things, but justice is not one of them. To those deserving of the hand of friendship we offer the fist of fury. To those crying out for help we turn away. The result is the suffering of children such as Aylan, whose death as a consequence is tantamount to murder.
There is much to be said about the conflict and chaos that has engulfed the Middle East, where the majority of the refugees desperately seeking sanctuary are from. But the idea that we are blameless can only be the product of mendacity or ignorance. We have helped to create and foment crisis and chaos as far back as Iraq and on into Libya and Syria, evidence that we are governed by machine men and women whose conception of politics and the West’s role in the world begins with callous indifference to the human suffering it continually unleashes. Indeed only those who have had their humanity surgically removed could possibly fail to have been moved by the plight of these people on our TV screens over the past few weeks.
A refugee crisis that is now biblical in scope has met thus far with an obdurate refusal by governments across Europe to budge from a refusenik position of denying them refuge. This is no surprise, as aided by a complicit right wing and reactionary media the discourse across the West on immigrants and asylum seekers has plumbed the depths of moral repugnance and disgrace. When they haven’t been dehumanised as ‘economic migrants’ they have been smeared as constituting a ‘swarm’ by the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Vying for the worst of the many examples of this poisonous narrative was the idea promoted by the UK far right anti-immigration party UKIP that Britain only accept members of Syria’s Christian minority as refugees, asserting that Syrian Muslims can go to other countries in the region.
What kind of sick and twisted morality is this? From here we are only a few short steps away from making Muslims among those fleeing put on an armband with a crescent on it in order to separate them from their Christian or non-Muslim counterparts. UKIP’s position moves them beyond the truth that a little knowledge is dangerous to confirm that it is even worse to be crippled with pig ignorance and be afforded a platform from which to continually prove it.
Meanwhile back in the world occupied by people with a heart and a conscience, the outpouring of rage at the image of Aylan Kurdi allows us to hope that his death may not be in vain. The fact that he died along with his mother and brother only adds urgency to our demand that Britain and Europe come together to implement a cohesive humanitarian reponse to this growing humanitarian crisis. Notably, at time of writing cohesion across Europe remains a forlorn hope.
There have been exceptions to the intransigence that has dominated the issue across the EU. Germany and Sweden have managed to salvage something resembling solidarity in Europe. Merkel in particular, in fact, has been immense, helping to create an atmosphere in Germany that has seen thousands of refugees overwhelmed with kindness from welcoming committees upon their arrival at German train and bus stations.
Who would have thought that the German Chancellor, only recently responsible for punishing Greece with austerity, would be the one to shame other EU leaders on their lack of humanity by comparison?
Aylan Kurdi’s death poses the question of what we are prepared to do in response? Are we going to continue to deny these people refuge or are we going to help them? Upon the answer hinges our right to continue to claim the moral high ground against barbarism.
These people are not migrants. They are not even refugees. They are our brothers and sisters, flesh of our flesh, and denying them help at their time of need is a crime. Lying dead on that beach, Aylan reminds us that a child is the most precious thing in our world. Thus, the need to do whatever it takes to protect and nurture them transcends borders, nationality, ethnicity, religion or any other factor. Whether as a nation, society or culture, we are diminished by his death. Worse, we are culpable in the tragic manner of it.
However at this point words of anger and sentiments of grief are not enough to deal with the disaster unfolding. Surveying the contours of a humanitarian crisis that shows no sign of abating, we see that the EU has unraveled in the face of it. Rather than unity it is disunity that defines it – to the point where it is paralysed with inaction, its member states driven not by a common European agenda but by multiple domestic agendas, none of them progressive.
Consequently, it is now up to the United Nations to step into the breach. Urgently required are the resources, organization, and infrastructure necessary to alleviate the suffering taking place and to ensure that these people are properly cared for, prioritizing their wellbeing and dignity as human beings in the process.
Our enemy is not and never has been those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Our enemy is and always will be those who would deny them.