The image of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body laying face down on the shores of Turkey haunts me. I cannot stand it. As a mother of two young children myself, I look at him and I want to howl. I want to scream. I want to shake my fists at the heaven and ask God why. And then I think about Alyan’s mother and how she must feel at this extremely desolate time. I’d like to think that she has cried her heart out for days, mourning the death of her precious son. I’d like to imagine that she spends her time searching her memory to recall the last moments spent with him, visualizing the lines of his face, and bringing to mind all of the things that made him laugh, the same amazingly small things that make all three year olds laugh. But the sad reality is that she, along with Aylan’s brother, have also perished in the same unforgiving seas. All that remains is a grieving husband and father, abandoned by the loss of his loved ones and forced to pick up the pieces of his scattered, broken life.
What makes a young family, such as the Kurdis, risk everything – including life itself – to migrate to an unknown, foreign land? What makes a people willing to walk away from it all and take a chance on hope, and quite specifically, the hope of starting over and living life again? One has to be mighty desperate to choose to gamble with such a powerful force of nature as the sea, so untamable is it that over the centuries it has claimed the lives of countless souls; some it has spat back up on the earth, many many more it has buried at the bottom.
And the Kurdis were desperate. They were willing to gamble, willing to forsake it all for the prospect of living without the shadow of death looming over their heads every second of every day. The Kurdis, like many other Syrians, were willing to take a chance on uncertain death in exchange for the certainty of being killed by either Assad or ISIS. Between Assad’s unrelenting crusade against Sunni Muslims emanating from the Arab Uprising in 2010 – 2011 and ISIS’ sadistic methods, more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed. 4 million others have left the country, longing for the opportunity to finally live.
Appropriately, the world grieves the loss of young Aylan and holds his father, Abdullah Kurdi, in their hearts as he faces lonely days ahead. Such an outpouring of love and grace, not only extended to this family but other families who have experienced a similiar fate of loss as a result of death, separation, war, and forced migration, illustrates a sense of human solidarity in the face of extreme tragedy. In addition, people around the world, including in the United States, are stepping up to provide relief to the migrant Syrians. Countries such as Germany, France, the UK, Sweden and the U.S. are stepping up to shelter refugees in addition to the many Middle Eastern states that already are.
Yet in the midst of such a great display of human compassion, I wonder what it is that made us respond in this way. Was it the saddening image of a defenseless, little boy that pulled at our heart strings? Most likely yes. You see, prior to Aylan’s image filling our television screens, we – as Americans at least – had expressed little to no sympathy for the migrants as they crossed the same seas which likewise swallowed them up in death. For months, we had heard about the boats that were tipping over and the migrants that were dying and for years, we have heard about the thousands of Syrians being slaughtered by their vicious, sadistic dictator. And yet, for the most part, we in America were silent, too consumed with our own issues to be bothered with the troubles of our Syrian brothers and sisters. While Aylan’s image awakened our consciousness, it also proved – once again unfortunately – that we are more consumed with death than we are with life, that are hearts react more readily to rescuing people from the disaster that they already find themselves in rather than preventing it in the first place.
And perhaps this is why we did not exhibit the same level of love and support to the 50,000+ migrant children from Central America just over a year ago. Remember them? While there were some in our nation who were ready to receive these children, some as young as five years old, into our nation’s borders, many many more were resistant to the idea of letting anyone in. Similarly to the Syrians, these children crossed our borders attempting to flee violence and oppression, and also hoped to live without the constant threat of death. Instead of being greeted with open arms, our country said no and sent them back to their countries of origin. And their countries received them back, only for some of them to be subsequently killed, eventually drowning in the same horror that they were trying to escape.
Have our hearts become so hardened, our humanity so compromised that we cannot recognize that of another unless we, with our eyes, see that they are dead? I hope not. But the current reality does not allow me to imagine another scenario. We do not seem to move unless blood is spilled, we do not seem to care unless the target of our affection is not breathing. We do not care about babies until they are aborted, black lives until they are dead in the streets, the lives of women until they have no more voice, refugees until they are drowning in a sea of forgetfulness. Our compassion towards each other begins and ends in death; with such a distorted perception of care, how can any of us truly live?