A little child shall lead them...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I heard about the picture of the little 3-year-old Syrian refugee lying dead in the surf on a Turkish beach before I saw it. In fact, I tried hard not to see it, because once you see something like that, you can no longer ignore it, comfortable in your safe little world.

I avoided the news sites I knew would be showing the picture, but eventually, in an unguarded moment, it got me, and as I knew it would be, it was heart-rending. It's instinct. If you are a parent or a grandparent, you know what I mean. It's easy to skim over stories of civil wars, terrorism and refugee strife in faroff places we will never know anything personal about. Those are just words, concepts. But a child is a child. Every child is personal.

Damn it, there it was, that picture.

A little boy in a neat little red t-shirt, blue shorts, and tiny tennis shoes, face down in the sand with his eyes closed, head turned just a little out of the water, arms stretched limply behind him with the palms up, rear end hunched up a bit as little ones do when they sleep.

Come on, little boy, this can't be true. You're just napping. Wake up a yawn and stretch and smile and play for us, like little boys are supposed to do, we silently plead to the grainy image. Give us a happy ending here.

But he's not waking up.

I wonder if we will...

No, we're not the ones warring in the streets, forcing innocent people to flee for their lives, but we do look the other way, and that makes us part of this.

Why should a picture like that affect us? We don't know that little boy... for most of us, out knowledge of his part of the world amounts on to a vague distrust, or selfish worry that some crisis in the middle east is going to turn the market skiddish and slow the growth of our fat 401Ks for a while or cause those annoying special reports that cut into coverage of the ball game.

Death doesn't bother us, as long as it doesn't inconvenience us.

Did that picture disturb you? Ruin your breakfast? Make you think of things you would rather not? Embarrass or even anger you?

Good. Because that means, for all of our epic apathy and self-centeredness, we still have feelings.

Don't we take our civilized place in the world for granted? Do we ever give thanks for being fortunate enough to wake up every morning knowing that we will be safe today, that no one is going to try to hurt or kill us just for existing, that there will be meals to eat and a safe bed for us and our children tonight?

That's not the life that little Aylan lived.

That short life was spent in Kobani, a little town near the Syria/Turkey border that has seen heavy fighting between the Islamic State and the Syrian Kurdish forces for as long as a family like his probably remembers.

If you don't know the politics of this particular clash, don't know the good guys from the bad or whether there even is such a thing, don't feel bad; I certainly don't either. The life and the death is what matters, and as the fortunate and gifted ones, here in the most affluent and powerful country on earth, whether we care about a little lost boy in the surf does make a difference.

Do we even know that the most desperate refugee crisis since World War II is going on? Well, we do now.

I've read all kinds of articles debating whether that picture should have been printed, broadcast or posted. Because it was unpleasant, and made people uncomfortable.

It is amazing how fully people can manage to miss the point. It isn't whether people should have seen this picture - the question is how a supposedly civilized world can allow such a scene to happen.

How did little Aylan come to be lying lifeless on a vacant beach? Perhaps that is the question we should be asking.

From what I can find, his family had sought asylum from various countries, and were refused, Canada included. The U.S. has studiously ignored reports of refugees desperately clinging to fragile crafts in the Mediterranean, families desperately trying to escape to Europe because they have no other options.

All of the countries that did nothing killed this little boy as surely as the sea did.

The president or leader of every country should be made to study that photograph. Every candidate for the presidency with their empty superior babble about "morality" should take a close look at this child. Where is the United Nations? I hope they are studying the picture too, with shame.

This boy isn't the first, or last. Just a couple of days earlier, 70 people suffocated in the back of a smuggler's truck, including several children, one a two year old toddler girl whose identity may never be known.

There are an estimated 16 million refugees on the run or in squalid camps around the world today. An estimated 2,500 of them have died this summer trying to make the Mediterranean crossing. Just six 747 planes could have evacuated that many people for resettlement... Oh, but right, we're too busy fawning over multimillionaire candidates being cheered for promising to deport those hardworking Mexican immigrants. Our leaders have done nothing, and we've been happy to let them.

Stories of people being treated like animals did not stir us. They are not personal. It should be - we have refugees from Africa and Asia as neighbors in our town.

But we had to see a picture of a dead boy before we could feel anything.

We had to hear about this family, forced to try to flee for Greece on a tiny smuggler boat, which the "captain" immediately abandoned when the waves got too high. How the man's wife died in his arms, and how he tried to stay afloat with his sons under each arm, until he realized they were both dead and had to let them go.

How long does this world have to fight one another, and leave innocent children to be orphaned, starved, shot or drowned? When do we say enough?

About that picture: "A little child shall lead them..."

But please, not this way.