Vestiges of humanity

The images of Aylan Kurdi prostrate on the surf-washed sands of a Turkish beach tore my heart, just as they did the hearts of pretty much everyone who saw them. The toddler, face in the sand, wearing a red shirt, black shoes, seems asleep until one remembers that he is on the beach and not a bed.

The two-year old, washed up after drowning from a boat which was to take his mother, brother and father to Europe, provided perhaps the most painful, but much needed, human face to the European migrant crisis which has become, of late, a big headline story with little focus on the persons involved.

The world has a penchant for iconic pictures. Those involving children are perhaps the most heart-rending, as children are, and always will be, the unwitting victims of the deadly drama orchestrated by adults. Aylan Kurdi now joins the gallery that contains children like South Africa’s Hector Peterson and Vietnam’s Kim Phuc (the Napalm Girl) among others.

One can only hope that the emotions evoked by the unfortunate toddler will translate into a sense of urgency in the way Europe deals with the refugee crisis with which it is saddled and that countries all over the world will be more willing to take in refugees fleeing from the war torn parts of the world.

The President of Turkey blamed Europe for the tragedy and accused it of turning the Mediterranean into a cemetery. His stance can be justified, especially viewed in the context of the touching tragedy and the fact that Turkey, which is not as economically advanced as many European countries, already hosts two million Syrian refugees, more than all of Europe combined, with hardly any foreign aid.

But I will not take the same stance since the refugee crisis isn’t entirely of European making. The whole world is to blame, and, in this particular case, I think Canada bears more responsibility than any European country, since applications for asylum by Aylan’s family had been repeatedly denied by the country.

However ongoing discussions among European leaders, including the joint proposal by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy to review asylum rules and fairly distribute the refugees, along with a healthy public debate about the issue are good signs that Europe has decided to act at last.

But Aylan’s misfortune didn’t only highlight the plight of migrants trying to escape the earthly hell their homelands have become. True, it brought the issue more to the fore, but it also laid open a much deeper reality. It was a reminder that, despite recent indications to the contrary, we still care.

Humanity has been besieged with attempts to tear apart its common values. Such things as morality and religion have largely lost their meaning in the West, and individualism reigns supreme in many countries. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to witness the total unanimity with which the preventable death of Aylan was condemned all over the world.

That people living thousands of miles away from the Aylan’s Syrian hometown of Kobani, or the Turkish beach on which his tranquil body was washed up, should react to the tragedy the way they did, serves as a reminder that we still see the dignity inherent in our fellow human beings.

It is a clear indication that we see refugees, whom may have come to consider a pestilent menace, as people, as CNN’s Becky Anderson, almost tearful when reporting from the funeral of Aylan and his brother and mother, in Kobani, Syria, really insists, “These are people. They are refugees.”

Our humanity is as resilient as the refugees crossing, in hardly sea-worthy vessels, the water body which has so far this year claimed the lives of more than 2600 of their precursors. It has been bruised and wounded by increasing consumerism, individualism and moral decadence, but it survives yet, and shows forth its brilliance from time to time.

And that is something good, as we will need it perhaps more in the future than we have in the past. In the meantime, the face of Aylan’s father, who has decided to stay on in Kobani, is a stern accusation to those who claim that our humanity is gone or those who would have it so.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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