“Humanity washed along the shore, and we walked by. We are witnessing so many refugee hands reach out, but we refrain from reaching back. For the first time in my life, I don’t recognize this country.”
A little over a year ago, The Dallas Morning News ran a picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on the beach next to a column I had written about the rhetoric of the recent presidential campaigns. I couldn’t help but think about how our national political rhetoric might be causing waves of international consequence. At the very least, I hoped three-year-old Aylan Kurdi did not die in vain.
After the picture of Kurdi’s lifeless body was released, The Dallas Morning News Managing Editor Mike Wilson said he received an email from a reader who said the picture was “gory.” “I wrote back and told her that I appreciated her sensitivity,” he said. “We chose it specifically because it wasn’t gory. There was no blood, no person’s face, no severed limbs. It’s just a forlorn, heartbreaking image that tells the reality of what’s happening.”
The picture wasn’t gory, yet it reminded me of the graphic photo of 9-year-old Kim Phuc, who was running away from an aerial napalm attack on June 8, 1972.
Both pictures are haunting to their core. But I am glad they were published.
According to New York photography expert, curator and historian, Mary Panzer: “Pictures do not work on our brains according to logic, they hit lower and deeper. Emotion is not reasonable, and in fact, there is undeniable pleasure in being able to submit to un-reason, to feel something strong and true after all the titillation and trash that crosses our visual field every hour of the day.”
How did you react to Kurdi’s or Phuc’s photo?
Poynter’s Chief Media Writer James Warren writes, “The images exploit our collective memory and associations. Where were the parents? Who and what might possibly hurt such a powerless thing? What evil forces lurk? We don’t really think about Syria or Turkey and the obvious policy issues they inspire related to migrants and refugees, but just generally about parents, children, safety and danger.”
Could you imagine if you were Kurdi’s father? Or Phuc’s mother?
Both of these harrowing pictures were taken overseas, but it is hard to deny that we should bear no blame. Before we implemented a “total and complete shutdown” of Syrian and Muslim refugees from seven countries yesterday, our refugee intake was already criminal.
Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, until the photography date of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body, the United States had taken in only about 1,500 Syrian refugees. That is not a typo: 1,500 Syrian refugees total.
Yesterday, many politicians paid tribute to Holocaust Memorial Day, where millions of innocent lives were lost, and these politicians pledged, “Never again.” Yet they turn a blind-eye to our current refugee crisis.
Last September marked the one-year anniversary of Kurdi’s haunting beach picture. As of last September, “the death toll from Syria’s five-year civil war has reached 300,000 victims, devastating Syrian villages and cities and fueling a refugee crisis that has confounded political leaders in Europe and the Middle East,” according to the International Business Times.
As of the end of last year, “the death toll of the five-year conflict is estimated to be more than 500,000, with 11 million people forcibly displaced,” according to the Edmonton Journal.
“The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. According to the United Nations, 13.5 million people inside Syria need urgent help, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced… Almost 4.6 million Syrians have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Thousands more have made the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life,” according to the Canadian Government.
On the one-year anniversary of Kurdi’s death, Abdullah Kurdi, the father of Alan Kurdi, pleaded with the international community to act to stop the bloodshed in his home country, saying that the attention paid to his family’s tragedy had changed little, according to the Telegraph’s Josie Ensor.
Here are some things you might not know about Kurdi’s tragic death sentence. He was not the only victim on that fateful September morning, his mother and brother also died when their small rubber-boat capsized. And although many in America who have supported a ban on refugees remain unmoved by this death sentence, Canada’s political class and citizenry has responded quite differently.
It was reported that when Kurdi washed up onshore, he and his family were making a final, desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada even though their asylum application had been rejected.
Maybe because of this, Canada has shown much more empathy than our country. In fact, because Kurdî’s family had reportedly been trying to reach Canada, his death and the wider refugee crisis immediately became an issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election. Currently the Canadian Government’s website has an introductory banner that reads:
“#WelcomeRefugees: Canada resettled Syrian refugees — As millions of Syrians continue to be displaced due to conflict in their home country, the Government of Canada is working with Canadians, including private sponsors, non-governmental organizations and provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to welcome Syrian refugees.”
Canada also has a scorecard on its website. So far 39,671 Syrian refugees have resettled under Canada’s new refugee initiative (as of January 2, 2017).
If it had been reported that Kurdi and his family were trying to reach our shores, what would we have done? How would we have responded? Why are we not moved more by the deaths of so many refugee lives?
How can two neighboring countries, so similar in many respects, approach this humanitarian crisis so differently? Whereas Canada has accepted almost 40,000 refugees to much celebration by its citizens, Obama’s 10,000 target has now been met with a “complete and total shutdown” of Syrian and Muslim refugees.
Or as Rep Grace Meng captured in her tweet, “It was not right when President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law, and @realDonalTrump’s #MuslimBan isn’t right now.”
The current refugee crisis is the issue of our lifetime and we have met it with little to no fanfare. Not only have we stopped paying attention to it, like Kurdi’s father claims, but we are now promoting it.
America was once viewed as a beacon of hope. Lady Liberty represented freedom and opportunity. But now we have plans to build a much vaunted wall, while we permit our most at-risk communities to drown in lead-contaminated water.
We pledge to never let millions of innocent lives suffer again or deprive our communities of their most basic needs. But how easily we forget.
Humanity washed along the shore, and we walked by. We are witnessing so many refugee hands reach out, but we refrain from reaching back. For the first time in my life, I don’t recognize this country.
Shortly after Kurdi’s death, his relatives were admitted into Canada as refugees. At least, in Canada, Aylan Kurdi did not die in vain.
#MuslimBan #RuleofLaw #Diversity #America #Syrian #RefugeeCrisis #StudentVoices