(Counterpunch, September 4, 2015)
NBC gave the headline “The Toddler Found on Resort Beach Has a Name”. I suspect they simply meant that his identity had been found out, but there is a layer of truth or almost shock in that these refuges are supposed to be a generic horde. This 3 year old didn’t follow the rules of all this. His very appearance, dressed like a little guy cleaned up in his nice clothes for a visit to a relative’s didn’t help maintain that cognitive distancing. He looks too much like a child that we would see playing in the park, with his little velcro shoes. His 5-year-old brother died too, as did his mother. All trying to reach safety from war in Syria. You can imagine the day they left, and crammed into an unsafe boat. The parents dressed him up nicely; trying to make it all seem normal. But they had no choices. The inky black of the sea was safer than what was going on in their land. The level of desperation is obvious when you hear that they were wanting to get asylum in Canada (which was denied)–they were literally shoving off into a pure unknown with no assurances of anything, complete with the danger of nature.
There is argument about the words refuge, migrant…. in the US it has become very popular to speak about things like moving 11 million people back to their home countries. It is all in the realm of surreal as this nation was completely and utterly filled in by genocide and land theft. To argue that point requires mental gymnastics of the Olympic variety. That the descendants of these raiders (of which I am of course, one) would rail about individuals trying to make their way here for a better life is beyond bizarre. Leaving for economic reasons may not be as dire as leaving because you may be shot the next day, but extreme poverty will kill over time. The absurdity of it all, that people are safe in one spot surrounded by imaginary lines, yet not safe a mile over is one of the arguments that humans are a very deranged species, sort of an experiment gone wrong. The sociopaths are in charge, of course. That’s what they do.
Now that we know the toddler is Aylan Kurdi, what now? I suspect if we knew the stories of most of those fleeing repression, death and economic circumstance, only the worst of us could maintain a level of emotional distancing. I would imagine a lot of people just can’t wrap their heads around the circumstances of too many, it becomes daunting, like pondering the night sky. A generalized empathy that extends beyond borders is much more difficult than simply wanting to build a wall, physical walls and more nebulous personal walls that allow for cruelty and willful ignorance.
Policies create all of these conditions. NAFTA created a situation that made it difficult to eke out a living with small time goals like farming corn in Mexico. These things cause misery. The ongoing war in Syria has so many villains, but identifiable items like the creation of ISIS through unnecessary war, or the support of dictators when it is convenient for US policy goals, create hells on earth so severe that a family would dress up their little guys and put them on a boat with a very good chance of sinking. But when these policies are implemented, policy hacks explain why we need to smash our giant hands down and topple stability, never a thought to the real and focused down effect on 3-year-old little boys.
I’m not sure how all of this can be reconciled in a world with billionaires, with resources present, but simply being funneled to the few. In the west, we seem to enjoy shunting the terrible to other places. Sweatshops, wars, all of these shames. It is rare when something can pierce the jaded hearts and perhaps that little body will be able to. The trajectory is not good for any of us if we don’t start understanding our connections to each other. There is obvious unrest, with the climate, with our souls. If the motivation to alleviate suffering for others doesn’t emerge from all of this, we will be headed for misery as well.