Thursday, 3 September 2015

On Aylan Kurdi's Death

I don’t know if publishing the photos of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach was necessary or not. It may have been necessary to move the Harper government to let more Syrian refugees into Canada (which hasn’t happened yet, but it looks likely, since Kurdi’s family was refused entry to Canada in June. Our culpability here is obvious), but I don’t know if it was necessary in Europe. The tide of public opinion was already shifting there. #refugeesarewelcome was trending on Twitter, and Angela Merkel was all over the news and frequently being praised and supported. I think reports of more refugees dying, after the many this week, and especially children found dead on the beach, may have been enough to sway political opinion there.  There's no way to know.

But it doesn’t matter now, the images have already been released and gone viral. I’m not sure there’s any point in second-guessing that in retrospect, or if the question of whether it was necessary is even the point here.

What I do know is that the people who are the farthest from Syria and those least affected by this issue share those images the most freely and the most lightly, and are least aware of the human costs to doing so. White non-Muslims especially, but Muslims in the West are sharing them a lot too, and the Muslim community has this contentious discussion about whether it should be done every time something like this happens.

If Aylan Kurdi was a white Western child, the image of his corpse would not be plastered all over the newspapers and tweeted and shared by millions on Facebook.  It wouldn’t be ethical or even imaginable to do so. If he was a white child, it would not have been necessary to share that very personal evidence of the tragedy to make anyone sympathise with or help his family and others like them. And now everyone scrolls past the image of his corpse countless times a day. It’s dehumanising, in more ways than one, and it doesn’t help people not to dehumanise Kurds or Syrians or Muslim refugees. This shouldn’t have to keep happening.  Haven’t enough people died?

People in the West are already very used to seeing images of foreign brown and non-Christian dead, and desensitized to it. There was a lot of very heated debate over whether the picture of Alison Parker (one of the Virginia news anchors who was murdered last week) with the gun being pointed at her, much less her death, should have been shown. Because it was disrespectful of her and her family, and sensationalist, and giving her killer the publicity he wanted, and unnecessary. But not nearly so much so for Kurdish or other Syrian refugees, or Rohingya, or black Africans, or non-white victims of ISIS.  It’s much more acceptable and normalised then, for obvious reasons.

Kurds and Syrians and other Arabs, especially nations people are fleeing, or even just Muslims, are going to have to see those images of Aylan hundreds of times in the next days. It’s easier to see Aylan as your child and his death as your tragedy when you are part of one of those groups. He’s not just another foreign body in a faraway place you know little about and feel little for. Seeing the image of him dead is painful, and brings home how much you are dehumanised and how little the rest of the world cares about or would even notice your death and remember you as a person and not just another mangled corpse in the news.

Many of Aylan’s family are still alive.  His five year old brother Ghalib and mother Rehan and at least eight other refugees died in the same boat today, but his father Abdullah survived.  The family told the National Post today that “[Abdullah’s] only wish now is to return to Kobane with his dead wife and children, bury them, and be buried alongside them.”  They are going to have to live with all this publicity.  And hope it actually helps.

It’s often a lot less clear to people directly affected by this that sharing those images was the appropriate or humane thing to do. It’s certainly much harder to watch happen, and the cost is a lot clearer. Many of us were already grieving.

Rest in peace Aylan and Ghalib and Rihan Kurdi, and everyone else who has died. There are too many to name or to count accurately. To Allah we belong, and to him we are returning. I hope this isn’t necessary next time. I hope people realise the cost and the inhumanity of it.

1 comment: