Aylan Kurdi (L) and his brother Galip pose in an undated photo provided by the Kurdi family. The two Syrian toddlers drowned with their mother and several other migrants as they tried to reach Greece. [Agencies]
A photograph of a Syrian refugee, resignation written large on his face, carrying his sleeping 4-year-old daughter while hawking pens on a street in Beirut, triggered an online campaign that raised about $108,551 in 24 hours a week ago. The good Samaritan who posted the photograph using the hashtag #buypens on the Internet was a Norwegian activist named Gissur Simonarson.
The distraught Syrian refugee, Abdul Halim Attar, with two daughters to care for, broke down when he heard the amount, and said he “was so thankful” and repeated, “I want to help other Syrians”, wrote Simonarson. This was a good ending to what could have been another tragic story in the theater of war that is the Middle East.
But for every lucky refugee there are hundreds, if not thousands, of tragic souls.
One was called Aylan. He was a Syrian refugee, just three years old. His body, face down, was found on the beach of Bodrum, a resort city in Turkey on Wednesday. And he was one of at least 12 Syrians fleeing the war-torn country who drowned trying to reach the Greek island Kos. Among the victims are believed to be his 5-year-old brother Ghaleb and their mother, Rihana. The only one from the family to survive was Aylan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, who was found semi-conscious and hospitalized.
The photograph of Aylan has apparently done what the continuing horror stories and other photographs from war-torn Middle East and North Africa couldn’t do: awaken humanity. Perhaps the hashtag #Kiyiya VuranInsanlik, which means “humanity washed ashore”, has something to do with it.
But that is just part of the story. The outpouring of emotions on the Internet that Aylan has evoked with his death is the aftermath of a tragedy, which should never have played out the way it has.
The army of hungry, desperate, battle-scared people from the Middle East and northern parts of Africa making a beeline for Europe might not have shamed the European countries had the West under the leadership of the United States not embarked on the self-proclaimed mission to spread democracy in what they said were uncivilized, despotic lands. The European Union might not have needed to deal with another gargantuan problem even before overcoming its debt crisis had it not added to the mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa.
That history lies in ruins from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria and Libya is another story. Suffice to say the Levante, the cradle of human civilization, first lost its archeological masterpieces to ignorant soldiers and is now at the mercy of fanatic Islamic State extremists, who recently blasted two ancient Roman sites in Palmyra.
Perhaps a graver tragedy is that, even after failing on all fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US and its NATO allies preferred to get mired in Libya and Syria to different extents, without even waiting to think what would be the consequences of the upheavals in those countries for EU countries.
Now, the EU is a house divided on the refugee crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, the refugees must be fairly divided throughout Europe, but British Prime Minister David Cameron is adamant that “taking in more refugees is not the answer”.
The question is: If Cameron was not ready to accept refugees, why did he help unleash unprecedented bedlam in Syria, Libya and other Middle East countries? A war of words rages in the EU as Hungary and some other EU countries refuse to accept refugees and Greece is overburdened with more than a hundred thousand people fleeing the ravages of civil war in their own countries even as it grapples with its credit crisis.
The EU should have known that by virtue of being safe across the Atlantic, the US will not have to deal with any of the immediate human miseries that EU countries have to face because of the upheavals in the Middle East.
This lack of foresight and absence of humanity in the enlightened civilizations of Europe is at the root of the suffering of millions of people in war-ravaged Middle East and North Africa.
The author is a senior editor with China Daily. you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org