Initially published as column on AM News, now part of NewsKamloops.
This past week I was among the many people who got to see the photo of a little Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey as a result of the horrific crisis that has thousands of refugees flee Syria. It’s the kind of photo that shakes and rattles people’s hearts, whether they have children or not.
The crisis is not new and there are now 4 million refugees in five host countries and a total of 15 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization presently on site in the Middle East.
While most people were horrified and considered the very image a visual of our failed humanity, some opinions opened the door to controversy and criticism. Peter Bucklitsch, UKip member and parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections, said the boy was well dressed and well fed and his parents too greedy for the good life in Europe.
His tweet (deleted since) garnered supportive comments alongside highly critical ones. The ones defending the comment said there are plenty of hungry people already in the UK and other European countries lining up for food at food banks, there have been cuts that made impoverished people poorer and increased crime, and an influx of refugees would make matters worse.
Most people called him heartless and worse. Factually speaking, the comment is nothing but harsh judgment applied to people he knew nothing about and, from a compassionate point of view, there is little more one should say about a dead child other than ‘that is sad and unfortunate, unacceptable by anyone’s standards.’
Others argued that there are many children dying, not just in Syria, but in Ukraine and Africa and that a photo should not steal the front page the way this one did.
These are strange times indeed, where we can show our best or worst sides. There is no competition regarding children dying and where it happens most, and there should be no ‘us versus them’ either. A child that dies is one too many. To argue that too much attention is being given to one cases versus the others causes us all to lose track of what’s important and engage in useless rhetoric.
They do not call this situation a crisis for nothing. While political analysts are not entirely surprised to see how far it got, there are no adequate words to properly describe it either, which is why photographs are worth more than any. European governments have been accused of having supported the US war on the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade, which lead to the displacements and desperation we see today.
It is overwhelming to say the least. More than half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. In the context of the Western societies protecting their young ones, often to the point of bubble-wrapping, we have to think of what children in war-torn countries witness and go through, and what that says about our world as a whole.
There is no us and them, really. Race, colour and religion do not matter when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis like the one taking place in Syria.
Some people wonder why anyone would opt to get themselves in shoddy boats in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea, putting themselves and their families, including children and infants, at risk of losing their lives.
Desperation is a mighty beast.
What would we all do if our country was subject to a war such as the one in Syria? How many of us would be willing to live in camps or outside of camps, never making an attempt to flee in search of a better life? How many of us would risk anything for that one chance to have it better for ourselves and our children?
I would argue that the world, troubled and exhausted as it seems, has enough resources still for all who live on it. When there is a will created by compassion in face of tragedy, there is a way to carry out good deeds.
It is easy to express judgment when removed from a situation. Trouble is, judgment stops compassion in its tracks. Whether we are talking about the missing Aboriginal women in Canada and the governmental lack of attention to it, or the human slavery that is still very much alive and an unfortunate part of the western world commercial goods market, or the humanitarian crises happening in many places around the world, allowing compassion to have a front seat reminds us of a simple truth: we are only as human as we allow ourselves to be by opening our minds and abstaining from judgment so that compassion can thrive instead.