By now we’ve all seen the picture the of the drowned Syrian child Aylan Kurdi who washed up on a beach in Turkey, and that image should be seared into our brains. To the majority that’s a picture showing how desperate people must be but for many more they looked at that picture and instead of sympathy or compassion they dismissed it as ‘mawkish’, or blamed the parents, or called it ‘propaganda’.
It’s easy to dismiss these people as fascists, UKIPpers, Tories, or just simply arseholes and indeed many are, but in the year 2015 the truth is that people are short on compassion, as after all, thanks to a succession of governments and media organisations preaching the language of envy, jealousy and hatred it’s tough to push basic common decency in this day and age but it’s there as we’ve seen in the glorious reaction after the picture of Aylan was spread round the world.
But it was a tough decision to publish, and indeed for many, Tweet and disseminate this picture. In fact this Washington Post article sums up perfectly my feeling at the time, and this paragraph in particular rings true.
Some people, however, criticized me — and those retweeting me — for sharing the picture at all. One said: “It is also a little boy. For f—’s sake allow him some dignity.”
This response puzzled me. What, exactly, in this context, is “dignity”? How many photos of dead Syrian children show up on social media every day? Don’t people know what has been happening in Syria?
And then it occurred to me — perhaps they don’t.
Indeed, people don’t realise that Syria has been torn apart by not just war, but revolution, ISIS, climate change and geopolitics from Western countries. Its infrastructure has been leveled, and frankly, it’s going to take a planet coming together to repair Syria so it can be a home to people again. Til then it’s only going to produce corpses and refugees. The truth of the power of that image can again be summed up as so:
Yet it has seemed that no one really paid much attention — at least, not in terms of seriously trying to solve the problem, seriously trying to help.
If it takes photographs of dead children to make people realize children are dying, so be it.
It took the image of one dead child for people to turn against the swarm of far-right filth coming from not just people like Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins, but the so-called elected government of the UK that’s supposed to represent us all, not just less than a quarter of the population. It’s a horrendous image, but it’s not gruesome, gory or sensational. It’s the mundane nature of seeing a child at the beach juxtaposed with realising that he’s face down in the water that really strikes home. It challenges us to face death, and face it in one so young which is what people mean by ‘dignity’, not for the child but for them. They don’t want to be confronted by death, nobody does, but it’s something that happens to us all but to see the wasted potential of a human being lying face down on a beach drives mortality home. It makes us finally realise that this has a human cost.
As child growing up the media were more open about showing us death in all it’s horror. I remember this picture from the Vietnam War and even today how it drove home that shooting guns in the real world isn’t playing.
It’s only in the late 80’s and 90’s that the media became more sanitised, less likely to confront people with images of mortality and horror but the effect of that was that it became easier to distance oneself from the reality of what was happening to the point where today people are forcing this faux outrage at the ‘dignity’ of a dead child’s picture being spread, but can’t or won’t consider the reasons that Aylan Kurdi found himself, and his brother and mother, found themselves being washed up dead on a beach in Turkey in the dying days of summer 2015.
The way forward now is to help. Even individuals can, though ultimately this is the work of governments to solve the bigger problems, we can help not just refugees, but just maybe this outpouring of humanity means we can look at the most vulnerable in the UK and help them too. There’s a phrase used in Scotland and it’s politics. ‘All of us together’. That’s never been as true as it is now.