Will Aylan launch a thousand ships?
The image is searing. A small body, face down on the shore, washed from the Mediterranean onto a Turkish beach. Tiny. Alone. Dead. The victim of an attempt to escape death, only to have it find him during a desperate trek taken in the hope of finding safety.
This is a sign of failure, not of a single boat foundering before delivering its cargo of migrants to Europe, a land that promises a future and, more important, security. No, this is a failure of world leaders to recognise that there is — and has been for some time — a crisis of unimaginable magnitude taking place on eastern and southern Mediterranean shores.
Some who are trying to enter Europe are economic refugees looking for a better life. There are very good reasons they are leaving their homes as they look to the future. Economies affected by terror and war have stagnated, severely limiting the prospects of young people in these countries. Some seek a better life elsewhere; others become convinced a better future can be found through radicalisation.
However, hundreds of thousands of people — let’s stress that word “people” — are trying to escape unimaginable conditions and dire threats across the Mediterranean basin. They are looking for a sanctuary from almost certain death.
The reasons are many but two of the most obvious are the Islamic State (ISIS) and the fighting in Syria. ISIS uses draconian methods to keep its “citizens” in line in territory it controls. The result is a predictable exodus. In Syria, suffering through that oxymoronic term “civil war”, millions have left because of widespread violence and atrocities — barrel bombs, chemical weapons — carried out by all sides.
While these battles go on over patches of dirt and sand, people are suffering to a degree that is unfathomable to most in the Western world. They are tormented to the point that they leave generations-old homesteads just to keep their family safe. Despite tales of hundreds of migrants dying while trying similar escapes, they pay smugglers large sums in the hope of passage to safer lands.
All too often these migrants suffer the fate handed to 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found on the Turkish beach. To paraphrase Joseph Stalin, one small boy drowning is a tragedy; thousands dying is a statistic.
The power of the image of Aylan’s body on the beach — tragedy that it is — must push all leaders to see that the thousands who are running from death and destruction represent a catastrophe of another magnitude. Even as he was being buried, along with his mother and brother, who were also among 12 people who died when their boat capsized September 2nd, the tragedy continued to unfold.
Pictures of overcrowded boats barely afloat and of long lines of faceless people waiting to enter the bureaucratic limbo before learning whether they meet the current definition of “refugee” are easier to ignore — the “tragedy” versus “statistic” argument. But Aylan is putting a face — a very human face — on the problem. His plight grabbed attention. Now the world must act on it. Will this truly matter or will the powers that be once again initiate a “hashtag” campaign to show their “concern” only to forget Aylan, his brother and mother and the thousands like them once the “send” key is pushed?
The kidnapping of Helen of Troy, whose beauty is said to be the “Face that Launched a Thousand Ships”, led to the Trojan War.
Beauty is certainly worth fighting for; humanity, however, is an even greater cause and reason to be moved to action. Will the image of Aylan Kurdi be the face that launches a thousand ships to meet this humanity crisis?