Aylan Kurdi’s People – Aijaz Zaka Syed

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A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child's body (Aylan Kurdi) off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. AFP/ Nilufer Demir/Dogan News Agency
A Turkish police officer stands next to Aylan Kurdi’s body off the shores in Bodrum, Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying the family with other refugees sank trying to reach Greece. AFP/Nilufer Demir/Dogan News Agency

While it is commendable that Europe has reclaimed its humanity, it is in the continent’s own interest to welcome the new arrivals on its shores

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Special to Caravan Daily

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he past couple of weeks have been rather traumatic.  I found myself hanging between the extremes of hope and despair, often revisiting the long held beliefs and convictions.  Mercifully, I’ve rarely had to face what people in my trade describe as ‘the writer’s block.’

Training as a scribe and a reverence for deadlines has helped me keep my sanity and the deadline in the midst of chaos.  As my editors would testify, the occasions when I’ve had to miss the deadline have fortunately been few and far in between, for which I should be eternally grateful.  Last week wasn’t one of them though.

However did I try to collect my thoughts and write something…anything, my mind just wouldn’t budge. It remained frozen and totally blank.  As blank and empty as the computer screen that stared back at me.

The searing image of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year old Syrian whose small body washed up on a Turkish beach this month, kept dancing before me.  When I first came across the photograph of the now famous toddler splashed across newspaper front pages around the world, my heart sank.  Just as it had sunk when I first saw the still and lifeless body of my father ten years ago.

Except in Aylan’s case, he did not appear lifeless at all.  He looked like any 3-year old, peacefully and happily napping next to his mother, without a care in the world after a long day of fun and games.

Photojournalist Nilufer Demir took several shots of the dead baby, first lying on the beach, then being thoughtfully viewed by a Turkish policeman before being carefully lifted and carried away by the cop.

But the most arresting image without doubt was a close-up from behind, capturing the innocence and sweetness of the babyhood – his round, fair head, his plump little bottom, his tiny colorful shoes and his crooked little arm.  It could have been anybody’s baby, snoozing in the comfort and warmth of his mother’s arms and his home.  Except he was lying on a beach, far from home; with surf and sand in his face and tiny nostrils.

The fact that Aylan’s 5-year old sibling and mother also met the same fate made it all the more tragic.  No wonder those images went viral as did the Twitter hashtag #Humanity Washes Ashore!

All that was not maudlin fakery.  Most of those sentiments were genuine.  That image indeed broke the world’s heart. Dead babies and children in pain melt the coldest of hearts. No wonder the tide of global public opinion has so decisively turned against Israel, something that long years of PLO’s armed struggle failed to.

No wonder the Turkish police officer who tenderly picked up Aylan thought it was the heaviest burden he had ever carried.

That iconic image of Aylan Kurdi became the defining image of Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe on the one hand and the larger refugee crisis on the other. He brought home, into the drawing rooms of Europe, the seriousness of the crisis that was entirely manufactured by the West.

It is no coincidence that most of those arriving in droves in the West emanate from lands that have been turned upside down by the coalition of the willing – from Afghanistan to Iraq and Somalia to Syria.

While Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan haven’t still gotten over the US neocon gifts of freedom and democracy, Syria and Somalia are reeling from the half-baked, disastrous Western interventions.  They have no love lost for Bashar Al Assad but no stomach for a change either.

In death, Aylan may have accomplished for his people that all the aid in the world and truckloads of newsprint couldn’t have.  If the rich, elite club has opened its doors, just a wee bit, for the refugees, thank the toddler who undertook that perilous journey to Europe only to be brought back to Kobane for his final resting place.  He singlehandedly reframed and turned around the whole debate, melting away Europe’s stony wall of silence and indifference.

There have been exceptions of course like David Cameron of Britain and Viktor Orban of Hungary who remain the prisoners of their self-centered, tunnel-vision politics.  On the whole though, Europe has done itself proud by responding generously and compassionately to the crisis.

Unlike Orban, who has chastised European leaders for their generosity towards refugees and tried his best to arrest the sea of refugees surging towards Western Europe, former Hungary PM Gyurcsány Ferenc and current Finnish Premier Juha Sipilä opened their own homes to refugees. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann was so outraged by Hungary’s treatment of migrants that he compared it to the Nazi-era persecution and deportation of Jews.

The conduct of German leadership has been exemplary.  Chancellor Angela Merkel went out of her way to welcome the refugees saying Germany could accommodate around 800,000 migrants this year and 800,000 every year.  The country received more than 100,000 refugees last month alone.

A refugee raises a child into the air as the dinghy they are riding deflated some 100 meters away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, on Sunday. (Reuters)
A refugee raises a child into the air as the dinghy they are riding deflated some 100 meters away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, on Sunday. (Reuters)

Europe’s biggest and most vibrant economy remains the favorite destination of the Syrian and other refugees, followed by Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian nations.  Germany and Scandinavian nations are excellent models of welfare state, providing free education, healthcare, subsidized housing and unemployment allowance.

It’s not only the economic opportunities and welfare measures of Germany and Scandinavian nations that attract the migrants.  Their tolerant, liberal societies are a huge draw.

What is heartening is not just the leaders of countries like Germany, Austria and Finland have come forward to reclaim humanity when it matters the most, it is ordinary Europeans who have come out in their thousands to express solidarity with the suffering multitudes pouring into their lands. 

Germany has already allocated billions of euros this year to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees. It has also urged other EU members to shoulder their humanitarian responsibility.  Being the leader of the economic grouping and its biggest donor, the country commands huge respect.

What is heartening is not just the leaders of countries like Germany, Austria and Finland have come forward to reclaim humanity when it matters the most, it is ordinary Europeans who have come out in their thousands to express solidarity with the suffering multitudes pouring into their lands.

“REFUGEES ARE WELCOME” went up the vox populi in European capitals last week.  Pope Francis urged the faithful to open their homes to refugees.

After Iceland’s government said it could accommodate only 50 Syrian refugees, author and Prof Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir appealed her countrymen to do their bit.  More than 12,000 Icelanders responded to her call, offering to host a greater number in their homes and shaming their government.

“I am a single mother with a six-year-old son,” wrote Hekla Stefansdottir. “We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

It is at times like these that your faith in humanity and the essential goodness of mankind is restored.

If the economies like Germany are to survive and compete with emerging giants like China and India, they need new blood and able bodied men and women with fresh ideas.  It is in Europe’s own interest therefore to accept more migrants, whatever their compulsions to flee their distant homes and lands. 

Besides, notwithstanding its humanitarian responsibility, it makes sense for Europe to embrace the new arrivals.  With its fast aging and dwindling population, the continent increasingly looks like an old age home.  Germany, Italy, Spain and others have some of the lowest birth rates in human history. One-third of their populations will be over 65 in 2050, according to the Pew Research Center.

If the economies like Germany are to survive and compete with emerging giants like China and India, they need new blood and able bodied men and women with fresh ideas.  It is in Europe’s own interest therefore to accept more migrants, whatever their compulsions to flee their distant homes and lands.

More important, as Simon Kuper argues in Financial Times, Europe has the need, the space and the ability to accept people. According to the European Commission, humans inhabit a tiny slice of the continent’s territory. Only about 2.5 percent of the EU land is used for housing while a whopping 43pc is used for agriculture.

Europe can certainly make room for more refugees. And so can other Western and Arab and Muslim nations.  Ten thousand is peanuts for a giant like America, especially considering its role in the godawful mess it has made of the Middle East.

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