I will not use the photograph of the child’s body lying on the sand. It is a powerful image that has haunted my nights. Not because my grandson is the same age as the little boy (even though he is) but because it evokes such an immense sense of helplessness. That small body, powerless against the sea, reflects the utter powerlessness I feel.
But I will not use the photograph. Somehow it feels disrespectful to a father’s very private grief to continue to pump the tragic image around and around. It has done its work, waking us all up. Rest in peace, little one.
But the enormity of what is happening here is tearing me apart. When I hear people refer to the Syrian refugees as “illegal immigrants” or “economic refugees”, I want to scream, They are human beings fleeing a war-torn part of the world. Isn’t that enough? It no longer matters what the international politics of this tragedy are or the economic ramifications. What is called for here is compassion en preservation of human dignity.
I suppose human beings have always been territorial animals, at least from the time we evolved from hunter-gatherers to agrarians. As we started to cluster as family groups, tribes, and villages, we began to make distinctions between We and They. They were potential threats to our existence. We banded together to protect what was ours against Them.
But, as we evolved, we became aware of the lack of reason behind this distinction. In Western thought, the basic concepts of universal rights and humanitarianism emerged in ancient Greece, especially among the Stoics. Eventually these principles evolved into universal declarations that were ratified by law in most countries of the western world.
So what went wrong? Why is it that we now hide behind political and economic discussions instead of reaching out our hands and welcoming these people? To me, it feels as though we have reverted back to the ancient territorial fears that They are a threat to what We have here.
Reading critical comments on the Facebook page for the Dutch movement Ik ben een Gastgezin voor een Vluchteling (see link below), I hear fear and distrust. Why don’t the rich Moslim countries help them? Why don’t they stay and fight for their country? How do you know we aren’t harboring ISIS infiltrants? My adopted homeland gave birth to Erasmus and Hugo Grotius. What has happened to us?
But it’s not just The Netherlands. It’s not even just the Western world. Maybe we all (humankind) have become too big and powerful. We are powerful enough to destroy the natural world, instead of living in harmony with it or seeing ourselves as stewards to the earth. We are powerful enough to destroy each other and close our doors to those who ask for help. Where is our sense of responsibility towards all that lives?
When I talk about this with friends, we share the same awareness. And still, we’re powerless to turn the tide. So I speak out. And others do as well.
I signed up to offer the hospitality of my home or any other help I can muster to the Syrian refugees. As I did, I felt a slight twinge of discomfort. I’m jealous of my private life and space and do not give it up easily. But if I do not reach out my hands, crossing the gap between We and They, my ideals amount to nothing.
In The Netherlands there are already 19 thousand people who have offered the hospitality of their homes and other forms of help. Are you in The Netherlands and do you feel called to do the same? This is the link to Ik ben een Gastgezin voor een Vluchteling.