Let Aylan Be A Wake Up Call To The World

I feel a need to share some of my thoughts regarding the situation in Europe and the Syrian refugees. A situation which leaves me feeling helpless and lost.

One thing that has been bothering my mind a lot lately, is how much we people are affected and ruled by media. What we know about the world, is what media choose to show us. Which is, with all certainty a very small part of the world, and often a very biased picture.

On top of that, media knows the mind of people; what “sells” and what doesn’t. Very few people look twice when the news concerns “smaller” events, or in relation to other things, “less damaging” or “more distant” events. And no wonder, since our brains our pumped with so much information and tradgedies of all kinds from around the world on a daily basis, we just don’t have the mental ability to really take in and process it all. Our minds have to filter, so we stick to whatever makes the strongest impression on us, meaning the most horrific images, and the most disturbing statistics or death tolls. As a result, of course, we also become blind to a lot that is happening. Especially, since a lot that is happening is not even being properly reported to us, because we probably wouldn’t care so much anyhow, or in other cases, because media don’t want us to know.

Now, the situation in Syria didn’t start yesterday. People didn’t start dying this week. In fact, people have been suffering now for a few years in Syria. Here is an overview of the crisis and the happenings in Syria since 2011. Today, more than 11 million people are displaced. According to the UN, a big percentage of them are displaced within Syria, about 4 million are refugees in neighbouring countries, many of which are living in refugee camps, and a small percentage is making it to Europe. In this video from earlier in June, a Swedish professor puts the numbers into perspective. Numbers, which have grown since.

On and off during the past couple of years, I have read news articles on what is going on in Syria. Here and there, people saying that the rest of the world should help, we should do something; someone should do something. Someone should is like saying nobody will, in my meaning. Still, I use those words a lot myself, in this situation and others. I am by no means pointing moral fingers at others here, because I have no right to. I too, am guilty of ignorance and lack of action.

What has happened now, is that media has finally directed it’s focus toward Syria, and the refugees. Suddenly, media is overflowing with images, articles, petitions, discussions, empathy, stories, interviews, statistics and refugee politics. And the one thing that had the biggest influence on people around the world, that finally slapped us awake, was an image of a dead child who had drifted ashore on the beach of Turkey; the 3-year-old boy Aylan, who drowned while trying to escape Syria in a boat along with his family and other refugees. He was one of many.

Now suddenly, people have someone to focus their empathy towards; we have an image of a dead child, a child that could have been ours, a child that has now become a symbol for all the other children and adults who are dying along with him, in their desperate attempts to flee to safety.

In Social Psychology, there is a definition for that, it’s called Identifiable victim effect, and it’s the tendency for people to be more moved by the suffering of a single, vivid individual, than by a more abstract and larger number of individuals.

It is really a shame, that those who died before Aylan, did so more or less unnoticed by the world. But if the image of Aylan is what it takes for people to react, than I truly hope that the reaction will come now, that this image has not been spread on social media for nothing, that his dad, the only survivor from the family, does not have to see his dead child go viral on the Internet for nothing.

And if Aylan’s image is not enough, here are some more, and here, even more. And there are millions more out there. And there is of course the reality, which no image will ever do justice.

The thing I read about most now, is the so called crisis in Europe, who doesn’t know how to handle the wave of refugees in search of safety. Since I live in Israel, I read an interesting article on Ynet the other day, on the subject, called A Tsunami Warning in Europe, by Ben-Dror Yemini.

The refugee crisis in Europe is, strangely, giving new life to old borders. Not long ago, Europeans condemned Israel for building fences; now they are learning from us. In Israel, people complained that there was no policy; this week, Hungary changed its policy on a daily basis.

Suddenly, does Europe not only have borders, but they are also building walls and fences to keep people out. This is something which Europe has worked against up until now. We faught to open the borders and destroy all fences. Now, when facing a refugee crisis, suddenly Europe wants to put those fences back. Suddenly, we are not so open anymore.

Today, many regular citizens are finally opening their hearts, and are trying to do what the authorities are failing to. For example, when Iceland said they could only accept 50 refugees, regular Icelandic citizens were outraged, and 10 000 people opened their own homes to help. Similarly, there are regular citizens volunteering to try and save people who are stuck at sea and to provide medical care. And people are donating money, food, and other forms of aid to the refugees who make it to Europe.

Still, among all these stories of kindhearted people, I also read a lot of less encouraging opinions. There is a lot of hatred, racism, and fear circulating out there. I do believe, that one of the biggest fears Europe has, and which I to some degree share, is that the wrong people will use this wave of refugees to enter Europe, for example ISIS. Some people in countries like my homecountry Sweden, who already have problems with the integration of existing immigrants, may to a degree view Syrian refugees as nothing but more problems for us. There are people expressing opinions like, “They are not grateful to us anyway, they should go back to where they came from”, or “It’s all just an excuse to come to Europe and take our money and jobs”.

These sort of comments really scare me. In a sense, I do know where they are coming from, and it is true that Europe has problems, and it is aslo true that it’s only the problems we hear about. But in the end of the day, I surely doubt that any parent will put their children on a small boat across a sea, filled up with way more people than it’s made to carry, with small chances of making it across alive, unless they have no other choice. These are in my opinion, people who have decided that this dangerous road to possible safety is the only option left for them. The fact that there are people who say that millions of people, half of which are children, are fleeing their country for no good reason, that they just want to come and make our life in Europe miserable, that it’s not our responsibility to care for them, it just really makes me wonder where the f*ck humanity went. If it was you sitting on that boat, your child drowning in the water, and this was the response the world gave you, how would you feel?
A Swedish woman wrote a short post, a metaphor for the refugees and the state of mind of some European countries. I found it very effectful, so I’ve translated it here:

“Unfortunately, their is a dead child laying here outside my front door, but it’s not my fault. He was banging on the door and telling sob stories all night, said that he had a mass murderer chasing him. But I told him as it is:

‘If that’s the case, someone has to stop the murderer. He won’t stop murdering just because I open my door for you, and where are your parents, this is their responsibility’.

We have to dare to say this.

I felt like one of my neighbours gave me a weird look this morning when I took a step over the dead child, but I refuse to feel bad about this.

I’m actually nicer than my neighboures, and it’s not my fault that he was knocking on my door specifically. But it did feel a bit uncomfortable. I hope it won’t happen again. I guess I will have to put up some kind of fence, or start sleeping with ear plugs.”

Original text by Lisa Arlbrandt:
”Det ligger tyvärr ett dött barn här utanför min ytterdörr men det är inte mitt fel. Han bankade och drog snyfthistorier i natt, om att han hade en massmördare efter sig. Men jag sa som det var:

‘Då måste ju någon stoppa mördaren. Han slutar väl inte mörda bara för att jag öppnar dörren för dig, och var är dina föräldrar, det här är ju deras ansvar’.

Man måste våga säga det.

Jag tyckte att en granne tittade konstigt på mig när jag klev över barnet i morse men jag vägrar ha dåligt samvete för det här.

Jag är faktiskt snällare än mina grannar och det är inte mitt fel att han knackade på just här. Men lite jobbigt var det ju. Hoppas verkligen att det inte händer igen. Jag får väl bygga någon slags staket eller så, eller börja sova med öronproppar”.

And this is exactly how it is, isn’t it? We turn the other side, hoping it will all go away. We give the responsibility to others, thinking “I have no part in this, I have my own problems”. We fall back on our good deeds in life, thinking that we did enough already, it’s someone else’s turn to step in now. And in the meantime, children are dying on our doorstep, and all we do is to look at each other, thinking that someone should do something about this. Not me, but someone.

I too fear, that among all the millions feeling, there will be a few potential dangers taking advantage of the situation, because there always are. Jihadists and ISIS may use the wave of refugees to further infiltrate Europe. But are we going to let that possibility stand in the way for the rights of millions of suffering and dying people? If at some point we will suffer consequences because we stood up for human rights and helped people in need, then maybe that’s a risk we need to take. Because the alternative, to not help, to just stand by and look as these people suffer and die, that is also something which we, and generations to come would have to live with.

We should learn from history, but we don’t. After the Holocaust, so many said we will not let similar things happen ever again. But we failed. When things happen – and the situation now with Syria is not the first and only – now, just like then, people turn the other side. And in the future, our grandchildren will read the history books and think to themselves; “How could they let it happen, why did not more people do something to stop it?”

We can change that.