Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Shame on us! :(

Maybe I should simply give up on understanding anything that goes on in this world.

Consider, for instance, the war in Syria.  And the refugee crisis:

Source
When the numbers are in hundreds of thousands, we easily forget what every one of those fellow humans mean.  One of those who made it out of the country, but not alive, was this toddler:

Source

The Guardian, from where I grabbed that photograph, reports:
The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west.
The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum. 
That image haunts me. It should haunt every one of us.
Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had reportedly hailed from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic state insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.
 There is something seriously wrong with the world.  A world in which here in the US we are fixated on Donald trump's latest theatrics.  Nicholas Carr writes:
It’s worth asking, though, what kind of democracy is being promoted. Early digital enthusiasts assumed that the web, by freeing the masses from TV news producers and other media gatekeepers, would engender a deeper national conversation. We the people would take control of the discussion. We’d go online to read position papers, seek out diverse viewpoints and engage in spirited policy debates. The body politic would get fit.
It was a pretty thought, but it reflected an idealized view both of human nature and of communication media.
Seriously, is it worth calling ourselves the greatest country that the planet has ever known when we pay immensely more attention to Trump than to a grave humanitarian crisis that resulted in the three-year old dead, face down on the beach?  WTF!
Because it simplifies and speeds up communications, the formulaic quality of social media is well suited to the banter that takes place among friends. Clicking a heart symbol may be the perfect way to judge the worth of an Instagrammed selfie (or even a presidential snapshot). But when applied to political speech, the same constraints can be pernicious, inspiring superficiality rather than depth. Political discourse rarely benefits from templates and routines. It becomes most valuable when it involves careful deliberation, an attention to detail and subtle and open-ended critical thought—the kinds of things that social media tends to frustrate rather than promote.
As the NY Times notes, people have tweeted and Facebooked about that haunting image of the three-year old dead boy.  But, at best, people click "like" and move on to a video of a cat playing the piano.  We seem to have lost even the little bit of a common sense and a shared space where we engaged in deeper conversations.  What is wrong with us?

That was a toddler!  I have no hope that the image will make us collectively think about the four million refugees who are alive ... I give up.

A kid.
A three-year old.

Caption at the source:
 A Turkish police officer carries a young boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos. 

9 comments:

Anne in Salem said...

This really is unfathomable to most of us. Greece can't care for the people it already has, let along boatloads more daily. Italy can't handle many more. Hungary says it can take maybe 1000-2000 since it's not as rich as Germany, which has taken close to a million. No one is equipped to manage such a migration.

And whenever this war ends, if the Syrians are able to return, to what will they return? Burned buildings, destroyed infrastructure, no crops. Will they even go back?

Sriram Khé said...

Syria is the major one ... there are others, which are also the ones that have resulted in the horrible deaths in the Mediterranean. Watch/read here: http://nyti.ms/1hC6n9y

Back in the 19th century, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" reached Ellis Island, where they were promptly processed and admitted into the country. Of course, this happened as long as they were White Europeans. Now, the huddled masses are brown and dark, which is why we continue with our "let them eat cakes" mentality :(

Shachi said...

This has haunted me since I saw the picture then read your post...and have not been able to sleep at all the past 2 nights.

Makes me want to offer a foster home/adoption to atleast one child - how do I go about doing that?

All my problems seems trivial compared to what these people are going through :(

Sriram Khé said...

You--Shachi--know from my Facebook posts that I am actively trying to spread the message there too ... Not because I want people to feel guilty but because in democracies the government responds only if there are more than a mere couple of people who want their government to do something ... whether it is something like the immigrant crisis in Europe or the Ebola crisis or anything like that, we individuals cannot do a damn thing--the problem requires a massive and sustained effort. In addition to putting pressure on the political leaders, perhaps the only other thing we can do is donate to NGOs, like Doctors without Borders, that are doing a phenomenal job on the ground.
Doctors Without Borders was also the one in the NY Times story that I posted on FB (http://nyti.ms/1hC6n9y)

Yes, our own small little problems are trivial compared to those. However, we can't dismiss the everyday hassles either. It is like how foregoing a meal is not going to solve famine in some other part of the world ... but, yes, we can at least avoid living a "let them eat cakes" life ...

Ramesh said...

Syria is a horrible tragedy and the heart can only go to the people who are being brutalised because of the atrocities that are going on.

But to castigate your government on this is wrong. What CAN the US do about it. The situation is very messy in Syria. Basher Assad is a monster. Ranged against him is ISIS , another monster. The US has learnt to its great cost that meddling in the Middle East makes things only worse, not better. The US was, and now even more is, not a global policeman. The warring parties in Syria care two hoots for public opinion in the west - so no amount of media mobilisation there is going to help.

The European refugee crisis is tragic, but pales into comparison with the crisis in neighbouring Lebanon. There are a million Syrian refugees in a country whose total population is only 5 million. Unimaginable the stress that that Lebanon is going through.

Its a sad fact that whatever might be world opinion, the Syrian crisis can only be solved by Syrians. It is when things like this happen that we despair of the fate of humanity.

gils said...

It's a shame .. No less for the middle East if not more for the self proclaimed international police man uncle Sam. One thing that beats me is why in the world they would risk their lives in seeking asylum in an unknown land as alien as Mars when it comes to culture while there own brethren in the Emirates n gulf are a mere oil pipeline away!! Only logical answer I could guess is the war maybe worse on that side of the border. God bless mama Merkel.

gils said...

It's a shame .. No less for the middle East if not more for the self proclaimed international police man uncle Sam. One thing that beats me is why in the world they would risk their lives in seeking asylum in an unknown land as alien as Mars when it comes to culture while there own brethren in the Emirates n gulf are a mere oil pipeline away!! Only logical answer I could guess is the war maybe worse on that side of the border. God bless mama Merkel.

Sriram Khé said...

"But to castigate your government on this is wrong. What CAN the US do about it."
We disagree.
1. Being the big man in the village or being the mightiest and richest country in the world, automatically mean that the rest of the village and the world expects leadership. With great power comes great responsibility.
2. If the US can spend time and effort to coordinate an Iran Deal, then certainly the US could have spent time and effort to coordinate a global response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The crisis didn't happen overnight--the refugee flow started with a trickle back in early 2011. I reviewed my blog posts on the Syrian crisis--I have one in April 2011, one in May 2011, and one in June 2011. More than four years in the making, and the US snored through.

"Basher Assad is a monster. Ranged against him is ISIS , another monster"
Yes to both statements. But, all we need to do is think about who created these monsters. Especially ISIS. If the US hadn't invaded Iraq under false pretexts (after years of supporting Saddam!) and if the US hadn't botched up the reconstruction, then AQI would not have become a force, which then later morphed into ISIS.

"the Syrian crisis can only be solved by Syrians."
We disagree.
A Kashmir crisis can be solved only by India and Pakistan, not by outsiders. The Syrian situation, even from 2011, was not an internal issue.

Gils, the flow of people in one direction--towards Europe--is a function of geography. Most of Syria is uninhabited--dry desert. The populated areas of Syria are closer to Lebanon and Jordan, which is why Syrians fleeing the wars headed there. But, as Ramesh points out, those two countries can't handle such large volumes given their own small sizes. Further, Lebanon's politics are getting more and more volatile by the day. Thus, the refugees have no option but to look across the waters.
And, yes, what Germany--and Sweden too--has been doing is simply marvelous, given the situation. However, Merkel's cautionary approach has to be ditched soon before matters become worse in Central Europe.

Sriram Khé said...

This thoughtful, balanced, nuanced, essay might interest you:
http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/opinions/the-irony-of-migrancy

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