Sons of….

Sons of the thief, sons of the saint
Who is the child with no complaint
Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own
The same sweet smiles, the same sad tears
The cries at night, the nightmare fears
Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own

Jacques Romain Georges Brel 1929 – 1978

Dear Virtual Editor:

OK. Right out of the box, I am going break my own rule.  I said that we would not get far by appealing to our shared humanity on behalf of civilians killed and displaced by war.  Self-interest and economics are better approaches. After all, for example, it was not a sudden awareness of our shared humanity that advanced civil rights in the US. Mainly, it was sagging sales at Ollie’s Barbecue. (Look it up.)

I did say, however, that humanitarian appeals were worthwhile and maybe marginally beneficial.  I hope that by revisiting a heart-wrenching story that you know, the margin can be expanded somewhat.

The story I am sure you know of captured our attention briefly last September, before media returned to important matters like which Kardashian married/divorced/had a baby with/ which sports/entertainment figure. (Today’s news…this is real…: Kourtney Kardashian’s Kit Kat Eating Technique is Borderline Insane!)

I am asking that you put aside your anticipation about KK’s eating skills and consider more of the story you remember from September. It is the one about this kid. His name is Alan Kurdy. He was 2 years old. His body washed up on a beach in Turkey.

Migrant boat accident in Turkey

Alan’s mother and his 5-year-old brother also drowned in the waters between Turkey and Greece.  Alan’s aunt is Fatima (Tima) Kurdy, my neighbor here on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. At the end of December, with help from her Member of Parliament, Tima welcomed her brother Mohammed and his family to Canada.

There is much more to the story of little Alan’s family than the emotional impact of his death. One of Mohammed’s sons now safe in Canada is 5 months old. He will grow up without bombs and guns. He and his brothers, aged 8 and 14, are unlikely to heed calls to violence by ISIS or anyone else.  This is not just humanity; it is “counter-terrorism” in action.

And Alan has given us more to learn from his death. Alan’s family belonged to a Kurdish minority, oppressed by the Syrian government. But the family lived in Damascus, identified themselves as Syrian and joined no religious or political faction. They simply wished to live their lives.  When the war broke out, just wishing to live one’s life became a dangerous liability. As one journalist put it, political ties, sect, and ethnicity became life or death matters.  War makers of all stripes require that you choose sides and you fail to do so at your peril.

After interviewing family members scattered over Iraqi Kurdistan, Germany, and Syria, the journalist found a story of a family chewed up by one party to the Syrian conflict after another: The Syrian government, the Islamic State, neighboring countries, the West.

Why did Alan, his mother and brother drown trying to cross from Turkey into Greece?  After all, they had made it to Turkey, a member of NATO, that great western alliance against….whatever.  An attempt to sort out the regional morass will follow in future posts. For now, know that Turkey also oppresses the Kurds. But private enterprise in Turkey also includes smugglers and it was in one of their leaky boats that Alan set out.

Alan’s father, Abdullah had decided to attempt the trip after seeing that Mohammed’s original refugee application to Canada was turned down for insufficient documentation—documentation Turkey would never provide. It was the fortunate October change in Canada’s government that affected waiver some of the paperwork requirement and eventually got Mohammed’s family to Vancouver Island.  The previous government not only did not care about refugees, it worked actively to discourage them from coming to Canada.

Alan’s story gives us another lesson we will also discuss further later.  Neither the previous Canadian government nor cowardly US politicians wish the death of two year olds. But obsessing about the miniscule risk that some refugees will do violence if allowed to come here can, and does, result in the death of children every day.  There is, of course, some risk to countries accepting refugees.  We will talk more about how to reduce it. But it is passing strange that Americans, in particular, appear quite willing to accept the greater existential threat to their own children represented by the absence of any gun control. US children are 9 times more likely to die in gun accidents than children anywhere else in the developed world. There were 100 such deaths in the first year after the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. Trigger locks? No. Mandatory safe storage? No. Guns only the owner can fire? No.  Guns and more guns, yes—Muslim immigrants? No.  Must have delays and “vetting” to make sure not one terrorist gets in.  What is happening during those delays?  Thousands of Alans are happening, sans dramatic photo.

sudarshan-pattnaik-sand-sculpture-of-Syrian-toddler

Sudarshan Pattnaik sand sculpture of Syrian toddler

Wars in which the West is actively involved on one side or another, sometimes changing, have created tens of millions of refugees. Mohammed Kurdi’s family is part of 10,000 who have been welcomed to Canada by the new government, which has identified and pledged to take 15,000 more in the next month.  To make this happen, Canadian families, churches, and organizations must come up with the money to guarantee that the financial stability of refugee families for a year.  In British Columbia, and Vancouver Island in particular, Canadians are lining up to assume that burden.  I am very, very proud of them. But these numbers are like making the minimum payment on a credit card bill. You never get it paid off and the negative side effects of interest and fees can be crushing. The only way you ever have a chance is to start by ceasing to make purchases with that card.  For the sake of millions of families, it is time for the West to stop buying war and spend its money productively.

Can you picture…..?

While I have concluded on the evidence so far that compassion evoked by events like Alan’s death is short-lived and largely ineffective, I hope I am wrong. I know that I am able to picture my grandchild on that beach and it moves me to action. I am sitting here with a pile of reports of similar stories and I considering whether to bring more of them to your attention in future posts. To help me decide about that, I am asking you to tell me what you think.

In the meantime, I will close with another emotional appeal, this time through music.   Many of you are familiar with the lines that began this post. They are part of the beautiful music of Jacques Brel.  But if you think the song is merely sappy and sentimental, please watch and listen to this version, especially the last part.

_________________________________

Next time: How it became OK to kill civilians, and more on the futility of current wars.

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