Aylan Kurdi and Our Failure to Act

There are few photos that capture the human condition. The firefighters raising the American flag over the rubble of the World Trade Center, the man staring down the tanks at Tiananmen Square, man’s first step on the moon. These photos capture moments of hope, determination, and progress in human history. Other pictures reveal the darkness and desperation of humankind. The grieving Cambodian woman kneeling over the body of a Khmer Rouge victim, the malnourished survivors of Nazi concentration camps shrouded in wool blankets, the Greek husband defeated by the economic crisis, crying against the wall.

This past Thursday, a new image was burned into our consciousness. The body of a Syrian toddler boy, washed up on the shores of Turkey, sheds new light on the international and moral crisis riddling the world. It is the snapshot of inaction and avoidance.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 348,540 Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, over 4 million have left their homelands, and over 6.5 million are internally displaced by the continued conflict in Syria

This crisis has reached the borders of Europe, and these states have responded with mixed results. Many of these states, like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Serbia, are Orthodox nations. They are Orthodox in the sense that the majority of their populations adhere to the Orthodox Christian Faith. Therefore, I think it is wise that we meet this with an Orthodox response.

We, as Orthodox Christians, should be asking ourselves “Are we living up to the commands of our Lord when it comes to dealing with this crisis?”

We know of Matthew 25:31-46. The Gospel tells us that all the nations will come before the Lord, and He shall separate the goats from the sheep, and He will decide their fate. We know He will say that we did not feed Him when He was hungry, or give Him drink when He was thirsty. He will tell us we failed to cloth His naked body or visit Him when He was in prison. He then tells us that whatever we do unto our brethren, we do unto Him.

The Syrian refugees are our brethren. The Syrian boy was our brethren, and by failing him, we have, in a spiritual sense, failed Christ.

I fully understand that this crisis is where the secular world and the religious world can be in conflict. Economic crises and budget deficits compel us to be calloused towards this suffering, wishing we could help, but using finances as an easy excuse to do nothing. However, what is the human cost to inaction? We’ve learned from previous tragedies that history never lets us forget the blemishes on our souls.

Perhaps we can look to the tiny Greek island of Kos, which rests just off of Turkey. Greece is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. With 25% unemployment, reduced salaries, and higher taxes, one would think that the Greeks would force the refugees elsewhere. Yet, on this tiny island, the Mayor was moved by the actions of the Greek people.

Here, on the island of Kos, the Syrian refugees were embraced and given water and food. The Syrian refugees found momentary sanctuary and help with the paperwork for refugee status in Greece. This was a perfect example of a Christian response to the crisis. The residents of Kos demonstrated a Christian love required in 1 Peter 4:9, which asks us to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

The Syrian toddler is a tough image to swallow. In a previous OCN writing, I detailed the joys of a child and what children represent. The photo of Aylan Kurdi’s body on the shore of Turkey represents the opposite. It represents shattered dreams and extinguished hope. The photo tears into our souls and forces us to weep over the context: a child, just starting his life, who could not even fully comprehend the situation he and his family were thrown into; a situation created by men he never met who were compelled by motives he didn’t even know existed.

It is an image of innocence lost. Of humanity’s failure, of our failure. It’s a symbol of how man can even find profit in disaster. The cost was $4500 (US) to be on an overcrowded boat, avoiding a rubber raft but not having enough money to secure life vests. This is the most appalling aspect of the ordeal, not being able to afford a chance at life in the event of something going wrong.

The pained father said his son “slipped through his hands,” but the truth is Aylan, his brother Galip, and their mother Rehan, slipped through all our hands. Sadly, more refugees will slip through our hands as the European nations try to figure out how to uniformly deal with this situation. Our Faith asks for action, our conscience demands it, and our souls require it. Fences may create barriers to reinforce lines on a map, to protect states from being impacted by the Syrian crisis, but fences can’t stop our conscious from being impacted.

In 2015, more than 2,600 refugees have died trying to reach a better life in Europe, and they make up nearly 75% of the total migrant deaths throughout the world. We can continue to draw attention to the crisis in Syria, we can write and keep ISIS at the forefront of conversation. But there is an urgent matter at hand, one which requires our Orthodox charity. We must help those wanting a chance at life, a chance at happiness, a chance at hope.

It should not take the image of Aylan Kurdi to force us into action, and the least we do unto our brethren, we do unto the Lord.


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Constantine (Dean) Argiris is a lifelong Orthodox Christian from the…
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