2015's Person of the Year Is ...
At year's end, it is sometimes customary to name a person of the year, so let me add my nominee: Aylan Al-Kurdi. Odds are, you never learned his name, but it's also true that you will never forget the sight of him. He's the tiny body laying face down on a beach, dead, near Bodrum, Turkey, his face in the surf, his red t-shirt hiked up around his torso, a tiny pair of shoes still on his feet. He appears to be 2, or perhaps 3, years old.
He drowned seeking refuge in Greece, where his family was fleeing, in search of a better life, presumably in northern Europe.
Aylan Al-Kurdi became the symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis. He became the rallying cry for good humanitarians everywhere who concluded that we — meaning those of us in the West far-removed from the Syrian civil war, from the searing droughts in Africa, from the raw need driving hundreds of thousands of desperate folks to head North – must do something.
We can't let children die like this, can we?
Pictures of dead children pull at the heartstrings.
Young Aylan died a senseless death. He is believed to be from a Syrian family, others of whom died with him in the crossing from Turkey to the island of Kos in Greece. The family reportedly had free housing in Turkey, but wanted something better. They never found it. He is the tip of an iceberg moving with unstoppable force toward the West.
International borders are lines in the sand; the grains of that sand are individual lives, destinies often anonymous, without names and faces to those of us enjoying lives in the destinations they seek as though it were the Holy Grail. On a grand scale, history is the story of human migration.
Early European history is the story of migrations. Goths, Ostrogoths, Gauls, Huns, swept from central Europe south. Rome's borders were, in the end, no match for population pressures. I doubt ours will withstand the pressure of migration any better. Folks in South America seek a better life, so they stream north, through Mexico and into the United States. A similar dynamic is at work across the Atlantic – an impoverished South cannot meet the needs for health, welfare and security of its people, who head North.
The sight of this child lying dead persuaded us that as a matter of human rights, we must do something, we must make a home for the homeless, we must offer a welcoming hand to those in distress. He appealed to our better natures, to an inchoate sense of idealism. Syrians are dying, so let's find them a home everywhere, and all at once.
No one stopped to ask what made this child so special. Children die every day of the year in one part of the world or another. They die due to starvation, civil strife, failed states, ethnic and religious hostility among peoples. These dead children lack publicists, and we don't care a whit about them, for the most part.
We don't care because we can't care about them all. There is just too much suffering, too much sorrow, in the world. To shoulder it all would crippled anyone. We pick and choose what, and whom, to care about.
Historically, we've always made these choices based on proximity and degrees of similarity between the suffering and ourselves. Our neighbor's grief moves us; the grief of a stranger less so.
Aylan Al-Kurdi appeared dead in an image as arresting as the sight of a neighbor's child at play. He moved us because we saw our children in his lifeless form: Except our children aren't coming home tonight with thousands of relatives, many of whom sharing values, cultures and beliefs inconsistent with our own.
He's my person of the year because, like the horse the Greeks gave the people of Troy, Aylan Al-Kurdi brought with him an army of strangers who may or may not be friends. The world changes, even as it remains the same.
Read more: http://www.ctlawtribune.com/id=1202745952546/The-Person-of-the-Year-is-a-Tiny-Drowned-Refugee#ixzz3voM06vLx