When the pictures of Aylan started showing up on my newsfeed, I quickly scrolled past them. I was sick of seeing dead bodies. Afghan bodies, Syrian bodies, black bodies. I did not want to know his story, I did not want to feel helpless again. But the pictures flooded my social media, and so I was forced to learn his story. And I, like many others, am shocked, and so saddened.
As the child of refugees, this profoundly impacts me. My parents fled Afghanistan by disguising themselves as peasants. Even with raggedy clothes and dirt in their nails, rebel fighters still recognized their refined accents and white, unscathed skin as signs of their class. One rebel looked at another, pointing to my sister, limping on her polio-ridden leg, and proclaimed, “Da Kablay da” (She is Kabuli). By the grace of God, they let my family go, and for miles and miles they walked, until they reached Pakistan.
My family, like Aylan’s family, was looking for an escape. They, too paid smugglers, they too, feared for their lives, and they too, brushed death on the long and arduous road out of Afghanistan. The surge in refugees across the Middle East and North Africa is now making headlines, but this is not a new story. Aylan’s body is not the only body. What’s the saying, one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic? The influx of information leaves us overwhelmed; how many bodies should we count? How many hashtags can we make? How many links can we post? Why are we telling all of these stories, when we can do virtually nothing?
I don’t have solutions. I’ve seen some articles that advertise ways the normal civilian can help these people, fleeing their lands for a chance at life. But I can’t help it that I’m so angry.
My brothers and sisters, other refugee families like mine, other peoples affected by the meddling of the U.S. and other superpowers. We know Aylan. We’ve known Aylan. He is our neighbor who was droned last year. He is our uncle who was taken to the prison camps 2 decades ago. He is or grandmother who was killed in crossfire. Refugee families, we know.
For how long were Muslims crying to you that our motherlands are burning? For how long did the peoples of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia look nothing more to you than terrorists, than backwards, uncivilized savages, stuck in the archaic times of Islamic extremism. How long did you disregard that 1.5 billion people on this earth – no, even more – including those Christians and Jews and Bahais and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and Sikhs and Hindus that all fit the Western-sponsored image of “the terrorist” – how long did you disregard that these are people worthy of empathy, worthy of a second glance?
Because your history books won’t tell you the truth. Your teachers did not discuss imperialism, colonialism, strategic depth, geo-political alliances, genocide, the rape and pillage of our lands, the extortion and export of our goods, the shackles placed on our self-determination, the puppet-regimes installed that brutally kept our people down.
When I ask you to tell me what a Middle Eastern refugee looks like, do you picture the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, looking as if he’s taking a nap on the sand?
Do you picture Sharbat Gula, the infamous Afghan face that became National Geographic’s most recognized photo on Earth?
Do you imagine the Tamimi boy, in a chokehold, getting beat up by an Israeli soldier?
Do you picture me?
These are the world’s displaced people. These are the faces of those our government has forgotten, as they meddle in the affairs of our motherlands. These are the people who CNN and Fox News will tell you are “casualties” or “civilians”, or maybe even “insurgents”, or “terrorists”. These people are the others, the ones who you thought for so long you have nothing in common with. Those who are lesser than you, different than you, who’ve been shaped largely by the ideologies of those few maniacs who oppress them, and so, how could you empathize with them?
It’s taken the lifeless body of a two-year old to slap reality into your life. Innocence, gone. Forget ISIS, forget al-Nusra, forget Assad, forget the FSA. This is Aylan.
He came into this world, brought joy to his parents, and left. He looks so much like my nephew, the same chubby legs, the way he’s curled up in the sand.
We are all deserving of empathy. Do not let the system tell you otherwise. Do not allow the labels to create spaces between you and your brother. We all bleed the same red. And we all cry the same tears.
“You know, a lot of the time our faces are painted on television the way, you know, the media want to represent us. In this case, we wanted to show our faces ourselves and have that power within our hands. And I put that power in the hands of the people, and they showed us how powerful they can be. So, that was the meaning of the video.” – The Narcicyst
In the words of a fellow Afghan refugee,
“Dear Western world; You have a history of meddling in the affairs of other nations; of overthrowing their leaders and installing puppet dictators in their stead; of colonizing, raping, pillaging, and usurping the valuable resources beneath their feet while causing their rivers to run red with the flow of their own blood. And now you are acting surprised that those same people are clawing their way to your shores? You’re shocked that they have no where else to go? You’re appalled that they are seeking asylum in your holy, sacred lands? You can’t have it both ways. You are reaping the fruits of what you have sown. Humble yourselves and open your gates. It’s the very least you can do to atone for the innumerable sins carried out by you and your blood thirsty ancestry.”