Pictures of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body have stunned the world. The toddler washed up on the shores of Turkey after his family’s unsuccessful attempt to migrate to Greece from their war-torn country. Aylan’s mother and older brother also perished during the journey, only his grieving father remains. While Europe struggles to cope with unrelenting waves of refugees seeking asylum on the continent, little Aylan’s body painfully highlights just what’s at stake.
However, he isn’t the first.
More than 2600 people have died at sea trying to make it to Greece and Italy this year. Just a week ago, approximately 150 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Days before that, 71 people, including several children, were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Austria attempting to making the dangerous journey to freedom. And this week, officials in Hungary barred scores of refugees from boarding a train to Germany despite Germany’s willingness to take them in.
Each of these incidents have produced gruesome, heartbreaking images, but its little Aylan’s lifeless body that has engendered international outrage and calls on Europe to do something to end the migrants’ misery.
But why does it take horrific images for people to begin care about others’ plight?
And how long does their concern for others even last?
Some argue that we’ve got to see exactly what’s happening so people will be shocked into action, but I’m not so sure anymore. After all, we saw Trayvon Martin lying facedown in the grass after George Zimmerman killed him, and we watched as Michael Brown’s body baked in the August heat for over four hours. We saw 12-year-old Tamir Rice being gunned down by Cleveland police, Walter Scott shot in the back while he was running away, and Sam Dubose shot in the head. We saw a Texas cop manhandle a 14-year-old girl in a bikini, and Sandra Bland being arrested for refusing to put out a cigarette. We’ve seen Nigerian victims of Boko Haram, Syrian children gassed by their president, and Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli bombs.
White bodes afforded dignity in death denied to black & brown bodies in both life & death. Honour Aylan Kurdi w these pic.twitter.com/we2MW96nHp
— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) September 3, 2015
We’ve seen it all, and yet we continue to go about our days as if nothing happened.
Why is it so difficult for us to see the humanity of others unless they are suffering?
Whenever a horrific image comes across my radar I feel conflicted. While sharing it may raise awareness about a particular issue, I also think about the families and friends of the victims who have to constantly see their dead or maimed loved one flashed across TV screens, computer monitors, and smartphones.
Seeing people in suffer and feeling bad about it one thing, acting to prevent their suffering is something else, something better. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. These days, we see something troubling, we condemn it, then we move on. Sadly, this does little to help those most at risk.