Only a person with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the image of three-year old Aylan Kurdi whose lifeless, doll-like body was recumbent at the water’s edge. His tender age and diminutive frame were later emphasised by the bulk of the uniformed official who cradled his body away from the shoreline. Taken so young from a situation he could not have understood, he drowned along with his mother, Rehan, and older brother, Gilip. Hitherto obscure, short-lived little Aylan had more impact in death than millions ever achieve in a lifetime. His father, who loaded the family onto an overcrowded, unseaworthy craft, survived. Try as I might to understand what is happening in the Levant, this misfortune forces me to ask of myself: if danger threatened those who are dearest to me, what risks would I take to save them? Am I not their protector? If they died but I survived, could I endure life without them?
Aylan was quickly identified and pictures of him with Gilip were acquired. Given the chaotic situation currently in force how were these so readily obtained? Via the plethora of24-hour television news channels and other electronic media, the smiling faces of two child victims of this calamity speedily became public property. The world’s conscience was pricked and the consensus was that action was needed to prevent a repeat. But despite his family fleeing from what was perceived as peril, he, his mother and brother were quickly and easily returned to their war-torn home town of Kobani to be buried. If the situation there is so bad, how was that possible?
More generally, I question the conduct of those we witness turning up in Greece, Macedonia and besieging Budapest’s railway station. They demand to be allowed to cross borders without restriction or formality; they demand to be treated with respect. They protest, scream and cry at not getting what they want and frequently indulge in what amounts to little more than itinerant mob rule. If I was fleeing war, famine or persecution I would arrive in a country hopeful of help and grateful for any that was afforded me. What I see is a puzzling sense of entitlement from people who have no connection to any of the countries whose territory they overwhelm. From where do they derive this attitude? How do they justify it? Will they be grateful for what is done for them? Much of this audacity stems from the sheer numbers who travel together and, probably, an awareness of how resistance to, or containment of, their plight will play in the bleeding heart West – and so it has proved. But none is wearing rags, no skeletal forms peer back with haunting eyes, indeed most look healthy and in good physical shape. The men are clean shaven, smart casual is the order of the day, money is available, many have mobile phones and cigarettes are in evidence.
Large-scale and constantly developing situations such as this are gold for news organisations which are no longer content with simply reporting the news; they seek to make it. Given their instant availability through multiple devices and with audiences hungry to living vicariously through them, they also try to set the agenda and steer policy. With their abrasive attitude towards those who have the thankless task of dealing with these situations and the use of emotive language and poignant images, they contrive to stir up public opinion. Reporters roam the crowds seeking out the most telegenic or heart-rending cases to bring to the world’s attention. We are being manipulated like never before. Shouts of ‘something must be done’ go up and, as is so often the case these days, the heart rules the head. This modern, collective impetuosity has replaced grieving in private; gone is the famed stiff upper lip and knee-jerk reaction replaces measured response.
Syria was created after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Consequent to the agreement reached at The San Remo Conference of 1920, France obtained Syria as a League of Nations mandate and ruled it until 1945. Many of Syria’s current problems have their roots in French action during the mandate, especially their favourable treatment of the Alawite minority who practise a controversial offshoot of Shia Islam. To them were given positions of power and prestige despite numbering only 12% of the population. Perhaps no surprise, then, that the Assad family are Alawites nor that such long-borne resentments and rivalry are destructively and bloodily playing out in that country. However, today’s France is strangely quiet about voicing any responsibility toward its former colonial possession, content, it seems, to let its neighbour and former mortal enemy bear the burden. Thus, having heard the call, the dispossessed stream toward Germany to be with Mother Merkel.
With our long and proud record of giving sanctuary to the oppressed and unfortunate, I resent any implication that this country is not pulling its weight, especially from Germany whose new-found humanity borders on the sanctimonious. If the UK is to take more Syrian refugees, we should insist that they are from the Christians within those refugee camps. Criticism and calls for action should more properly be directed at cash rich but courage poor Middle Eastern countries whose torpid approach to the plight of their fellow Muslims is bewildering and deplorable.
The fear is that any progress on Britain’s EU renegotiation will stall if we are not deemed to be doing our bit. Yet again our ability to act in a sovereign manner is overshadowed by the EU behemoth, from which we must now free ourselves.