Syrian refugee crisis: This is about humanity, not religion- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

My latest in ABC’s The Drum on the death of little Aylan Kurdi and government’s reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis. I haven’t reprinted the image- I think everyone has seen it already. Also here a great discussion on the debate around the publication of the distressing images.

To donate check out Bina Shah’s excellent blog and her latest post- In memory of Aylan Kurdi where she has links to organisations you can support.

Syrian boys, whose family fled their home in Idlib, walk to their tent, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. Picture: Flickr/ Freedom House

Syrian boys, whose family fled their home in Idlib, walk to their tent, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. Picture: Flickr/ Freedom House

The fact that the Government would pause in light of such a visceral tragedy to suggest that Australia should prioritise Christian refugees from Syria speaks volumes, writes Sarah Malik.

It was the picture that shocked the world.

A little boy lies face down on the beach. His still, lifeless body caressed gently by waves. His sandals are still strapped to his little feet. In his neat red shirt and little blue shorts, he could be sleeping or resting.

A Turkish police officer stands to one side, his shoulders hunched as if in prayer.

The discovery of Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach last week cut a searing image in the conscience of the world. It tore through the ballast of politics, rhetoric and racialisation that continues to obscure one of the great humanitarian crises of modern times.

The little boy who perished along with his brother Galip and mother Rihan, one of 12 Syrian asylum seekers trying to reach Greece when their boat sank, represents the many thousands seeking safety and asylum as their country is torn apart by war and conflict.

The picture of the doll-like three-year-old on the beach has galvanised public opinion around the world, forcing even the Australian Government to outline its commitment to Syrian refugees. But the racialisation continues, with Barnaby Joyce calling for Syrian Christians to be prioritised in any asylum intake, a motion that has been echoed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Australia was recently criticised in the New York Times for a military response to asylum seekers which is shrouded in secrecy. This has been combined with bizarre border security campaigns including thefarcical ‘Operation Fortitude’, a proposal quickly scuttled after widespread ridicule.

The campaign purporting to subject Melbourne residents to random visa checks underscores a Government that will take advantage of any opportunity to represent itself as the strongman protecting us from the ‘illegal’ hordes threatening to destabilise Australia.

The fact that the Government would pause in light of such a visceral tragedy, blasted into public consciousness in such horrific fashion, to make a subtle distinction on the kinds of Syrian asylum seekers it would be willing to consider is callous.

It speaks to the depths it will go to in order to stoke fears of the brown Muslim hordes threatening our pristine white borders.

It doesn’t take much to read between the lines of random visa checks and the prioritisation of Christians. People like us only, please.

The image of Aylan underscores the vulnerability of those fleeing, their powerlessness in the face of a political and military machinery that punishes and paints them as threats. It is a powerful image that threatens the curtain of abstraction, silence and othering that has come to characterise the rhetoric around refugees.

This otherising of refugees, the destruction of their humanity, allows travesties such as our detention regime, regularly exposed as rife with reports of sexual assault, violence, suicide and depression to continue with impunity.

When it becomes a crime for employees to talk publicly about what happens in detention centres with the passing of the Border Force Act, when refugees live in fear of speaking to journalists, with access a constant issue, the result is an abstraction. It is an easy to demonise an abstraction.

Aylan’s picture has blazed onto the soul of the nation the reality of the human. This child’s death must inspire us to look beyond categories of race and religion and towards a common humanity.

The most powerful threat to an abstraction is the power of the singular. A child just like yours, with blue shorts and sandals.

As Persian poet Rumi said:

Not a Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen, Not any religion… first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human being.

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/thedrum). Read the original article here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-07/malik-syrian-refugees/6755696).

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