Friday, September 4, 2015

Dear Aylan, I Have Failed You




Dear Aylan,


I know what I write here does you no good. You are gone from this world that failed you.


I write to you for selfish reasons. I write because I saw you washed up, alone, on a distant beach in Turkey. Seeing you has made me reflect about what humanity has done to you.


Many saw you. Like me many cried for you. We felt our hearts grow heavy and sink as we thought of you scared, confused and in pain as the sea took you. 


Yet we also felt shame. Shame for ourselves, shame for our species, shame that we are not decent people as we suppose ourselves to be. 


Some of us will be moved to action. Most will be moved to strong words online. 


I wish I could tell you that your death will move the hearts of the world. I wish I could say that the politicians in Europe and at the UN will at last agree to actually lead and do the right thing. I wish that I could say that all the racists and demagogues who demonized you, your family and those desperately seeking a new home will fall silent and that the borders and arms of the men who guard them will open. 


I wish to tell you this and perhaps one day I will. Yet fear is strong in this world you walked in for three years. These days, it seems to be all that drives us.


Fear dominates too many grownups, especially those with the most peace and wealth to share. We who have so much are terrified of losing even a tiny portion of what we have. We have so much to spare but we are selfish, petty and protectionist.


When we see those in need pounding on our doors we spend money we could have used to feed you on walls to keep you out. Never mind that the walls are more expensive.


Instead of making sure you and your family could have joined your aunty in Canada, we denied you. 


Why? Because we don’t want to lose anything we have, especially to people who don’t look like us, speak like us, and share the same faith as us. We didn’t want to feed you, clothe you, and unlock the doors of our schools to you because of who your parents were and because of where you were born.


We know better than to lump you with those terrible men in black who drove your family and four million others to flee for their lives, but we still label you and all your people as terrorists because it made it easier for us to push you away.


For this, I am truly sorry. You didn’t deserve to be rejected. You didn’t deserve to live all your three years on the run, in camps. Your hometown, Kobani, didn’t deserve to be pounded into dust by ISIS shells and American jets. Your nation didn’t deserve a president who mowed down ordinary people when they demanded their rights. 11 million of your fellow Syrians didn’t deserve to become homeless when the soldiers and the rebels fought each other for their country’s future, never stopping to realize that they were extinguishing an entire generation in the process.


We shed tears for you now Aylan, but we had none when your country collapsed into brutality. Our eyes were completely dry as we watched the camps in Turkey and Lebanon swell year after year. And not nearly enough of us shared photos of people like you stranded at sea when they tried to escape.


This hits me especially hard Aylan. It hits me because I was a guest in Syria. I saw your homeland when it was still beautiful. I walked among the ancient sites of Damascus, Hama and Kerak. I ate shawarma in the Old City and sipped pomegranate juice. I took a bath and got a massage in a Hamam and I talked with your people about your world and what you wanted from it. I saw children like you playing without fear in the streets.


Oh, Aylan how I wish you could have seen this beautiful Syria. All you knew of your homeland in three years of life was ruins.


It was a glorious sight Aylan, with glorious generous, hospitable people. The fact that my countrymen and those who share my privileged Western, first world life could not show you, a baby, the same hospitality and the same openness is a stain on us.


I pray that we become better people and that we cease to be ruled by fear. I hope that your memory rises from the depths and finally pushes us to welcome those who come after you with warm embraces.


If we do not than we, as people, as human beings, are lost and we never deserved to share this world with you in the first place.

Much Love,





1 comment:

  1. i just wrote this really thoughtful comment and then it disappeared.

    basically, what i said was this:

    today, i spent 4 or so hours with a family from afghanistan. we put together some bed frames, ran to the hardware store, had lunch and tea. it was profound because of how incredibly ordinary it was.

    sometimes I think we're all just children with our fingers stuck in our ears, singing "la la la! i can't HEAR you!" because that's easier than facing our fears- what if we can't talk to or understand each other? why do muslim women wear headscarves- they're so OPPRESSED! what if they're secretly radical fundamentalists?- and finding out that our fears are bullshit, because our muslim friends and neighbors love their children, enjoy eating dinner together, have kids who sass their parents and jump on the bed and watch sesame street just like our own kids do.

    i do sincerely hope that this heartbreaking story spurs people past pity and sadness to real action. i want a UNHCR icebucket challenge (or something that doesn't waste water!). i want people to get out their checkbooks. to meet their neighbors, befriend the foreigners in their town, share a meal or a cup of tea with those "terribly oppressed" muslim ladies and their "horribly chauvinistic" husbands. and then i want them to share what they have- time, resources, money, love and concern, and in so doing find out that really, we're far more similar than we think.

    one of my favorite quotes that i've carried with me for the last 10 years since hearing it from a fiery indian brother, fiercely committed to bringing about social justice in his community and country: our mission is to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed. were you in denver, i'd buy you a beer. i do so very much appreciate your company on this mission. thanks for your words here.