Recently there was a photograph published of the body of a Syrian toddler who drowned as his family attempted to migrate to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. This photograph has, in the words of many media outlets, crystalized in Western minds the depth of despair experienced by the population in Syria and Iraq as hundreds of thousands flee war and devastation.
No doubt it is a big immediate problem for Europe because on the level of humanity, it is a crisis of epic proportion concerning basic survival. It is, on the other hand, difficult balance emotional and intellectual sides of the issue regarding whether these people are, for lack of a better term, landing in the right place. They have to go somewhere, but is Europe the right place?
I suppose that being reserved is probably surprising to those who are familiar with my blog. But I am no ideologue and I have to admit that my charitable nature extends to people who have at least something in common with me besides humanity itself, at least in this case.
Someone posted a video of the Hungarian military delivering aid to refugees waiting to board trains to Austria and Germany. The men, waving off the assistance, were in front of women and children huddled behind them, and as the troops set flats of bottles filled with water down in front of them, the men threw the flats onto the tracks along with food that was also offered. A few children, mostly little girls, made their way to the front to accept the provisions, and the men snatched it out of their hands throwing it also on to the tacks.
A year ago, I made a post about the last Israeli military action in Gaza. In it, I came to the conclusion that the culture in the region is one I simply do not understand, mainly from the discovery of heavy weaponry stored in schools. How could anyone, any culture have rotted so completely as care more about their grudges and nursing their hatred than nursing its kids? No matter the situation, that is simply inexplicable and incomprehensible.
I don’t intend to paint everyone in the region with an extremely large brush. But a few hours watching leaked footage of the carnage and death associated with the Syrian civil war makes me wonder how any human being can do those kinds of things to another (even to children), things that are way beyond description, and labeling it pure evil doesn’t even begin to convey the magnitude of depravity. The closest comparison I’ve seen are photographs from the Great War, though not even those rise to the same level. It is truly shocking and mortifying.
These refugees are victims of an utterly broken society and culture, a culture they are nonetheless a part of as a matter of identity. Are they ready to leave that behind? Can they leave that behind as they migrate to a much more tolerant and socially liberal Europe? Do they value life and humanity in general, starting with their kids? Or will they simply carry the social norms and politics from the region to their destination? We don’t let our kids suffer lack of basic needs because of pride, and at least I don’t view it as the best advertisement of compatibility. There are going to be social problems to deal with from this migration that are likely to last for a decade or more.
Another article, in Reuters from yesterday, talks about the international political situation the crisis has created, mentioning that the US has been criticized for not taking in a larger share of refugees. The Obama Administration has responded with what seems to be to a rather brutally honest statement that we’d like take more, but need to be sure that members of ISIS or Al Qaeda don’t get in. And of course who would want the political liability of something that might happen if they did get in.
From the humanitarian angle, I am not blind. These people need to have been supported where they were. But we dropped bombs instead. The half-heartedness in dealing with the ISIS situation is a large part of the cause. We broke Iraq and then abandoned it before it was cohesive and could defend itself, creating the atmosphere for an emboldened ISIS that the administration tried to ignore as it went on a murderous rampage through the region, raping and pillaging as it went.
The larger political picture in the region is much more complicated and almost nobody has clean hands. Saudi Arabia has a problem with Iran’s “meddling” in the affairs of others. Iran had Lebanon puppetized via proxy militias, aided by Al Assad. An accounting of which rebel groups in Syria received Saudi aid has yet to be made public, but I suspect that waiting for one would result in disappointment, though ISIS started in the Del a Zoire area and has a sort of Saudi flavor to it. I am speculating here, but maybe they had something to do with filling the power vacuum in Iraq in competition with Iran for influence, as Iran has done in Lebanon.
I’ve written previously about Turkey’s involvement with ISIS that was verified after a US commando raid on the home of a member of ISIS leadership involved with trade and finance seized computers and flash drives loaded with incriminating information about dealings with Turkey. And the president of Turkey was rather annoyed that Syrian Kurds took back their home towns and border crossings from ISIS, as if having ISIS as a neighbor is better than Kurds. Really? After declaring that Assad is the problem in Syria, why would he be supplying ISIS that almost never went toe to toe with Syrian government forces, taking the majority of territory it controls in Syria from exhausted rebels who did or from defenseless Kurds?
These things I obviously don’t blame the Obama Administration for. But on the other hand, the situation smacks of yet more diplomatic and foreign policy failures regarding the few Doctor Frankensteins in the region who should be taking the responsibility for their ISIS creation. The majority of the refugees entering Europe are Syrian and Iraqi and are coming from Turkey. The toddler who washed up on the beach had been living in Turkey for a year. What is it about Turkey that inspires these people to risk death to get to Europe where the culture is completely foreign? Perhaps some time in the near future we might find out. But I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath. The administration is tight-lipped about the details of its policy failures, and Reuters simply hasn’t published any information about it.
PS: By the time I finished this post, the video of the failed distribution of humanitarian assistance had been taken down. Thus, no link is available. By accident or by muzzle, it’s hard to say.
[Update] Apparently refusal of assistance is not as uncommon as I assumed. I found a similar occurrence here.
And here is a general report: