(c) 2017 by Paul DuginskiUsed only with express written permission
In early September 2015, people around the world were forced to look at a painful image from the massive humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian civil war. The body of a 3-year-old little boy washed up on a beach in Turkey. He was Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy of Kurdish descent, who, with his family, was trying to reach Europe in an overloaded boat that capsized. The family ultimately hoped to reach Canada, where relatives in Vancouver, B.C., were prepared to sponsor them.
A civil war has raged since an uprising against the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, erupted in 2011. Estimates of the death toll are as high as 470,000 people. Some 4.8 million Syrians are refugees and 6.5 million are displaced within the country. Millions more are in need of humanitarian aid, and children especially are at risk for malnourishment and disease.
A startlingly powerful photograph of the refugee-boy-victim with a Turkish gendarme approaching to collect his little body, face-down in the sand, brought what might have been an abstract far-away conflict home and tugged at the emotions of any parent, aunt or uncle, or anyone else who tests positive for a human heart.
Three months earlier, in June 2015, Donald Trump initiated his presidential election campaign, which bubbled over like a witch’s brew of ugly, anti-immigrant hatred and nativism. His campaign would be decidedly lacking in heart, but his rhetoric and scapegoating cast a spell over the nation, including over a lot of voters who knew better, and Trump got elected. He has continued to pursue the ugly talk, including his dream of a Muslim ban, since November.
The majority of the Kurdish people, like little Alan Kurdi, are Sunni Muslim, with a minority being Shia Muslims. But as a people they are considered the most religiously diverse people in West Asia. Having said that, I suspect that Alan Kurdi’s death was little noticed or long remembered by The Donald.
Nor would Trump have gotten emotional over other heartbreaking pictures of little kids pulled from the rubble as civilian targets are pounded by Syrian government forces and their Russian enablers as part of the civil war. The CBS program 60 Minutes about the White Helmets in Syria…
…brought tears to my eyes, but it probably failed to move Donald Trump.
However, when the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 by Syrian government forces produced pictures of children suffering terribly, that finally plucked some emotional cords in Trump. He ordered that Shayrat Air Base near the Syrian city of Homs be struck with Tomahawk cruise missiles on April 6. Fifty-nine of the missiles cratered the target, destroying Syrian Air Force planes, radars, ammunition, fuel and bunkers. The “America First” candidate and president had taken the U.S. military out for a little test drive, and it made him feel pretty good. I can imagine such power being seductive to a personality like Trump’s.
Afterwards, Trump stepped before the cameras and said: “On Tuesday, Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
I agree with the president. No child of God — at any age — should suffer such chemical attacks. But I also feel that no child of God should have suffered what little Alan Kurdi suffered. We shouldn’t only care about children who are attacked with chemical weapons. How about a little human compassion for all the children — the beautiful babies — in the world who are starving or are displaced persons. That could also mean Central American children fleeing murderous gangs or children starving in famine-afflicted parts of Africa or kids caught up in human trafficking.
Taking away the stony heart from Trump and giving him a heart of flesh would involve belaying all the mean-spirited talk about cuts to foreign aid, a Muslim ban and the border wall — all of which are central to his presidency. So I don’t hold out much hope, although miracles do happen.