Aylan Kurdi: A political murder masked as a drowning

Ather Zia (2015)

First Published here at Daily Vox: http://www.thedailyvox.co.za/aylan-kurdi-a-political-murder-masked-as-a-drowning/

Since yesterday, my social media newsfeed has been replete with images of the tiny lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who washed ashore on a Turkish beach.
After being refused asylum by the Canadian government, Aylan’s family was headed to the tiny Greek island of Kos with other refugees when the boat capsized. Aylan drowned, along with his mother and his five-year-old brother.

On one hand, Aylan’s picture has brought many disparate but well-meaning voices together to rally support for Syrian refugees. Whether it will yield fruit remains to be seen. On the other hand, many people are enraged about the social media proliferation of Aylan’s image. One voice opined, “Would you share the picture of a dead body of your own child?”, another one roared in caps lock, “Show some sensitivity.” Yet another descended into a longwinded, oft-repeated spiel about violent images in popular culture and our mass desensitisation, reminiscent of syllabi for a media 101 class.
I agree that all is fair in the arena of personal opinions and that images can do violence to the dead and the living. I also acknowledge being a mother, which makes me as vulnerable as any parent when thinking about a child suffering. Aylan’s picture could be my boy when he was a toddler – sleeping on his tummy or dead at an idyllic beach. If my boy were to drown due to personal negligence or some other quirk of nature, I would not post his picture since my grief would be private.
On the other hand, if my child were to drown while seeking asylum and denied safe haven everywhere, I would choose to show his predicament. Especially in the face of powers that want these depictions suppressed to thwart support for refugees and ending wars. Aylan’s picture is not a saga of personal privations. His death is a political murder, which has been masked as drowning, and his quest for safety has been branded as migration. The words “illegal” and “illegitimate” have been prefixed to his status, and those of his countrymen. In that context, Aylan’s last image on earth is an icon of global apathy; the effect on our finer sensitivities and questions about the ethics of using these images should be of the least concern at this moment. ________________________________________________________________________________

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About AtherZia

Ather Zia is a political anthropologist working on militarization, gender and Kashmir. Currently she is a faculty at the Anthropology and Gender studies program at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. She is also a poet, writes short fiction and is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit at www.kashmirlit.org.

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