I'm not sure if we've been friends for a long time or only met recently. I'm not sure if we grew up together or met at a coffee shop here in DC. Honestly, the only thing that I know about you is that yesterday you reported me to Facebook for posting a photo of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old child who washed up on a Turkish beach earlier this week.
(Sidenote: I've included a less offensive photo of what a 3-year-old should be doing on a beach. Does this work for you? Believe me, I wish the photo I posted didn't exist. I wish this was a photo of Aylan.)
Together with his mother and brother, Aylan died in the desperate attempt to reach Europe by boat. The photo I posted depicted a police officer looking down at Aylan's tiny body, dressed carefully for his dangerous journey, face down in the water along the beach. It's a photo that is making its way around the world, portraying the desperate, horrifying plight of Syrian refugees.
Within a few minutes of posting this photo to Facebook, comments were streaming in.
"This breaks my heart."
"Terrible. Truly awful."
"So, so sad. Especially as I look at my 3-year-old sitting here safely without a care in the world."
Then, suddenly, another notification came across my phone screen: Facebook informed me that someone had reported my photo as inappropriate.
I quietly set my phone down beside me, heart racing, instantly feeling anger coursing through my body.
I've traveled to Syria's borders with Lebanon and Turkey during the conflict, sat in border hospitals with children who were shot by snipers, cried unstoppable tears with a refugee mother who had just buried her 5-year-old son in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley after they couldn't afford the medical care that would have saved his life.
This conflict, that has torn apart the lives of so many, has torn my heart in two. I share stories and photos of the crisis because I think awareness is crucial. It's the first step to action. And when someone tries to stop me in that process, I feel a strong emotion, which may be described as something akin to wrath.
Feeling what I perceived to be a righteous anger, I whipped out my phone and wrote this:
To the person on my Facebook who just reported my post on a refugee child as inappropriate (leading to its imminent deletion): please do yourself a favor and un-friend me now. Even better, take your soulless self to Syria and get a grip on the heartbreaking reality facing millions of people.
Okay. It's not exactly the kind of thing I would normally write. I'm not sure if you saw it or not... But if you did, you probably felt offended. And, since I not-so-courteously asked you to un-friend me, I'm not sure that further addressing you on Facebook would be helpful.
But I realized that if given the chance, I would facilitate a different kind of interaction with you. Rather than condemn you for attempting to block my awareness efforts, I would have engaged you. I would have asked you, "Why do you feel like this image shouldn't be shared?" And the reality is that you may have some good reasons for your perspective.
I would also add that I think it's clear that we have something in common. We can both agree: this image is disturbing. When I first saw it, I thought I might vomit. The idea of a three-year-old washing up on a beach having drowned with his family makes my stomach churn, my eyes fill with tears, my heart ache. Maybe you felt something similar.
Where we differ is that I feel this image should be seen, should be shared, because it should disturb us.
I hope it shakes us, wakes us, disrupts us in the midst of our comfortable lives and forces us to confront the wrenching tragedy faced by millions of innocent women, men, and children.
And ultimately, I hope that seeing an image like this compels us to take action, perhaps by:
• Making a donation to Doctors Without Borders, a great organization that is currently operating medically-equipped rescue vessels in the region to help save refugees like Aylan at risk for drowning on the dangerous voyage to Europe.
• By signing this petition if you live in the United States, asking the government to commit to resettling more Syrian refugees in the U.S.
• By signing up to host a Syrian family in your home, if you live in Europe, through Refugees Welcome, considered an Airbnb of sorts matching refugees with people that are willing to host them. (If your country isn't yet listed with Refugees Welcome, you can still donate to help finance rent for a family who is hosting.)
• Giving to organizations like Save the Children, World Vision, Open Doors, and Karam Foundation, all at work on the ground in Syria and surrounding countries, providing crucial relief to families who are suffering.
There's no doubt about it: this image is disturbing. It's heartbreaking. It's unthinkable.
And it would be easier not to look. It would be easier to turn away, to hide it, to click "report photo," so you can go on with your day and imagine this isn't happening.
But I'm asking you to consider that this image may be the closest that many people get to this crisis. An image like this grips us, gets our attention, compels us to put ourselves in the shoes of refugees losing their lives and their children. It gets us closer to imagining ourselves, our families, our brothers, our sisters, our children, in the same situation.
As JK Rowling tweeted on Thursday, "If you can't imagine yourself in one of those boats, you have something missing. They are dying for a life worth living."
Facebook didn't delete my photo, which means that this image shared by thousands is still making its way around the world.
May this photo wake us up - all of us - to the horror facing millions and compel us to take action for the Aylans of the world.
I'm not sure if you read my post before reporting it, but here it is.
no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land (Warsan Shire)
Before 3-year-old Aylan washed up on shore in Turkey, dead, along with his mother and brother, this happened:
They fled for their lives from Syria. The UN would not register them. Canada denied their refugee application. Turkey refused to give them exit visas.
How many more 3-year-olds have to wash up on our shores before we wake up to their tragic plight?