08 Sep The Death of a Syrian Boy, the Death of God
By: Justin Joseph Torres
His name is Aylan Kurdi. At the age of three, he witnessed the atrocities of war between the Islamic State and Syrian forces. His family was forced to leave Syria and desperately seek asylum in Europe.
European countries, however, are not exactly welcoming. Many refugees are arrested, tortured and even killed by white men. Men who are supposedly civilized. Men who should know better having experienced Nazi and the two world wars.
Aylan was found lifeless on a Turkish beach. The boat he and his family was travelling in capsized, and among the dead were his brother and mother. His father survived. You’ll expect governments of the first world to come rushing to condemn the fate of Aylan. Except for a few, most government leaders hurried to defend their country’s policies on immigration. One country even categorically rejected the appeal of Aylan’s father for sanctuary.
Sadly, Aylan’s death and the suffering of Syrian people are not a hot topic in Philippine news. While the world was enraged by the image of this boy’s death, many Filipinos are busy tweeting ALDUB (who by the way, reached five million last Saturday!).If you check the major news websites, there was little mention of Aylan and the war in Syria. I’ve seen a few in my Facebook newsfeeds, but not as many as the entertainment news for that day.
I can only hope that you’ll read this piece and I can get you to focus on the boy and the sufferings of his people. I cannot force you to like it or to be inspired by it, but I encourage you to read on. For his sufferings are our sufferings too. As a nation, we Filipinos have plenty of diversions and distractions, but if we seriously reflect, we’ll realize that the suffering of the Syrian people reflect our own sufferings. We, too, are a people who leave our homeland in search for a better life. Thus, we cannot remain uninvolved.
I invite you to open your eyes and your minds. But let’s begin by focusing our attention to our own taste of this tragedy called migration.
- Filipinos and migration
They say that the top export of the Philippines is manpower. Yes, manpower, in other words, human beings. While other countries specialize in exporting goods, products and technologies, the Philippines export people.
This export of men (and women) by our own country is so huge that the earnings that our country gets from them account to 8% of our gross domestic product (GDP). If you look at the numbers, they appear to be quite normal and within the bounds of the acceptable. But we are talking about human beings here who had to leave their families so they can work abroad. Mothers and father leaving their children to grandparents or other relatives just to give their children a good life. This is your 8% GDP. It is a fruit of people’s sacrifices, of not seeing children grow up, of virtual families who huddle only in Skype or FaceTime, of people having to endure homesickness and depression just to give their families a good life and the nation a source for its wealth.
This migration may not be the same as the cause of migration of Aylan and his family. Filipinos are not refugees and are not forced out and become stateless. But like Aylan, Filipino migrants are necessitated by situations outside the control of individuals to leave their homeland. And like Syrian migrants, the conditions in the destination countries of Filipinos are not necessarily heavenly.
Who would forget Mary Jane Veloso who almost got executed because of alleged drug trading? Who doesn’t know about domestic helpers tortured, harassed, raped or maltreated by their employers? How many Filipino medical professionals have risked their lives in situations of conflict or even epidemic in the countries that they work in? Ask any OFW and they will tell you that given the choice, they would stay home. But the choice, as we know, was never available.
The most difficult suffering a migrant endures comes from his/her own family. How many families have enjoyed lavish lifestyles while an OFW suffers abroad? How many husbands, parents, children or extended family members have been demanding of assistance from OFWs without being sensitive of what they are going through? How many husbands or wives have become unfaithful while their partners are away? How many children have wasted their lives while their mothers or fathers are working hard for their education?
This is the plight of our migrants. They may not be refugees like Aylan and other Syrian migrants, but their plight is common to anybody who is forced by the situation to leave their homeland. There is something terribly wrong if we think that necessitated migration is normal and acceptable. We call our OFWs “bagong bayani” without realizing that we, the ones left home, are the reason for their heroism. What we don’t realize is that oftentimes, we are the inflictors of their sufferings. We facilitate their torture.
The analogy between Aylan and our OFWs may not be immediately comprehensible, but the fact remains: migration breaks families, ruptures relationships and inflicts pain on individuals who leave their homeland and the people left behind. In search of a greener pasture, migrants go through hell. While many do achieve their dreams, there are plenty who end up suffering even more and end up, just like Aylan, washed ashore lifeless and hopeless.
Therefore, the image of Aylan is an image that is very close to us, Filipinos. He is a picture of failed attempts to achieve a very pristine dream disrupted by social conditions beyond an individual’s control.
- Unbridled capitalism: Murderer of Dreams and Individual Hopes
Migration, per se, is not neither good nor bad. If, by migration, we mean transferring from one’s domicile to another, we can even say that every person has a right to migrate. All things being equal, each person has feet to move, therefore, he should be able to settle wherever he likes. Just as birds can fly from north to south in winter, technically, man should also be free to travel and emigrate.
Yet man created laws to complicate and negate what nature has provided. Arbitrary borders are set to divide nations against each other. Sovereignty and citizenship laws were invented to restrict people to simply move as they like. The basic law, therefore, was supplanted by human invention.
Economics is commonly used to justify the implementation of basic migration laws. On the one hand, migration should improve the economy as there will be more people to contribute to a nation’s growth. On the other hand, more people would mean more mouths competing for food. Resources become scarce. An increase in supply of workers in the labor market exerts a downward pressure on minimum wage, therefore leaving more people either underemployed or unemployed.
I remember a conversation I’ve had with someone from the UK many years ago. He said that opening the Eurozone did more harm than good to the British. When the Eurozone was opened, many from Eastern Europe flocked to the West in search of jobs. The Easterners were willing to work at a lower rate than the minimum wage of the locals. This resulted to many British laid off from work or forced to work at a lower rate. Low wage was not an issue with Eastern Europeans as they end up sending the money home anyway. The locals had to cope with high standards of living which means a lower wage would essentially mean poverty for them.
Social benefits are also an issue. Many countries who have strict migration laws are those with very efficient social benefits system. These countries offer healthcare, retirement benefits, superannuation and free education. The effectiveness of a country’s social security has become the gauge effectiveness of governments. Accepting more migrants, therefore would mean locals should sacrifice and get a smaller share of the pie. Therefore, the quality of social benefits will go down. Therefore, supporting migration would be political suicide for many incumbent governments.
It’s hard to argue with the above points as they are what normative economics tells us. They are a set of rules which the modern society follows. Yet, no matter how scientific, economics still lacks the fundamental principle while all these laws exist. These laws exist for and because of the human person.
Economics treats a human person as considered a commodity, an inflator or deflator of consumption. It treats human persons as it treats products sold in the market. It is the same economics that says it is better to dump fruits and vegetables so the prices won’t go down than to give them away to the poor. It is the same economics that tell us that the supply of oil can be controlled by war and cartel to ensure oil companies remain profitable. It is the same economics that tells us that it is okay to abort babies rather than risk an economic downturn in the future.
Following the rules of economics by the book leads to unbridled capitalism. It has no ethics, no conscience and no regard of future consequences. Its focus is the causal relationship between input and profit. It tells us that man-made rules and sciences are greater than the human person. It tells us that yes, we are part of the greater scheme of things, but the scheme of things is limited to materialism and consumerism. Unbridled capitalism kills. It kills morals and shuts down one’s conscience.
It is unbridled capitalism that killed Aylan.
- ‘God is Dead’
The image or Aylan is a poignant reminder of a fundamental natural law: the dignity of human persons.
The Bible tells us that our dignity is not equal to our usefulness in society. As a matter of fact, our dignity precedes our existence. We have dignity before we are useful.
Genesis 1:26 tells us that in creating man, God reflected: “Let us create them in our image and likeness”. Before we were created, God already has planned our dignity. Our dignity was present before we were created. And where does this dignity come from? It comes from the fact that we have the image and likeness of God! We have the face of God.
Yes, the face of God. No matter how ugly, corrupt, abominable or detestable a person is, he/she has the face of God. Our being in the image and likeness of God determines our human dignity.
Many people have tried to remove God from the horizon. That is why secular societies are most likely atheistic societies; they have completely taken God out of the picture. They believe they are able to supplant God with humanism. What they don’t realize is that many philosophers and thinkers have failed to construct a cohesive humanism where ethics are not dependent on sublime realities and ideas. Atheists may argue against the existence of God but they can’t argue the fact that without God, there can be no ethics.
This didn’t come from me. This is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky wrote in The Grand Inquisitor: “If God didn’t exist, everything will be permissible.” In a Godless society, it is permissible to let a three-year old kid to drown than to risk a surge of migrants in one’s country. It is permissible to turn our backs on the suffering of people, especially if they have a different color than ours or if they have a different agenda from our own. Without God, there is no face of God, and human dignity is merely an illusion. And isn’t this what unbridled capitalism is teaching us? To see people as faceless commodity?
The death of God is a concept introduced by Friedrich Nietzsche. In one of his narratives, he tells the story of a madman who went to market place to proclaim that God is Dead. “Where is God? We have killed him; we are all his murderers.” The death of God symbolizes the way God has been removed by modern society in its consciousness whether deliberately or unwittingly.
It is not by coincidence that Aylan has the face of God. The metaphor is astounding! He died and get washed away to the shore just as God is killed and wiped away in Nietzsche’s madman narrative. Could Aylan be God’s instrument so we can see how capitalism’s atrocities can have a face? Could God be telling us that we cannot murder him without murdering our fellow men?
Aylan is the face of God whom society has killed out of greed and selfishness. Modern society thought it can do anything after it has wiped God away from its horizon. And yet here is a boy’s lifeless body hounding society and tormenting its conscience.
You cannot kill God without killing the face of God in people. A painful lesson a death of a young boy is teaching our modern civilization.
Whenever we consider people as a means to achieve our own goals, we crush their innate human dignity and we kill God. Whenever we see human beings as merely a number in a statistical data, we disrespect their God-given identity. Whenever we shut our eyes and simply accept human suffering as part of everyday life, we commit a murder of God’s image in our moral system.
We can either be propagators or enemies of this culture, a culture of death. We should take a stand and defend the least, the last and the lost of our society. While it may be difficult for us to be involved in the events in Syria and the plight of its refugees, we need to reflect on what is happening in our world and how the world of materialism has influenced us.
Just as capitalism can be unbridled, so do our greed and selfishness. We are the reflection of the world we live in. Are we part of the system that murders God?
Aylan is the long-lost face of God that the world has stopped searching for. While his death is heartbreaking and the images painful to behold, the consolation is in the fact that he did not die in vain. He stirred our consciousness and raised awareness to ask, “What have we become?”
And yes, while we can choose to be God’s murderers in society, we know that God lives. And the challenge is not to kill him in our hearts and to ensure that we know he lives in the face of other people.
Thank you Aylan for showing humanity how sick we have become. May your image be a source of inspiration for many to work for the betterment of the lives of people, especially the poor and the suffering.
You may not have reached your destination of safe haven, but you are definitely home now to your well-deserved heaven. May your life, suffering and death not be in vain.