In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?
Something about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.
Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.
What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.