Originally published on Huffington Post
For the past few days, liberal activists have been busy on the social media sharing the picture of a Syrian Kurdish child, dead on the shores of a Turkish beach, owing to the refugee boat carrying his family to Europe capsizing in the seas. Liberals lament the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and urge for Western governments to be more welcoming of refugees, using this image as an emotional rallying point. Indeed, the image of the lifeless 3 year old Aylan Kurdi is soul-crushing.
But I refuse to share it.
Aylan Kurdi and his family hail from Kobane, the town in Northern Syria where the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been putting up a fierce and principled resistance to the ISIS gang. YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is struggling for autonomy and a democratic confederalist model in the Kurdish regions in Turkey. While these Kurdish organizations have been consistent in their opposition to ethnic fascism and religious fundamentalism, the Turkish state has been consistent in its efforts to hurt them militarily and politically.
Even as the Turkish President Erdogan mourns
the death of Aylan Kurdi, the Turkish police continue to kill children
as young as the 13 year old Cemile Cagirga in counterinsurgency operations. The offices of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have been attacked and their cadres arbitrarily arrested by the police. Erdogan’s assertion
that they are more concerned about the PKK than the ISIS is quite revealing of Turkey’s priorities.
Turkey, a NATO ally, is encouraged by the fact that the PKK is still a banned organization in several Western countries and that the US has remained mum over its continued assaults on Kurdish forces, democratic organizations and armed revolutionaries alike. Victory of PKK and their affiliates will alter the entire region of the middle-east. Not only will it halt the march of Islamist fundamentalism, it will also place a check to political and economic systems that engineer conflicts that generates refugees. In other words, a Kurdish victory would mean no more Aylan Kurdis.
But while it is anathema for liberals to support such a radical organization, images of dead Kurdish children find many takers. What is to be mercilessly questioned now is not just the xenophobia of right-wingers in Europe, but also this depoliticized humanitarianism that loves victims and ignores revolutionaries.
A similar thing happened in the case of the Eelam Tamils and the genocide in Sri Lanka. Western liberals, at their best, were ignorant of the resistance of the Tamil Tigers, the leading representatives of the Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle. At their worst, they condemned without heed to context the ‘excesses’ of a popular movement that sought to create an egalitarian, secular, gender-just state because it did not adhere to their human rights standards. Of course, these liberals and their allies were on the forefront marketing gory images and humanitarian sad stories of Tamil victims who were brutalized by the Sri Lankan state – after subtracting core political questions.
But then, it is easier to garner cheap sympathy – and costly funding – with pictures of broken bodies; conveying solidarity with militants fighting for radical change requires a different mindset than what the dominant liberalism offers. At the risk of sounding cold, we must resist the temptation to be charmed by the outpouring of sympathy for images suffering refugees, and also to market such images to feed into the political economy of white guilt. As a lead character in Dostoevsky’s The Devils observed, there is something morally depraving about charity. What is even more depraving is this charitable human rights sentiment shamelessly catering to its own narcissistic guilt by weeping over images of dead refugees while conveniently ignoring those fighting to end the system that creates dead refugees.
Or to put it simply: If you cannot support the Kurds fighting to end the brutalities of racism, fundamentalism and genocide, fighting to create a system based on social and economic justice, do not bother to shed tears over Aylan Kurdi.