Must I see dead babies to imagine a catastrophe?
Posted on 8 September, 2015
Fintan O’Toole’s piece yesterday titled “Must we see dead babies to imagine a catastrophe?” talks about Europe’s reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis and considers if European governments have become so far removed from our war crises that we can no longer sympathise.
Fintan’s piece got me thinking not about the ideals of Europe but about my own responses. Must I see dead babies to imagine a catastrophe? My truthful answer is that sometimes that’s not even enough for me to imagine their horror. Sometime I choose not to and sometimes I simply can’t imagine it.
I see horrific images regularly and the scary fact of it is that it has very little effect. This isn’t something I am looking to boast about. Photos of dying children come through the post when emergency appeals letters arrive from charities and I don’t break down in tears. Any time I watch television the ads seem filled with horrific images of children’s suffering, I feel uneasy but I don’t call to donate each time.
I know that I have built a filter around the images of suffering, be they children or adults alike. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed listening to the news or checking news apps that I simply stop. I cut myself off from it all because I have no idea what to do about it. I seek out nice images, articles about anything other than brutality because frankly I can’t hack it. I don’t have that fire in my belly to join an NGO and work one crisis tent at a time. I know I won’t leave the comforts of my home to go into the next war zone. And so I feel powerless and I deal with that by switching off. I distract, defer or ignore.
If an image is so stark, like that of Aylan Kurdi, then it does have an impact. It is so hard to take in. When I first looked at it I couldn’t grasp it? And when I did, when I realised what I was looking at, a small boy, dead on the beach with water around him my filter came down. But I can only let it in a little. I can only let my mind linger on that thought for a short time. I allow myself to linger longer than the images I filter quickly but not long enough for my imagination to be carried into the true extent of the horrors of war and fleeing your home. I can’t carry the imagination of that families tragedy with me for long so I do something different. I look to ease the discomfort of imagining their lives and I look online . I find 5 things you can do from Ireland to help this refugee crisis and I do two of those. Does that help? I don’t know. Who am I looking to help, them or me? I don’t know.
I haven’t signed the petition to say Ireland should take more refugees. We all know that living in direct provision in Ireland is an embarrassment to the country. The Ombudsman for Children is not allowed to investigate specific cases of children in direct provision despite them requesting the governments permission to do so. HIQA say they have grave concerns over the safety of children in direct provision. It’s not so long ago that a judge in Northern Ireland refused to send a family who had been seeking asylum in Ireland back to the Republic. It was reported that the direct provision situation here is such that the family were at risk of inhumane treatment if they were sent back here.
Who am I to say come one and all to our in adequate system where we can’t even guarantee the safety of your children. Maybe we all seek to ease our conscious by saying come, come in your plenty, but just so you know we haven’t looked after the 4,ooo plus people who already live in the limbo that is direct provision. I’m not saying we should close our gates but I am saying that agreeing to take people into our country comes with responsibilities. I am less concerned about the number of refugees Ireland gives entry and more concerned about that everyone who comes to live here gets the right to do so in safety and with dignity.
In many ways I know so little about it all that I feel at sea talking about it. Can I imagine their tragedy after seeing the images? I really don’t think I can but it took that image for me to even try. I think we can only truly sympathise when their experience isn’t far from our own. Which is the point Fintan O’Toole made in his article, when we are not far from war ourselves then we know how it’s victims feel. But here we are so comfortable and removed from war that I actively try and protect that view point. I aim to keep my world small and secure, one I can understand. With that I make choices about what I let in. So as horrific as it may be to see Aylan that is what it took, for me at least, to drop my filter and for a moment or two longer live with it and try to imagine the unimaginable.
PS I’ll be doing this on Friday 11th September if you want to join in.