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Towards a 'Fair and Balanced' Autopsy Report for Aylan Kurdi

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi after he drowned when the boat he and his family members were in capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (Photo: Nilüfer Demir/DHA)

The heart-wrenching image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body, gently cradled in the arms of a Turkish police officer is the iconic photo from the refugee crisis in Europe. For me, Aylan’s resemblance to my two young grandsons made it impossible to banish the image from my mind or my conscience.

It’s unsettling but we need to ask: Why did Aylan die? The immediate cause was death by drowning after a human trafficker’s overcrowded and unseaworthy boat capsized off the Greek island of Kos. Going back a few steps, several European governments were complicit in his death by initially turning away the flood of refugees and we know that Canada refused the family’s request for asylum, thus forcing them to take desperate measures.

Further, Aylan’s family was fleeing Kobani, a northern Syrian city incessantly bombed by U.S. warplanes. U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, an effort to install a more compliant regime, forced 11 million Syrians to flee their homes, 4 million of which fled the country.

Aylan’s hometown was also under siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. The latter’s birth and growth was facilitated by the U.S. destabilization of Iraq and Syria. The original funding for ISIS came from U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As ISIS sets up franchises across the region, terrified people seek escape from its barbaric, faux brand of Islam. In Yemen, Saudi airstrikes and ground troops are forcing more people to flee. [Note: The Pentagon just concluded a $1 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.]

Investigating this background gets us closer to linking cause and effect, to finding a plausible answer. As Raed Jarrar of the American Friends Service Committee cogently asserts, "Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians and Libyans are not running away from their homes because of natural disaster." That is, the evidence compels us to conclude that Aylan’s fate was a consequence of U.S. military invasion, occupation, regime change and devastation visited upon these countries. His totally preventable death was “collateral damage”.

In essence this is an inverted version of the apocryphal Pottery Barn rule: The U.S. broke these countries to pieces but refuses to own that, admit guilt or stop smashing up the place. Yes, toadyish leaders in Britain, France, Turkey, Israel and they are accessories to these crimes but are not the primary perpetrator.

Given this context, the crocodile tears and breathtaking chutzpah demonstrated by U.S. officials and major media would be astounding if not for its predictable routine. The unspoken mantra: Never talk about why millions of people have fled their homelands. For example, under the headline "Piercing the Denial on Refugees" The New York Times (9/4/15) was quick to lecture the Europeans for not doing enough for responsibility for displacing millions of innocent people.

Also quoted in the Times, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) offered his own "beam in thine own eye" take on the Europeans by stating "I don’t know what they are prepared to do to bring about greater stability in the countries where there are problems." Denial of responsibility on this scale is either evidence of mind boggling ignorance (my suspicion) or out and out disassembling.

Finally, because I anticipate a "He’s Blaming America Again" response for some readers, I respectfully request that we distinguish between U.S. elites – obsessed with retaining and expanding control over the oil resources of the Middle East and enriching the arms industry – and the rest of us.

The blame unquestionably lies with the former. It attaches itself to us only if we feign ignorance and uncritically support their actions. People don’t want to leave their homes and countries but ending the migration mandates putting a stop to the military interventions that uproot them.

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Gary Olson

Gary Olson

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain (NY: Springer, 2013.) Contact:

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