Christie Blatchford: Alan Kurdi’s story should galvanize the world — but Harper can’t be blamed for this tragedy

I may stand alone here, probably do, but I was grateful Thursday, as waves of emotion washed over the country and the world at the picture of little lying dead on a Turkish beach, for a prime minister who didn’t entirely yield to it.

Alan, his five-year-old brother Ghalib and their mother Rehenna drowned, with eight others, when their tiny boat flipped over in heavy waves. They are among an estimated 2,500 people, most of them Syrians, who have drowned this summer in the very same fashion, desperately trying to get to Europe — to get somewhere, anywhere, safe — from swollen Turkish migrant camps.

Now, may not be by nature a warm and fuzzy guy, but in remarks he made Thursday at a Surrey, B.C., campaign office, it was plain he was shaken.

When he and Laureen saw the picture, he said, their thoughts went immediately to their own son Ben, now a towering young man, and how he was at Alan’s age, “running around like that,” and in the “that,” you knew all he was remembering — the way boys of three are always in motion, chattering and banging about and falling and bouncing back like rubber balls, and how you can’t take your eyes off them, not for a second.

But Harper remained, probably at his peril, reasoned.

“I don’t need to tell you what we saw yesterday was a tragedy,” he said. “It is far, far worse than that.”

’s ongoing civil war, ISIL and the destruction and chaos there, have made refugees of tens of thousands and mere survival a desperate challenge for millions more. As of January, the death toll in was 220,000, four million people had fled the country and seven million more were displaced within it. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

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And refugee policy alone, Harper said, “is not remotely a solution to this problem … ”

He said a few days ago, he met with the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church (His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem 11), who is visiting from Damascus.

“And look, what they (Syrians) all tell you is this: We’re honoured, delighted, relieved, seeing some of our people coming here. … We need the humanitarian aid.

“But more than that we need a situation where people are not attacking and trying to kill us (in Syria), where they have lived as long as history has been written.”

The PM said, pretty much, what the dead boys’ weeping aunt, Tima Kurdi, said in a news conference from Vancouver.

“There is one thing should be done,” she said. “End the war. That’s all I can say.”

What Harper said was also in essence what Tima Kurdi quoted the boys’ father, Abdullah, as telling her: “Now the world is going to watch my story. Where (were they) all this war before?”

In other words, to invoke what a friend of mine once said about crime but it’s equally good for wars and atrocities, you have to know who to be mad at, and here, in no particular order, is a long list — Syrian President Bashar Assad and his special brand of genocide, ISIL, the UN, and the world which, until the terrible picture of a dead boy surfaced, was by and large content, as my brilliant Postmedia colleague wrote this week (Terry Glavin also broke the story of the Kurdi family connection to Canada), to watch Syria die and to allow it to happen.

Jason Payne/ PNGJason Payne/ PNGTima Kurdi, the aunt of two Syrian boys who drowned off Turkey, speaks to the media at her home in Coquitlam, B.C., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Alan, Ghalib, and their mother Rehanna died as they tried to reach Europe from Syria.

The reaction now ought not to be, as it was as the story developed, to blame Harper and Canada for the deaths of the two boys, or, as one reporter put it to the PM in Surrey, “Do you feel any sense of responsibility for this child’s tragic death?”

Now this was before the story of the Kurdi family connection was clarified, by both Tima Kurdi herself and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

The situation as originally painted — predictably, it went nuclear instantly — had Kurdi making a formal application for Abdullah and his family, which was of course cruelly denied by the Harper government, when, in fact, she’d applied on behalf of their older brother, Mohammed, and his family.

That confusion appears to have been born of an innocent mistake, Kurdi in her grief conflating a couple of things, but it was immediately used as a launch pad for searing (and inaccurate) headlines and partisan attacks.

In the latter category, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau surely takes the prize, when he said, of Alexander leaving his re-election campaign and heading to Ottawa, presumably to get the facts of the case, “You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it, or you don’t.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HOTHE CANADIAN PRESS/HOAlan, left, and his brother Galib Kurdi are seen in an undated family handout photo courtesy of their aunt, Tima Kurdi. Alan, Ghalib, and their mother Rehanna died as they tried to reach Europe from Syria.

It was a particularly cheap shot, and Alexander would have been as harshly criticized if he hadn’t done just that, or something equally dramatic.

Harper’s view is that only a three-pronged effort has a chance in Syria: accept more refugees and do it faster; give more humanitarian aid; continue to participate in the military campaign.

As he said once, “Laureen and I had the same reaction, but it doesn’t lead to the same conclusion. Our message is (also) we need to help people who are actually there, who can’t get away, and stop the violence being directed at them. I do not know for the life of me how you can look at that picture and say ‘Yeah, I want to help that family’ and say walk away from the military coalition. … It’s incomprehensible to me to see an image like that and conclude you do more of one thing and less of another.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a responsible, intelligent and reasoned response to that picture, and on a day when others took an easier path, the one strewn with flowers, teddy bears, balloons and sentiment. Alan Kurdi’s story certainly should galvanize the world, not only to be stricken and weepy, but to fury.

National Post

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About Christie Blatchford