It has taken that picture; that gut-wrenching, nauseating, deeply unsettling picture to remind me what this is all about. It is about my fellow human beings; often young boys and girls not much older than my daughter, fleeing the agony of a war zone to dream of a better life.
Like many others in the free world – in Europe and beyond – I watch the news every day, read the papers, follow events online and have been aware of the crisis engulfing the world for ages. Yet it took yesterday’s horror to shake me from my complacency. To turn my stomach. To make me face up to my responsibility as a human being. Yesterday, I stopped looking the other way. I stopped crossing the road. I stopped turning the other cheek.
It is time for those who share my responsibility as a free man but who also have the power to affect change to step up and behave like leaders. We cannot call ourselves just, fair or free societies if we now fail to act.
It is true that we must focus on the bigger challenge of the instability of the middle east and tackle the fundamental question of Syria and beyond – I was in the minority who supported the Prime Minister and wanted us to take military action in Syria some time ago. But we can do that whilst also tackling yesterday, today and tomorrow’s humiatarian crisis – it is a humanitarian crisis not a migrant crisis – on the shores of Europe.
I would like to forget the image I saw yesterday of Aylan Al-Kurdi lying on a beach, washed up by the cruel sea. I would like to be able to go back to my cosy and safe life with the cheek turned and the remote control at the ready to switch over when its gets uncomfortable viewing. But I can’t. I see Aylan and think about my little girl. I see his babyish clothes and tiny shoes and see her face. I see him gently carried away by the policeman and imagine for a second the agony of never being able to cradle my precious little one again.
We can stop this suffering so we must. We can save lives; we can stop the children dying. We must now take our shame and our horror and turn it into action. Now is not the time to turn the other cheek or try to forget what we have seen. Now is the time to prove what a great country we are. Now is the time to remember as President Kennedy said; “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”