The Picture that Changed the World? Maybe

By: Laura Steiner

It was September, 2015.  The federal election was barely one month old when images of  Alan Kurdi spread around the world.  The 4-year old drowned on the crossing from Syria, his body washed up facedown on a Turkish beach.  He was found by a Turkish police officer who gently carried his body away.

Some quick research turned up a Canadian connection.  Alan Kurdi’s Aunt Tima lives in British Columbia.  She was to sponsor her brother Mohammed Kurdi, and then bring Abdullah (Aylan’s father), and his family over.  At the time of the photo, Tima Kurdi had been denied her sponsorship request.

The Guardian Newspaper in Britain ranks it among its stories of the year for 2015.  They headline it: “how Alan Kurdi’s Death changed the world.”  But did it? It’s too soon to say how much.  It put a very human face on the Syrian refugee crisis.  It put the spotlight on the dangerous journey risked daily for freedom.

Migrant boat accident in Turkey
4-year old Alan Kurdi lies dead on a Turkish beach

It changed the course of our federal election.  We stopped talking about the economy, and focused more on the refugee crisis.  It highlighted key character differences between Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, likely contributing to Harper’s defeat.  In a Canadian context it changed everything.

In a European context the change wasn’t necessarily for the better.  Hungary closed its borders to asylum seekers September 15, 2015 while Austria tightened its borders the following day.  Germany was the bright spot announcing it would take 80 thousand Syrian refugees.

American changed for the worse. Donald Trump said he would shut America’s borders to Muslim immigrants in the wake of the Paris attacks if he won the Presidency.  He also proposed forcing Muslims to wear some kind of visual identification, and register as part of a database. This has earned him universal condemnation and comparisons to Hitler.

There has been ongoing positive change here in Canada.  The Liberals’ promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country has garnered full agreement from all political parties, and provinces.  It has become a national project with communities across the country rallying to help.  Maybe a picture can change the world.  How long it lasts is up to us.