As I waded through the news last week, I kept thinking about the role of mothers in our world. I took note of our collective reaction to 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s sweet body washed ashore—an image that makes every fiber of our being say, “This. Cannot. Happen.”
That image would have broken my heart before I had kids. As a mother, it’s so devastating it’s physically painful to process. I’d like to say I can’t imagine, but it’s not true. I can imagine. Every mother can imagine. It’s our worst nightmare, trying desperately to save our baby and losing.
But we must know that this is not the first time this has happened. We must be aware that the same kinds of atrocities have been continually happening somewhere on Earth for millennia. There have been countless precious babies washed up on countless shores.
This. Cannot. Happen. But it has happened. It keeps happening.
When I peel back the layers of how we got here, when I dissect all the wars in which people are displaced and children die, when I see what an image of a drowned toddler does to us, I keep coming back to the same thought:
It’s going to be the mothers of the world who will ultimately end humanity’s sick relationship with war and brutality.
No one hates war more than mothers. And throughout history, no one has been less powerful to stop it than mothers. War keeps happening because men and women are not, and have never been equal—socially, politically, or otherwise. When women the world over have the voice and power to stand up and say, “We are done. We are done sacrificing our babies. We are done with asinine goals of gaining power and inhuman methods of doing so. We are done with violence. We are done losing our sons and daughters. We are DONE.” That’s when it will stop.
The road to fanaticism starts and ends with ignorance and inequality, and mothers are the first educators of children. If women don’t hold equal power and have access to education, the whole of humanity suffers. Think of all of the wars that have been fought throughout history. Think of all of the atrocities mankind has foisted upon one another. The vast majority of it has been perpetrated in a vacuum of aggressive, male-dominated power structures.
I’m not bashing males—I’m a big fan of men. I am bashing what happens when an entire half of the human race has not had a voice for most of history while the other half holds all of the decision-making power and engages in unchecked, animalistic struggles for control. My faith has a saying that humanity is like a bird, with one wing being men and the other women. What happens when a bird has one wing clipped? It flies in circles on the ground and makes a mess of itself. That’s what happening. That’s why this keeps happening.
When I ponder what I can do, of course there are the immediate needs of the people suffering now that must be attended to. But when I step back and look at the whole picture, when I examine all of the issues at play from beginning to end, I always come back to the same larger solution: The education and advancement of women and girls. That’s where the most lasting change will come from.
“Consider a son reared and trained twenty years by a devoted mother. What sleepless nights and restless, anxious days she has spent! Having brought him through dangers and difficulties to the age of maturity, how agonizing then to sacrifice him upon the battlefield! Therefore, the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it. So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.” —‘Abdu’l-Baha, 1912
Alan Kurdi, that’s the name of the Syrian toddler who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. This happened in September of 2015.
Marah Raslan, that’s the name of the 12 year old girl who died as a direct result of the chemical attack on the district of Ghouta. This happened in August of 2013.
Hamza Ali Al-Khatib, that’s the name of the 13 year old boy whose body was returned to his parents. He was detained and tortured, his body had burn marks, gunshot wounds, and his genitals were severed. This happened in May of 2011.
There are 12,000 other dead children whose picture did not go viral. 12,000 other names that are unknown to you. 12,000 reasons to hug your children tighter. This war has been going on for four years. As of June 2015 my hometown of Aleppo has had 25,877 casualties. To put that in perspective, that’s the entire population of Key West City, Florida.
As you tuck your children into bed tonight, please take a moment to imagine this: You are hugging your child tighter to shield her from incoming shells and bullets all the while knowing that your attempts are more than likely futile. You are holding your child up in a failed effort to keep his little head above water as you are drowning. You are hugging a picture of your child because you don’t know where he is, all you know is he was detained and most likely dead. Now as you thank the heavens that it’s not happening where you are think of this fact: For 22 million people this is happening where we are, or rather where we were since 11 million of us have left.
This is our reality. Our Facebook feeds are not vacation photos or first day of school photos. Our feeds are full of pictures of the home we lost, of tiny bodies covered with blood stained sheets, of missing and lost children. More recently the pictures have been not of the dead but of those attempting to escape. A father dragging his children under barbed wire to enter a European country. Countless tired desolate people literally walking across Europe hoping to find a country that will take them. Families that have absolutely nothing coming up with thousands of dollars to get on a dingy that will more than likely sink. What these pictures have in common is desperation and devastation.
Why is no one helping? Why is the world so silent? Why are governments turning away people who literally have no place to go? The answers to these questions are political and to be honest also meaningless. Does it matter why? What matters is that nothing is being done to help. If nearly 250,000 thousand Americans were being murdered, bombed and tortured to death I guarantee you the response would be different. It doesn’t matter that you are an American and Alan, Marah and Hamza are not, this is not an Arab problem or a Muslim problem. It is a humanitarian issue that needs all of our attention.
If you would like to help in any but are unsure how or you are worried that your money won’t make a difference please know that every little bit counts.
Yasmin Kayali Sabra (co-founder of basmeh-zeitooneh.
If you cannot donate, you can still help by signing a petition asking the American government to take in more refugees: www.petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/authorize-and-resettle-syrian-refugees-us.
We need you, mothers of the world.