Although it is reassuring to have increasing numbers of people interested and aware of the massive humanitarian crisis in Syria, the sheer scope of the problem can make it overwhelming to the point of not knowing what we can do. But we must make sure that we do not give in to helplessness and do nothing.
A few nights ago we took the kids with us to the Light The Dark candlelight vigils held around Australia for Aylan Kurdi and all those seeking refuge from conflict. It was wonderful to see so many people turn up, but also a bit sad to see such a small number of Muslims there even considering the size of the Muslim population in Adelaide.
We in Australia are currently led by Tony Abbott, who appears to care little for refugees and even less for Muslim ones. But he is under fire. Even his own cabinet ministers are publicly announcing that Australia needs to increase their refugee intake to ‘do our part’.
And if there is one thing experience has shown us about Mr. Abbott it is that when enough people make a stink, he changes his mind. And, in fact as a result, he did (although we won’t go into Australia’ s dubious selection process of refugees right now…!).
So the vigils were a fantastic opportunity to remember the struggle of those seeking refuge as well as making a strong statement to those in power that they are not doing enough, that Australia expects more from them and the world expects more from Australia.
But the representation of the Muslim community here in Adelaide was lacking – most were almost certainly busy or working and others didn’t know about it, but those that were not busy and did know, I wonder if perhaps they felt there was not much point in it. I certainly know that I sometimes feel that overwhelming feeling like there’s no real, solid way we can change the state of the world.
I have mentioned before Peter Singer’s moral argument regarding the drowning child. He makes the argument that if we were walking home and saw a child drowning we would feel it necessary to save the child, even if it means that it might cost us something (eg phone getting damaged etc). The cost of getting a phone replaced is absolutely dwarfed by the value of that child’s life.
He then states that there are children around the world starving and dying that we can save for a small cost, so we have a moral imperative to save them. Critics of this argument point to the fact that there is not one child, but millions. How would our response change if we came across children drowning from horizon to horizon. How could we possibly cope with knowing we cannot save them all. It is too emotionally stressful, and so we tend to look the other way.
I do not know the answer to that moral dilemma. Thanks to modern technology we are now able to know the plight of hundreds of millions of those in need, and we can make a difference to almost any of them by donating at the least money. But how much money? When do we say “That’s enough. I need some money for myself and my family as well.” How can we justify buying anything but the necessities? I’m really struggling with these problems.
I know that if these people suffering were beside me I would never feel comfortable buying anything but the necessities but for some reason I am comfortable doing so before God at other times. It’s so convenient to just push it out of our minds and go on with our daily life, buying what we think are necessities, living by what are to most in the world luxurious standards although to us it seems like necessity.
This leads to a bigger question: does God expect us to live an ascetic life until the basic needs of those we can help are met? To be honest this question has kept me up many a night. My very limited knowledge of philosophy cannot answer it.
But the moral dilemma doesn’t mean that we should do nothing. Charles Aked famously said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” At the very least we need to stand up and be among the counted. If only to show those in power that this is not an issue that they can ignore.