The viral video of the Syrian boy: Another symptom of chronic xenophobia

Published 30.11.2018 01:02
Updated 30.11.2018 08:00
A Turkish police officer carrying the dead body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old migrant child, off the shores of Bodrum in southern Turkey, after a boat carrying refugees sank while attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos, Sept. 2, 2015.
A Turkish police officer carrying the dead body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old migrant child, off the shores of Bodrum in southern Turkey, after a boat carrying refugees sank while attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos, Sept. 2, 2015.

What happened recently to a Syrian student in a U.K. school was not an ordinary peer-bullying incident but is rather a reflection of the growing xenophobia across Europe

Footage of a 15-year-old Syrian boy being grabbed by the throat, shoved to the ground and waterboarded by a group of his classmates in a school in the United Kingdom has been widely shared on social media. The same boy, whose wrist had been also broken by the same group before, just walks away in a very downtrodden and weary mood after being beaten, the video shows.

Almost all British media released the shocking footage after blurring the faces of the teens. I doubt whether the reason for such censorship is to preserve the privacy of the Syrian boy or to conceal the behavior of the other "British" students.

However, there is a bigger problem with the leaked video: While the Syrian boy is attacked, all of his classmates just laughed. There might be some willing to explain the incident with as ordinary incident of peer bullying, but the situation seems deeper, as the chuckles of the students prove.

What's worse, other footage showing the Syrian boy's sister being physically attacked at the same school has since gone viral, too. The British media, particularly the mainstream outlets such as BBC, once again used the blurring technique when releasing her video. They may be right according to the principles of journalism, but describing the incident as an "alleged attack" shows their true intentions. A good reminder: It may be necessary to avoid blurring such videos for it can sometimes lead to confusion among members of the media and pave the way for them to use the word "allegedly" in an explicitly racist attack.

Let's guess what will happen now. Since the video has gone viral and was widely shared on social media, there has been intense sensitivity and a lot of offers of help. Most probably and hopefully, the offers are likely to reach the right person. The boy and his family may be moved from the town, and the siblings may be registered in another school in order to partially help them forget their trauma, just like what happened after other violent incidents against Syrians in the past.

In September 2015, the dead body of a 3-year-old Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach and deeply affected the whole world. It was the fourth year of the Syrian civil war when this heart-wrenching incident happened. Some 5 million people were displaced and 300,000 others lost their lives. Two million displaced people migrated to Turkey within two years.

Kurdi's story became a milestone that inspired worldwide awareness for the first time since the suffering of Syrians began. Nongovernmental organizations around various parts of the world, which had so far failed to push their governments to generate effective mechanisms to solve the Syrian crisis, somehow started to produce related projects and even arrogantly advised Turkey about how to psychologically approach the refugees, although Turkey has been the most welcoming country in the region.

In the same year, a refugee deal to be signed was also suspended thanks to the European Union's "concerns about Turkish democracy." Likewise, there are still problems in the payments of EU aid money to be used for the refugees. Aylan Kurdi's family later settled in Canada as refugees, and their lives were thus saved; however, the memory of that sweet baby will always remain in our hearts and minds.

Another reminder: On Sept. 8, 2015, Hungarian camerawoman Petra Laszlo kicked and tripped a refugee man with a child in his arms while they were fleeing from a clash with police. The unfortunate incident took place near the town of Roszke, close to the border with Serbia, and sparked global outrage. Later, the Syrian refugee father, Osama Abdul Mohsen, was offered a position as a football coach in Spain. In other words, another Syrian family's life was therefore saved. What about the camerawoman?

She was first fired from her job and then sentenced to three years in prison, but it was reprieved. The Supreme Court later deemed Laszlo's act not a crime but "morally incorrect," and she was finally acquitted.

It is "blurry" as to what kind of a penalty will be imposed in the Huddersfield incident. However, it is impossible not to worry about the Syrians living in the U.K. Aylan Kurdi and Osama Abdul Mohsen are just symbolic names since there are thousands of others that remain publicly unknown. Particularly, Syrian women and little girls who are still largely vulnerable to assaults worldwide. The footage of the beaten Syrian boy may be just one of thousands. Europe as a whole is facing growing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, and its reflections in the streets are obviously being felt. Therefore, the attack against the Syrian boy is not independent from it. Sadly, since adults have jumped on the bandwagon of hate speech and racist discourse, it is unfair to expect moderate behavior from their children.

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