The carnage of civilisation in Syria and the horrible blood sacrifice offered at the altar of ideological imbecilities bring back to humanity's conscience the tale of the 'painted bird' -- the nameless six-year-old boy in Jerzy Kosinski's World War II classic.
Kosinski's boy was a helpless little human being displaced by conflict, like Aylan Kurdi. He spent years playing hide and seek with death, trying to protect himself as much from Nazi Germany's death chambers as from the mindless cruelties of superstitious eastern European peasantry. Aylan Kurdi died a nightly death in cold waters disturbingly close to the shores his family longed to reach because he too was a 'painted bird'.
The refugees -- whether they are from Syria, Myanmar, Eritrea or Bangladesh -- are all painted birds who the human race doesn't recognise as their own. Kosinski's 6-year-old had black hair and dark eyes -- he may have been a Roma or a Jew -- and his perilous hike through eastern Europe was steeped in danger, every moment of it. Aylan Kurdi and his family would have undertaken the same journey through eastern Europe had they made it to the Greek shore. From Greece to Serbia and from there to Hungary and Austria before possibly reaching Germany -- subhuman treatment guaranteed all the way.
They, the Syrian refugees, are a vast flock of painted birds by virtue of their land, race and religion. According to European Union's border agency Frontex, 500,000 of them came to the EU gates so far this year. The Turks have accepted 1.9 million refugees while tiny Lebanon has taken in a staggering one million.
As many as 450,000 refugees have made it to Germany so far this year, while the country fretfully expects the total number to go up to 800,000. Among those who reached Germany is 24-year-old Syrian Hesham Modamani, who swam a perilous 8km stretch in the sea between Turkey and a Greek island in pitch darkness. The Syrian refugees' travel papers let them take a flight to Turkey but from there what awaits them is the label of illegal migrant. If they are lucky to reach the Greek islands risking their lives in inflatable boats or creaky wooden vessels, they continue their journey as tramps, like the 6-year-old in the Kosinski novel. But unlike the boy, they are not thrown into manure pits and set upon by animals along the thousands of kilometres of land journey. Of course, they do go hungry, get jeered at. (They even get kicked down by those writing the 'quick draft' of history.
The United States, whose Statue of Liberty proclaims "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," has received a mere 1,000 and President Barack Obama has said he is prepared to accept 10,000 refugees.
But then what about their 'folks' closer home? The Syrian refugees shouldn't have been seen as 'painted birds' by the Middle East Muslim countries -- at least. They are all awash in oil riches and most have vast expanses of land to settle a huge number of displaced people.
Kosinski's painted bird is a sickening metaphor of the human race's ridiculous apathy towards the perceived 'other'. Lekh, a bird trapper, takes the fleeing boy along and gives him errands to do. Gripped by those demonic fits, Lekh paints a bird, and the boy is asked to squeeze it in his hands so that the creature's warbling attracts others of its species. When the flock thickens they free the bird, letting it flap its wings in freedom, but all that joy is short-lived and deceptive. The other birds just don't realise the painted one is their own. They attack the 'different' one until it falls on the ground, 'blood seeping through their coloured wings'.
Could the 'birds of the same feather' in the region be kinder to Aylan Kurdi, his brother and his young mother? Could they have saved 15 Syrian children from drowning near the Greek island of Farmakonisi as they tried to sneak into a safer world on a flimsy wooden boat in the dark sea?
"We do promise one mosque for every hundred of you miserable people, if you are lucky to reach Germany. Sail on."
Yes, Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to build as many as 200 mosques in Germany for the welfare of the refugees adopted by the western nation.
According to a BBC report, Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen are the only predominently Muslim countries which allow Syrians without a visa. Countries such as Saudi Arabia are endowed with land and riches and they are constantly in need of manpower, which they recruit from South Asian and Southeast Asian nations. Why not Syrians then? The intricacies of the tribal mosaic may simply have got the better of humanitarian concerns. Yet they had the audacity to offer to build mosques in Germany for the detestable 'other' they condemned to watery deaths.
Responding to the report Richard Dawkins tweeted: "Saudi contribution to refugee effort: 200 mosques in Germany. Either a sick joke or sick insult to German generosity."
One hopes it's just a sick joke or just another of those harebrained ideas. What bigger human tragedy will inspire Saudi Arabia's 'benevolent monarchy' to build its own Statue of Liberty instead of mosques in Germany?
And yes, what about India? There hasn't been much debate on whether India can welcome some of those refugees fleeing oppression in their homelands. It is a nation of migrants, and it's also a nation that has historically accepted countless refugees -- from Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, apart from those from Pakistan during the partition.
India is building on its western cost the Statue of Unity which, at 182 metres, will be double the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York. Why not also construct a 'Mother of Exiles' statue as well, whose outstretched hands welcome 'the homeless, tempest-tost' as Emma Lazarus wrote?
"The painted bird would be forced farther and farther away as it zealously tried to enter the ranks of the flock" - The Painted Bird