How the whole world beat a hungry Syrian kid in Istanbul

How the whole world beat a hungry Syrian kid in Istanbul

A Syrian refugee child was beaten by the manager of a fast food restaurant in Istanbul for eating a customer’s leftover fries last week, triggering a huge outcry in Turkey.

Amid angry calls on social media, groups of people staged fiery protests in front of the Burger King branch in the Şirinevler neighborhood, even as the restaurant chain fired the manager over the assault.

International media quoted the Hürriyet Daily News story on the incident, which was one of our most read articles last week. Readers of HDN around the world also posted me emails about how to help the beaten victim.

“Is there any way you would know where the boy is? Any way you can find any address or anything for me? I would love to help him with whatever he wants for the rest of his life,” a heart surgeon from Canada said. “Surely in a great place like Turkey, one would not hurt a young child who is hungry?”

While some of our readers singled out the manager in their furious reactions, others accused Turkey and Turkish people as a whole. Most of them wanted to reach the child directly, instead of donating to the aid funds of the United Nations - which some find “corrupt” - or the Turkish government - which some slammed.

This is where the whole world fails as a whole.

Terrible facts and numbers in reports are apparently not enough. To perceive the bitter realities, we always need dramas: Photos of crying children, videos showing blood, soundtracks of mayhem... And when we see and hear them, we finally move to act; yet only temporarily and in the least efficient ways to improve the conditions of reality.

As individuals, we opt for feel-good charity, slacktivism, while finding a way to accuse “the other.” Even those good people among us who pull people out of the mess and really save some individuals – albeit only some – bring no lasting solution to deep political and social problems.

I was thinking about the readers’ letters when I saw a makeshift “neighborhood” of Syrian refugees that had popped up under a bridge on a highway near a large shopping mall in Istanbul’s Bakırköy district, not far from the restaurant where their young compatriot was recently beaten. A local was bringing a pot full of beans and another was coming with rice to help the refugees there. Elsewhere, Turks routinely get organized for related causes, such as donating shoes for Syrian kids.

According to official figures, Turkey is now home to over 1.7 million Syrian refugees in total. It has spent $5.5 billion dollars so far, mostly for the needs of over 200,000 refugees kept in well-equipped and maintained refugee camps (It has just opened its biggest refugee camp to house 35,000 people fleeing fighting between Kurdish forces and Islamist militants in Syria's Kobane). There are over 350,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey, although just half of them are receiving an education.

The international community, on the other hand, has contributed with just $250 million, and European countries have taken in only 130,000 Syrian refugees, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan complained on Jan. 24.

Because of its now-long history of miscalculated, ill-advised foreign policies, it is easy to blame the Turkish government for the refugee exodus caused by the brutality of both the Bashar al-Assad regime and its foes in Syria. But how much pressure have the world’s citizens put on their own governments to help the refugees and find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis so far?

Isn’t it time for the whole world to feel guilty about the beaten Syrian boy in Istanbul, since we actually beat him together?

Yes, we should be moved for ethical reasons, but even those who only speak the language of self-interest should see in the bleeding nose of the boy the words of that song: “One day he may come back, repay us for what we’ve done, then where you gonna run to, where you gonna run?”

* Emre KIZILKAYA is the managing editor of Hürriyet Daily News.