As waves wash over the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, onlookers see only a small boy who was in need of rescue. It just so happens Aylan is a victim of Assad’s Syrian Civil War and a refugee who was seeking sanctuary in a foreign land. The tragic death of Aylan, his brother, and mother remind us that the people living in distant places are human beings, not just foreigners. Indeed, images of Aylan lying face down on a Turkish beach have sparked public outcry and political reactions across the globe.
Tragedies that resonate throughout the International Community, because they evoke such strong emotions, have a tendency to force political leaders to react. The sad truth is that few politicians are actual leaders. It is only when community leaders act and gain popular support for their ideas that politicians take on a leadership role. There is a lot of blame to go around when it comes to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe, yet few willing to fix the problem. Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is, however, an exception.
Offering to purchase an island for refugees is an odd proposal. On the other hand, the same thing was probably said about the likes of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie spent much of his life building his wealth, as well as abusing his workers, yet he later came to see the importance of using his wealth to improve society. In doing so, he and his fellow capitalist elites lead the transformation of the United States into a nation of compassion where the welfare of the People became the priority of civil society and public policy.
In recent years, conservative political figures in the United States have advanced a view that spending on social welfare undermines a sense of social responsibility. Although the argument is often made to justify spending cuts, which only make the problems of the poor far worse, there is validity to such thinking. Instead of fixing problems and helping others, people too often turn to the political world and call it a responsibility of government. Where people once thought in terms of building one’s community, they no longer see their neighbors’ problems as a concern.
Along with criticizing wealthy Middle Eastern countries for doing nothing and European countries for doing too little, the United States has been blamed for the Mediterranean refugee crisis. In some respects, criticism over America’s failure to accept more Syrian refugees is justified. In others, it is unjustified. After all, the US hosts millions of illegal immigrates who are seeking refuge from violence, injustice, and destitution in America’s own hemisphere. That said, American attitudes toward illegal immigrants have grown increasingly hostile while little has been done to address the issues driving mass immigration.
The US government has failed to lead on mass illegal immigration. Europeans governments have failed to lead on mass illegal immigration. Middle Eastern governments have failed to lead on mass illegal immigration. Leadership by business leaders like Naguib Sawiris is, therefore, desperately needed. Like Carnegie and his wealthy associates, the world will not change unless the likes of Mr. Sawiris show political, business, and other community leaders how to lead.
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