The Frayed Social Compact

The Frayed Social Compact

By Siegrid Raible

What is a social compact? The New York Times’ front-page photo of September 3rd begs us to come up with a definition of what it means to enter into a compact with our fellow travelers. Captured in that particular frame are three innocent sleeping children who appear to be at most three or four years old; the caption: “A Syrian family slept Wednesday under Budapest’s Keleti train station, which remained closed to thousands of migrants. Page 14.” (The picture alone tells a far better story than the words found on page 14.) A far more powerful image appeared the following day on page 10 of the NY Times; the dead body of three year old Aylan Kurdi, alone on a beach in Turkey. It should be the photo seen around the world; a clarion call to our world leaders to address the issue of the many on-gong wars, some generations in the making, and the resulting displacement of 60 million people.

The world, it seems, has closed its eyes to these four very young homeless souls as well as the millions of men and women fleeing war and repression. Their social compact has unraveled. The Syrian civil war is in its fourth year with no end in sight. Those who can no longer stand death and destruction are fleeing only to find a world so cold and indifferent that it will deny them entry. If ever there was a visual to accompany the phrase “between a rock and a hard place,” it is these photos.

There are no simple answers to what needs to be done. Closing our eyes to suffering will not end the suffering or build a better world. Most societies have a time-worn custom of welcoming the stranger. Now at a time when people are forced to leave their homes because of war and repression how can we turn our backs to them? Is that not, at the least, what the social contract ought to be?

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