The boy on the beach: when the political becomes personal 


1972, a Vietnamese girl, Kim Phúc, burnt by napalm, flees naked and crying from her bombed village.

tiannaman square

1989, a solitary pro-democracy protester resolutely stands in front of a line of tanks in Tiannamen Square and blocks their path.

Both were just ordinary people out of thousands caught up in the turmoil and crisis of war and political violence. But both were captured on camera and became two of the most famous images in modern times.

Tipping point

And over the past week we have seen the incredible impact an image can have as the gut wrenching photos of Aylan Kurdi’s body washed ashore on a Turkish beach were published.

In this age of social media and instant sharing, has there ever been an image which has changed opinions and perceptions so rapidly? It has been a undoubted tipping point in the global perspective on the refugee crisis that has been unfolding.

Aylan was just one life lost amongst countless others. But his death has triggered change on many levels: both in the way the media are reporting the story but also in the practical response it has generated.  The photo has triggered thousands of offers of accommodation sent to Citizen’s UK and a massive surge in interest in adopting refugee children to Home for Good.

Personal response

We struggle to be moved by statements, statistics or political crises. There were many books, articles and analysis around both the Vietnam War or the pro-democracy movement in China but nothing brought the situation home to people like these images did. And its the same with the current refugee crisis.

These images have power because they have awoken us to the human cost of this crisis. It has distilled a large and complex down to something real and graspable. Political complexity is transformed into personal tragedy.

And deep calls to deep. Personal suffering moves us to a personal response. We know it has to be more than just our facebook updates that need to be affected by this crisis. As so many are asking, how can we make a difference to help those affected?

The political has become personal.

Resources and hope

One of the most compelling aspects of the Christian faith is that ultimate truth is not embodied in a theory or formula or even in a book, but in a person.

And its a person who, like Aylan, was a refugee fleeing an oppressive regime.  A person, like Aylan, who was homeless and died an unjust death.  A person, like Aylan, whose short life has had a global impact.

In Jesus, God took on all the suffering of our broken world. In Him, the creator of all things stepped into a world of pain and vulnerability.  And in Him we can be inspired by hope and find the deepest resources to enable us to respond personally to the terrible problems of our world.

7 thoughts on “The boy on the beach: when the political becomes personal ”

  1. I am glad that the photo has made our govt act and that it has got people to decide to help the refugees as it is important. But there is more than a nagging doubt in my mind that the picture was staged as it was too perfect and that is worrying in itself. As I say I am pleased with the result and what it has prompted but it is a very worrying occurrence if I am right.


  2. I share your doubts over the authenticity of the photo. Maybe that’s a hangover from the ‘sexed up dossier’ leading to the Iraq war. Governments and political movements are not scared of using lies and distortions to push their political agendas be it the Reichstag fire of 1933 or the manipulation of data that’s led to the Global Warming/Climate Change scare. Personally I’d hope people would act rationally and dispassionately and not be so easily manipulated by emotive images.


  3. thanks Jon – wonderful article – may I use it for sermon on Sunday?

    I think it is too cynical to think the photo was staged. There are very real personal tragedies happening all the time.


  4. J

    Are you going to tell us how you decided to vote in the end and what you think of the outcome?

    Love to Nikki from the Richards.

    Stephen Richards



    1. Hi Steve – sure – I’ll do a post later on – I didn’t vote for Corbyn but it’s interesting that the results of my little poll are almost exactly what happened give or take the odd %!


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