As I wade through the news this week, I keep thinking about the role of mothers in our world. I take note of our collective reaction to 3-yr-old Alan Kurdi’s sweet body washed ashore—an image that makes every fiber of our being say, “This. Cannot. Happen.”
That image would have broken my heart before I had kids. As a mother, it’s so devastating it’s physically painful to process. I’d like to say I can’t imagine, but it’s not true. I can imagine. Every mother can imagine. It’s our worst nightmare, trying desperately to save our baby and losing.
But we must know that this is not the first time this has happened. We must be aware that the same kinds of atrocities have been continually happening somewhere on Earth for millennia. There have been countless precious babies washed up on countless shores. This. Cannot. Happen. But it has happened. It keeps happening.
When I peel back the layers of how we got here, when I dissect all the wars in which people are displaced and children die, when I see what an image of a drowned toddler does to us, I keep coming back to the same thought:
It’s going to be the mothers of the world who will ultimately end humanity’s sick relationship with war and brutality.
No one hates war more than mothers. And throughout history, no one has been less powerful to stop it than mothers. War keeps happening because men and women are not, and have never been equal—socially, politically, or otherwise. When women the world over have the voice and power to stand up and say, “We are done. We are done sacrificing our babies. We are done with asinine goals of gaining power and inhuman methods of doing so. We are done with violence. We are done losing our sons and daughters. We are DONE.” That’s when it will stop.
The road to fanaticism starts and ends with ignorance and inequality, and mothers are the first educators of children. If women don’t hold equal power and have access to education, the whole of humanity suffers. Think of all of the wars that have been fought throughout history. Think of all of the atrocities mankind has foisted upon one another. The vast majority of it has been perpetrated in a vacuum of aggressive, male-dominated power structures.
I’m not bashing males—I’m a big fan of men. I am bashing what happens when an entire half of the human race has not had a voice for most of history while the other half holds all of the decision-making power and engages in unchecked, animalistic struggles for control. My faith has a saying that humanity is like a bird, with one wing being men and the other women. What happens when a bird has one wing clipped? It flies in circles on the ground and makes a mess of itself. That’s what happening. That’s why this keeps happening.
When I ponder what I can do, of course there are the immediate needs of the people suffering now that must be attended to. But when I step back and look at the whole picture, when I examine all of the issues at play from beginning to end, I always come back to the same larger solution: The education and advancement of women and girls. That’s where the most lasting change will come from.
“Consider a son reared and trained twenty years by a devoted mother. What sleepless nights and restless, anxious days she has spent! Having brought him through dangers and difficulties to the age of maturity, how agonizing then to sacrifice him upon the battlefield! Therefore, the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it. So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.” —‘Abdu’l-Baha, 1912
* The name of the Syrian boy was initially reported as Aylan Kurdi. I have since changed it here to reflect his real name, Alan.
** The photo that accompanies this post is not of Alan Kurdi. It’s of my own son, and what every photo of every child on every seashore should be.**