Zaytouneh and the question of what to do

gataktdToday I am borrowing Marlene’s blog to write about a picture. Back in September, a boat carrying Syrian refugees landed in Lesbos, Greece — an occurrence that nowadays is surely not exceptional. Here is a picture of one of the refugees, along with his kitten.

The cat’s name is Zaytouneh, or Olive. If Google Translate is to be trusted, the guy might write his cat’s name like this: زيتون.

It should surprise nobody that a man who is running for his life will nonetheless pause a moment and reach for his cat. I am glad Zaytouneh made it, but he or she has a burden that may be a bit too much for one cat to bear. Consider this (translated) excerpt from a news article by the Greek source Protothema:

The picture has become viral on all social media, as it gives a different, more human dimension to this humanitarian tragedy.

Wait, what? The human being himself does not provide enough of a human dimension, and the cat therefore must carry the load? We live in strange times.

Also: what is his name? I don’t know.

To be fair, he is not obligated to provide it; he deserves his privacy. I hope he is doing OK, and I hope that if the cat is required to be a symbol of the “human dimension” of the refugees fleeing war and rack, that at least some people will see it and remember that it is not a pack of aliens who are fleeing Syria… but humans, like us, some of whom have favorite kittens.

What to do? I think we who live in the U.S. have at least one fundamental obligation: to not give in to fear; to not let fear cloud our sight; to then see that the refugees, as fellow humans, deserve our protection and aid. Not to beat the drums of war, but to consider that since we do have a military whose logistical abilities are the best in the world, we have a unique opportunity: our navy can ensure that refugees boats and rafts do not founder in the Mediterranean.

We can do that for them; we can try to carry instead of break.

We can do it for him. Or if need be, do it for Zaytouneh.

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