The Value of Human Life, and the ‘Other’

I was recently on holidays with my family in Australia’s magnificent Whitsundays(!). This post could easily become an advertisement for such a truly beautiful part of the world (and the extraordinary privilege I have to be able to take a holiday there), but I’ll try to stay on point. It was a wonderful time for our family, and our children enjoyed it immensely.

Many times the kids simply wore themselves out, and we ended up carrying them back to our resort room for a rest before once more setting out on our adventures. One such time, I was carrying my exhausted 2-year-old daughter in both arms (with her in a reclined position across my body), and I got caught up in admiring her beautiful porcelain-like skin and her perfect face and began smiling to myself at just how tired she must have been to be in such a comatose-like state.

However, as I admired her almost-perfect stillness, my thoughts were violently invaded by the powerful and highly distressing pictures I had recently seen from the excellent French photographer Anne Paq (follow her on Twitter at @annepaq). You can view some of the images here: (*I do warn you, as strongly as I can, that these images probably will – and should – stay with you forever*).

At that moment, my heart was gripped by unthinkable terror. Looking down at my daughter’s tiny body, I suddenly imagined myself as one of the Palestinian parents from those photos carrying the body of their beloved, now-lifeless child. For a split-second I was overwhelmed by a sense of grief and loss and anger and fear, struck by the sheer senselessness of such death and the unfairness that so small a child would be robbed of the opportunities of life before they even had a chance.

Then I remembered where I was, and who I was. The reality is that a middle-class white family in Australia simply does not face this kind of situation—a situation that is ‘routine’ for many in our world—but for the most extraordinary of circumstances.

And I was angered as I began to think about the lack of outrage over these pictures of beautiful children robbed of all possibility. Why is it that we are (rightly!) outraged by events like the Sandy Hook massacre, but we turn a blind eye to the drone bombings that routinely obliterate small children ‘over there’? How is it that my nation can lock up children, whose families are only seeking the safety of refuge, in indefinite detention, and why do we continue to offer almost unconditional support for Israel when we know beyond all doubt that their policies and actions are causing such tragedy to Palestinian families and children almost every day?

Why is it that we are horrified at the thought of our children being senselessly murdered, but we don’t seem to mind when it happens to children who don’t look like ours? How are we able, still, to value human life differently depending on if it’s one of ‘us’, rather than just one of ‘them’?


Published by

Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

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