Poster Children

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The photo of a drowned 3-year-old lying face-down on a Turkish beach suddenly became visual shorthand for the miserable situation in Syria and the desperation of people seeking refuge.

It is an admirable human trait that our sympathy is aroused by the sight of a child in distress. Indeed, if we did not react that way very few children would make it into adulthood. But I am uneasy about the kneejerk-ism that such sympathy provokes. Complex issues should be addressed thoughtfully and with full understanding of causes and effects.

At the moment nothing is more complex than the tangle of superstition, competition and ancient hatred that characterises the Arab world. I want my government and other governments to behave rationally. I do not want them to be pressured by compassionate electors to take heart-warming, headline-grabbing decisions that buy short-term popularity at the expense of actions that could, perhaps, lead to long-term solutions.