#RefugeesWelcome

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on November 27, 2015. 

“This is not a federal project, this is not even a government project, it’s a national project for all Canadians,” declared John McCallum, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, in announcing the long-awaited details of the Liberal government’s strategy to welcome refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but has already seen Canadians unite to reach out with offers to aid the resettlement and integration of those seeking refuge from war, arriving with little more than the hope of a better future.

Contrary to alarmists’ assertions, this grand initiative will serve to strengthen our national security. ISIL is seeking a clash of civilizations, intent on eliminating what they call the “gray zone” of coexistence. And they loathe the notion of a Muslim population seeking life among “infidels” in the West over their self-styled “caliphate.”

By refusing to close our borders to those fleeing ISIL’s savagery and embracing refugees, Canada is actively disproving the lie ISIL relies on to recruit the disaffected: That Muslims are rejected and unwelcome by the Western world, and you can only find your true identity with ISIL.

Ironically, those seeking to stoke anti-refugee sentiment following the terror attacks in Paris – who share xenophobic memes, perpetuate false assertions and outright fabrications from Facebook pages dedicated to churning out anti-Muslim rhetoric – are in fact answering ISIL’s call.

As Doug Saunders, international affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail and author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World and The Myth of the Muslim Tide recently noted, “’Judeo-Bolshevism’ was yesterday’s ‘Islamo-fascism,’ used for same restrictive purposes.”

The former: anti-Semitism employed to sow suspicion of Jewish refugees seeking to escape the Nazis, alleging they were agents of communism, part of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow nations, Nazis in disguise or Nazi sympathizers sent to commit sabotage under the guise of seeking asylum.

The latter: a tool of anti-Muslim extremists seeking to stoke Western Islamophobia and anti-refugee hysteria. They insist those seeking to escape the combined barrel bombs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and savagery of ISIL are not legitimate refugees, but harbingers of dangerous ideologies — agents of the Islamic State and its sympathizers seeking to terrorize the West, upend Christian tradition and impose Sharia Law.

Despite such allegations being disproven, those initiating them discredited, these fabrications continue to circulate across social media, remaining particularly pervasive on Facebook due to an unwillingness to challenge friends or relatives who are often ignorant to their deep-seated prejudices.

Avoiding the discomfort of confrontation only serves to foster intolerance, enabling the promotion of hatred against an entire population, which then threatens to impede the successful integration and upward mobilization of the most vulnerable — two key elements in thwarting the isolation which aids in extremism’s pull.

One needn’t be hostile or demeaning when addressing dangerous misinformation shared by a friend. Simply linking directly to a reputable source which corrects the record, along with a brief summary, is sufficient. Even if the comment is disregarded by the colleague, others who come across the post might explore the facts further, and may go on to then correct the record on another timeline.

Just as bigotry is learned, so is acceptance. Intolerance cannot be ignored away, but it can be educated into submission. The presentation of facts in the face of irrational and misplaced fears, when combined with patient and constructive dialogue, is remarkably effective in achieving understanding.

If you’ve yet to find a part to play in Canada’s internationally acclaimed national refugee project, consider this your starring role.

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Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Seriously.

The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.