#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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No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia http://opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

Need To Know: On Syria And The Migrant/Refugee Crisis

This was initially meant to be a lengthy Facebook post for those who look to me for information on complex matters (which I do happily, by request). However, it received such appreciation and requests to make it open to all (which I eventually did) that I thought I’d post it here, too, but with additional links/further info for those seeking a one-stop landing for information on the issue.

——

Here’s a round-up of information on the current migrant/refugee crisis, the impossible situation in the Middle East driving it, and what – if anything – can/should be done.

First off, however, regarding the loathesome, xenophobic memes making the rounds, courtesy of extremist websites/blogs, FB pages, and media personalities:

The FB page I’ve seen many sharing patently fake anti-Mulsim nonsense from – Britain First – is a NEO-NAZI OPERATION. It’s a white-supermacist organization, full-stop. If you find yourself sharing anything from that page/site – especially when it comes to anything about Muslims or Islam – perhaps you need to re-examine your own values before calling into question the beliefs of others.

A few helpful links on that:

1. http://www.channel4.com/news/britain-first-far-right-anti-muslim-extremists-mosques
2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/25/truth-britain-first-facebook-far-right-bnp
3. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/britain-first-has-quietly-become-the-most-popular-uk-politic

The same goes for the bigotry emanating from other notoriously-ignorant FB pages – Right Wing News, Chicks On The Right, The Blaze (Glenn Beck’s operation), Fox News, The Rebel, Atlas Shrugged – or the personal pages of disgraced conservative figures like Allen West, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, Franklin Graham, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with being C/conservative, or holding a C/conservative world view. That’s not who these people are, nor what they represent. All of the above are part of a hateful segment which no respectable person takes seriously.

Granted, once in a while a few of those pages might post something innocuous (often one of those feel-good viral memes from other sites). That’s fine. It’s their intentional misinformation and fomenting of hatred that’s the problem.

There are reputable C/conservative publications / personalities in existence. These are not them.

A few quick (but hardly thorough) links debunking some of the most-shared — and so obviously BS — anti-refugee memes:

1. http://www.vice.com/read/kleinfeld-refugee-memes-debunking-846

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/no-that-viral-image-doesnt-show-an-islamic-state-fighter-among-europes-refugees/

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/surprised-that-syrian-refugees-have-smartphones-well-sorry-to-break-this-to-you-but-youre-an-idiot-10489719.html

And related: http://www.vice.com/read/debunking-the-racist-memes-passed-around-by-the-nativist-right-765

Here’s Shannon Gormley, deftly tackling the xenophobic nonsense: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/gormley-yes-lets-be-rational-about-the-syrian-refugee-crisis

And now…

The full story of the boy whose death woke the world up to the already years-long humanitarian catastrophe: http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/inside-the-tragedy-that-woke-up-the-world/

One of just many reports by Terry Glavin, who broke the Kurdi story: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/glavin-lets-talk-about-the-kurdi-family-we-did-turn-away

A simple (but in being simple, not nearly thorough) explanation of why people are fleeing Syria: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/4/9261971/syria-refugee-war

More on that, with a deeper look at the death toll of ISIS versus the death toll of Syria’s Assad regime (Spoiler: ISIS isn’t the problem): https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-has-killed-many-syrians-but-assads-forces-have-killed-even-more/2015/09/05/b8150d0c-4d85-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html

A phenomenal visualization of the death toll from Syria’s ISIS/Assad civil war: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-war-deaths.html

In the war on ISIS: Friends, foes and in between http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/in-the-war-on-isis-friends-foes-and-in-between/

The new Cold War in the Middle East: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/21/moscow-relishes-revamped-role-in-mideast-as-israel-seeks-assurances-in-syria/

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/22/putin-russia-syria-assad-iran-islamic-state/

“Why can’t they just go home”? Because THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO.

1. https://twitter.com/sommervillebbc/status/639486321732526081

2. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/12/world/middleeast/syria-civil-war-damage-maps.html

Liz Sly, on the emptying of Syria: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-is-emptying/2015/09/14/2b457a86-534f-11e5-b225-90edbd49f362_story.html

Her photo essay on children who only know life inside refugee camps: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/the-faces-of-syrian-children-who-only-know-life-in-a-refugee-camp/

And her early – and important – examination of the refugee crisis looming in the Middle East:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/as-tragedies-shock-europe-a-bigger-refugee-crisis-looms-in-the-middle-east/2015/08/29/3858b284-9c15-11e4-86a3-1b56f64925f6_story.html

A must-see photo gallery of Syria’s children, and the hell they’re living: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/08/syrias-children/402583/

The nightmare that is life for those who’ve not fled: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/middleeast/for-those-who-remain-in-syria-daily-life-is-a-nightmare.html

And the dilemma many are faced with: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/in-syria-many-families-face-a-terrible-dilemma

After 4 years of conflict, more than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been driven out: http://graphics.latimes.com/syria-to-greece/

On that note: It’s not just Syria, or migrants from Syria. We are also involved/supporting/enabling the bombing/destruction of Yemen

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/world/middleeast/airstrikes-hit-civilians-yemen-war.html

2. https://theintercept.com/2015/09/01/yemen-hidden-war-saudi-coalition-killing-civilians/

And, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq …

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/asia/afghanistan-migrant-kunduz-iran-europe.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur

2. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/europes-refugee-crisis-isnt-only-about-syria-iraq-afghans/?wp_login_redirect=0

Some Iraqis are abandoning the fight against ISIS for safety in Europe: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/21/us-europe-migrants-iraq-military-insight-idUSKCN0RK0EB20150921

Afghan NATO translators who helped coalition forces are having to take illegal routes West after having their asylum applications rejected: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/serbia/11878114/The-Afghan-Nato-interpreters-forced-to-walk-through-Europe-for-refugee-status.html

To those demanding to know “why aren’t Muslim countries doing anything?!”

Uh, they are.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. http://trib.al/H6RuaiW

Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan have taken so many refugees that it’s changing their demographics. http://on.rand.org/SmFCy

More: https://twitter.com/LATimesGraphics/status/644889552901963776

The tragic lives of refugee children in Lebanon. http://lifeonhold.aljazeera.com/

Meanwhile, after being shuttled on trains and branded with numbers, refugees are being housed in former concentration camps. Yes, you read that right.

1. https://twitter.com/JeffreyGoldberg/status/639600506705473536

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/world/europe/czech-republic-criticized-after-officers-mark-migrants-with-numbers.html

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/19/the-refugees-who-live-at-dachau

Some key explainers on the many factors fuelling the crisis:

1. U.N. Funding Shortfalls and Cuts in Refugee Aid Fuel Exodus to Europe: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/un-funding-shortfalls-and-cuts-in-refugee-aid-fuel-exodus-to-europe.html

2. Why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-real-reasons-why-migrants-risk-everything-for-a-new-life-elsewhere/article24105000/

3. 8 reasons the refugee crisis is happening now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/18/8-reasons-why-europes-refugee-crisis-is-happening-now/

4. The migrant crisis: here’s why it’s not what you think – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europes-migrant-crisis-eight-reasons-its-not-what-youthink/article26194675/

What can WE do? Two of the most respectable voices in Canada:

1. Roméo Dallaire: Response to Syrian refugees ‘atrocious’: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/romeo-dallaire-response-to-syrian-refugees-atrocious/

More: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-romeo-dallaire-syrian-refugees-1.3228123#pq=BTWEGU

2. Great interview with former chief of defence Rick Hillier: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-rick-hillier-refugees-military-christmas-1.3225732

Asylum seekers will keep coming, regardless of the chilly welcome from the West: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/parnesh-sharma-the-asylum-seekers-will-keep-coming-regardless-of-the-chilly-welcome-from-the-west

We should – and can – take in 20 times more refugees: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-canada-should-take-in-20-times-more-refugees/

Excellent primer from Laura Payton on where Canadian policy stands: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/refugees-primer/

Glavin, on the Conservative’s recent policy change: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/glavin-conservatives-finally-take-responsibility-for-the-roadblock-facing-syrian-refugees

Meanwhile, refugees are left to plead for family reunification: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/refugees-plead-for-family-reunification/article26466051/

A group of notables lay out eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/eight-steps-to-get-more-syrian-refugees-into-canada/article26356841/

Refugees are, in fact, a huge economic and cultural boon to society — not a burden. They are not welfare-seekers.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/opinion/europe-should-see-refugees-as-a-boon-not-a-burden.html?_r=0

Why our chance to help those in desperate need is also a potentially historic economic opportunity:
http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/this-is-the-refugee-debate-we-ought-to-be-having/

And no, we do not give refugees better health care or government services than citizens receive

1. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/jonathan-kay-the-refugee-health-care-decision-lays-bare-harpers-creed-punitive-moral-absolutism

2. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/do-the-cuts-to-refugee-health-care-make-sense/

3. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/refugee-rules-are-bad-policy-legal-or-not

4. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-government-policy-on-refugee-health-care-exposed-as-heartless-and-shameful

No matter the nonsense which continues to come from the current Conservative government: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-flyers-survey-refugees-1.3217603

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/harper-says-only-bogus-refugees-are-denied-health-care-hes-wrong/

Why how we refer to those seeking asylum matters: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/migrants-refugees-europe-syria.html

On fears of radicalization – nothing fights radicalization like opportunity.

Compassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology http://econ.trib.al/wIk3K1x

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/the-donald-versus-the-scriptures-migrants-refugees/

Things to note re: the claims of ISIS infiltrating migrants.

1. https://twitter.com/DougSaunders/status/643947905594822656

2. https://twitter.com/a_picazo/status/643949522968690688

3. https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/644614714958475264

ISIS doesn’t want Syrian migrants to flock to Europe, either: http://theweek.com/speedreads/578405/isis-doesnt-want-syrian-migrants-flock-europe-either

More: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aylan-kurdi-isis-propaganda-dabiq/404911/

Further reading – Follow the journey of the refugees with these in-depth journals:

1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants

2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/balkan-odyssey-a-desperate-journey-through-centraleurope/article26438596/