I am a very lucky person. I’m a white, heterosexual male and I live in Canada. I have a comprehensive fundamental education. I have been vaccinated against disease and have been served by health care professionals my entire life. While I do not come from a wealthy background but I have never experienced abject poverty. I am very aware of how good I have it. How I, so far in my life, have not had to overcome any obstacles that were not taken on by choice nor have I faced persecution or prejudicial judgement. It is because of my advantages that I take the rights of other people very seriously. As a little boy I was aware that I was growing up in an environment of freedom and safety. It is because of this that I felt a strong affinity for treating other people with empathy and compassion. As an adult I try to understand how other people feel and why they feel that way. I try to give people room to be who they are, reserving my judgements for their actions not their base level descriptors. I believe in attempting to preserve the rights, freedoms and safety of all people who want nothing more than to pursue a life of decency and prosperity for them and theirs.
When I was in elementary school Remembrance Day was a very important day. The Cadet honour guard. RCMP troopers. The Veterans. Flanders Field’s and speeches that despite their dry tone instilled in me a great deal of respect for the people who had died so I could sit in this cushy little assembly. It was that respect that kept me from complaining about how hard or cold the gymnasium floor was. By the time I was in grade three I was already writing pieces for Remembrance Day to express my respects. Having always had an overactive imagination it was impossible for me to not envision the scores of men and women who fell beneath the wheel of war. As I recited whatever words I’d put together I’d always be brought to tears. A little boy standing in front of his whole school, crying because he couldn’t fathom the amount of death that had occurred so that he might be given the opportunity to pursue anything he wanted. The brutality and transgressions of war were branded onto my brain. I’d read about the World Wars and I did my best to understand why those historical events had happened. I had reverence for the legitimacy of the allied missions. Their goal was to stop the crazed eugenics driven Nazi war machine and prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who were being persecuted for both their race and religion. It made sense to fight that fight. The idyllic childhood bubble of belief where all the righteous calls to arms, bloodshed and fates of those lost souls maintained a necessary haunting visage in my mind. This bubble was soon to burst.
In 1999 I was in 5th grade and my teacher made the dubious decision to explain to the class that NATO was bombing Kosovo in an attempt to stop the continued genocide of non-serbians by a an extreme nationalist movement orchestrated by a man named Slobodan Milosevic. I was livid. I was unconsolable. I was disillusioned. What were all the deaths of all those people in World War 1 & 2 for if the mass murder of people was still occurring? I was overcome with a horrible grief and anger for a world that had casually looked on time and time again, as I was soon to find out, while fanatics driven by madness or twisted motivations, murdered people in cold blood. Murdering people over beliefs or racial disparity, it was incomprehensible to me that such a thing was still occurring at the turn of the century. I was ravenous. I had to know why. I explored the depths of WW2 history, learning just how many Russians lost their lives and of the vicious treatment of the Chinese at the hands of the Japanese and in turn the sickening aftermath of nuclear explosions in Japan. The Korean War followed, then Vietnam, the Gulf War, not to mention the hundreds of other conflicts involving violent regimes and shadow ops running rampant across the world. None of this includes the First Nations genocides of our continent’s history, the blood and bones of the indigenous all but ignored except by those that still stand proud and carry on the standard of culture and the memory of all those murdered for the white imperialism we enjoy today. As a child my perception of the righteous narratives of WW2 fractured around me. With the distance of half a century, the twentieth century agenda of The United States of America look far more like war mongering than righteous liberation, proliferation and self preservation. I came to understand, over time, that our entire North American way of life is built on the narratives that were sold to the world at the end of WW2. History has always been written by the victor.
September 11 2001, I’m in eighth grade. I got to school without having heard the news. My family didn’t watch TV in the mornings and although it may have been on CBC radio at the time I don’t think my mother was eager to point out what had happened as global conflict obviously troubled me. It strikes me as strange now that on that day in September the events in New York City were never discussed with us by our teachers. It wasn’t addressed or talked about it until weeks later when the status quo of the situation had been prescribed to the adults by the media theorists. It was then left to a pack of unqualified small town kids to make up their own minds about what had happened based on the poor information they had on hand. I learned a lot of new phrases to negatively describe people from the middle east that day. I learned that a lot of kids dad’s didn’t care what the difference between a Pakistani, an Afgahni or a Hindu was- so long as he was dead. I was told by one kid that it was going to be martial law and gleefully from another that we’re all going to war. As time went on the enemy of Osama Bin Laden was made clear to us, and we were given a face to hate with all our childish hearts. By this time I had begun to loudly wonder why those guys in the Taliban hated us so. No one seemed to be able to tell me much at the time so I had to figure it out for myself by reading up on the history of the area. By the time it was 2003 and I was watching Colin Powell give his presentation on WMD’s in Iraq to the UN Security Council, I had done enough fundamental research to make up my own perceptions as to what was going on in the middle east.
I’m not here to give you the whole history lesson but just to sum it up for you there’s this:
In order to retain dominance and control of arabian oil the USA trained, funded and provided weapons to radical militias, assisting them in destabilizing their current governments so that when the dust settled the USA could install their own dictator for life, wielding the newly acquired nation and it’s economy like an extension of its own infrastructure yet without any responsibility to, or respect for, the people living in that country. These conflicts led to cities being bombed out of existence and many civilians dying or being marginalized by the de-stability of violence and military occupation. These uneducated & displaced men and their sons became the the radicals we have now.
The USA supported multiple coup d’etats, provided weapons, equipment and training that resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people. Then, after the current regime was toppled, rather than hand over control of the government to the militias they’d funded, men who believed they were freedom fighters, the USA installed a puppet dictator and continued to exploit these people. When the puppet dictator decides they aren’t going to be a puppet anymore, the process begins again. If you continue to kill and subjugate people, they will hate you and they will do whatever they feel is necessary to stop you. The people of the middle east have been engineered into a piece of spooky propaganda to in turn make them cannon fodder for The Military Industrial complex. A fine machine for continued economic growth and international dominance, so long as you have someone to kill. Once you understand this narrative, and understand that it has been happening for decades, the actions of radical violent extremist groups are not justified, but they are explainable. It is understandable that a group of marginalized uneducated people under such duress would turn to violence and a extremist ideologies.
As a Canadian I’m conflicted. My country is not fuelled by a vicious multi-billion dollar military industrial complex, though it is irrefutable that Canada is a cog in this mechanism. We enjoy the same indulgences and freedoms as our American counterparts, often lumping ourselves in with them when it’s convenient and disassociating ourselves when it’s not longer stylish. Our constant insistence that we are friendly and polite to a fault is obnoxious and untrue. A creeping shiver runs up my spine when I hear declarations that we live in the greatest country on earth. That brand of oversimplified nationalism is easy to swallow and fast to grow, distending our gut reactions to other cultures. We do not have a society where violence and social disorder is open and obvious, we have one where it is a tainted slick in the bloodstream of our culture. Nice normal folks would rather not discuss this: violence, racism, drug distribution, mental health, organized crime- but discuss it we must for it is time to change the narratives about who we perceive our villains to be as well as re-defining what it means to be a Canadian at this place in time. The Core of what I am saying is that the power of love and empathy must win out over the tested and time worn maxims of judgement, hate and proliferation of war. Make no mistake there will be fights and there will be deaths. I lost my delicate illusions about such things before left grade school, but I don’t believe that killing people and fighting over resources or ideologies will lead to any resolves but the inspiration for more killing. The only way to end the fight is palm up, arms open.
Syrian refugees are not our enemies. They are human beings fleeing persecution at the hands of a radical extremist fundamentalists who are misinterpreting and misrepresenting a religion who’s words are just as valid and complicated as any other. These men women and children are people that want to enjoy the same fundamental rights that we take for granted every single day. I enjoy running water on demand and have the luxury of choosing what type of food I get to eat and when I get to eat it. How many refugees are celiacs do you think? I don’t have to worry about whether or not my family is going to be burned alive or marched up to the top of a mountain to be executed. These Human Beings need to cared for, they need all our love and our ability to extend ourselves to them. We owe them that much for having enjoyed so much for so long after our profitable violent conquests and resulting system of economic oppression. This is a time when we have the crucial opportunity to change the narrative about how the Muslim world feels about the West and how we perceive a people who need our help. To meet this challenge of human decency is to show those that need are help that we the people, not our government or our special institutions, are there for them, regardless of what their political or religious affiliations are, we can help.
I have never been a religious person, but I respect people’s pursuit of whatever faith they desire. I have experienced a range of non-religious belief structures from militant teenage atheist to daydreaming psychedelic agnostic and onto hard science based literalist. I’ve learned our beliefs sculpt the reality that we choose to inhabit. I believe we’re free to pursue whatever structure of belief we’d like, so long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights, freedoms and safety of other people. To pass judgment on another’s faith without due diligence of education and experience is an ignorant action and not a basis for a judgement of an entire group of people. Despite the fact that I am not religious I have taken the task of educating myself as to the fundamentals of many other people’s religions. I don’t intend to share in these faiths, but it is important to me to know how other people believe, so that I’m not confounded and scared by our differences.
What does it mean to Canadian? What is our culture? I don’t believe that we can be reduced to some apologizing, beaver tailed, Tim Hortons gargling, hockey watching, logger beardin’, maple syrup swilling caricature. Fuck that. If we’re looking at histories of our continent and if we believe in hereditary ownership, I can stake no claim to being a original Canadian for my anglo saxon blood didn’t originate here, but this is where we must change the narrative of our own identities. Do the random origins of our bloodlines define us, or is it to what we choose to pay our allegiances? I may be caucasian, but don’t call me white. White is a entitled state of mind that can be found in any race or culture where a form of purity is a prescribed ideal and self designated sense superiority is present. I am not white. I am human being, a citizen planet Earth, and who I choose to be now matters so much more than where my blood comes from. Our identities are defined by those we stand beside, not those we would have stand behind us. Who we care for should say more about us than who we hate. We must open the conversation with each other and demand a change in how we relate to other nations and cultures. We must disclose and accept the truth about our own bloody history, and the people we’ve exploited. Before the healing can begin we must close that wound. Our nation needs to stand in awareness for what has occurred and thankfulness that we might have the opportunity to move past this and become a stronger Canada which is united by more than political agendas, religions, blood lines, economic ideologies and grudges. Are any of those platforms worth standing on to represent who we are as people? Following the acknowledgment of the trespasses of our ancestors there may come forgiveness, for it is not until we are all in honesty together, the healing can begin and all those who would stand on guard for thee may become Canadian. This is my home. I love this country. I love the freedom I enjoy, and that’s why I think being a Canadian means using your freedom to contribute to a greater good, in whatever way you can, regardless of your race, religion or rites. I want to share Canada with anyone who would use their freedom for to generate goodness and charity.
In my life I have done a lot of thoughtless taking. Without ever thinking or thanking, I have been receiving the blessings of freedom and opportunity for which many men and women so bravely died. I recognize the many who die every day in the pursuit of my freedom. It would be disrespectful of this freedom and the advantages that I have been provided with to turn my back on a people in need such as these Syrian refugees and indeed the needy the world over. For what is our freedom and strength of organized society for if not to aid and lift up those in need? The time for taking without recognition is over. Out of respect and with apologies I feel we need to extend ourselves to these people who have already endured so much, just so they may have a chance at survival and a life for their families free of persecution and fear.
The time for politicizing is done. Our leaders and representatives may do an awful lot of the talking, but as Canadian citizens it will be up to us to do the walking. Screenings and safety precautions will happen, but I feel the greatest security we can achieve is by showing muslims of the world that we do not see them as an enemy. Instead of a dismissive stare and an unfounded resentment they should be met with open arms and taught the joy of what it means to be in Canada. We the people who love our nation so and are proud of it at every turn are tasked with extending ourselves and caring like the individuals of righteous merit we believe ourselves to be. This challenge accepted the greater collective society called humanity may benefit. We the people must change the way our society thinks and feels about each other, it is not something that can be politically mandated. We must share to the extent that we are able and come to each other in assurance that what we are doing is right and disagreement when our actions are false. Now is the time to give of yourself.
There are those that would call my stance an issue of naiveté or bleeding heart liberalism. I would call it a grounded stance on the fundamental human right to life. I would call it a defiant and revolutionary act to state that loving the sick and wounded with all our hearts is a far greater goal than isolating ourselves from the rest of the world and living shrouded in fear and hate. I would declare that any people’s religion, history and cultural differences mean little to me in the face of saving their lives.
Much talk has been done about the cost of war and the justified killing that will be required to end the conflicts with our enemies. Not enough talk has been made addressing the profits of investing our faith in each other and refocusing on the purpose of our supposed efforts in countries that we hold no ownership of- to save lives and protect a persecuted people. To halt terror requires courage, vigilance. We must not falter in our resolve to assess our options and do the right thing. In the coming century we are all going to need to be able to access the breadth of our own thoughts, prayers and emotions. If we are to achieve peace, we’re all going to have to be able to express ourselves on a spectrum that doesn’t include violence. We must teach this way of caring to the world over so that no longer will mass graves be filled and hidden while children are stolen from their parents in the night. No more shall those in need of help be turned away and those who cannot help themselves abandoned. Sick people can be identified and we can care for them so long as we have the resolve to care the most when it is the most difficult to do so. Our planet must come together in a recognition that war will never unite us, only the collected extension of our compassion and empathy for the plight of others may do that. It is our turn to play Atlas and shoulder the burdened hearts of those who have endured so much more than we can ever understand, only so we may all eventually carry the collective weight of mankind together. If talking about these emotions and understanding the feelings of others makes you more uncomfortable than talking about the required murder of thousands of people, you need to get some help and stop believing your opinions have positive contribution to our so called civilized society. I believe that historic moments of trial such as these are what give us the opportunity to better ourselves through the noble support of our fellow man, without regard for race, religion or any of our painful histories. No matter now, who won and who lost.
This piece is not just about Syrian refugees. This is about making the world a better place with the simple act of caring. Extending yourself enough to feel and understand who someone is and where they come from is never a waste of your time. This is about choosing to reject the tenants of exclusionary and selfish self satisfying faiths or sharp logics which are hard to swallow. This is about learning how to feel deeper, on purpose and with control. This is about recognizing those that have transgressed, becoming evil, and looking into their fractured minds to feel their pain so that we might help them. This is about recognizing the fundamental rights of everyone on this planet. This is a time for giving, for we are able to. If I could I would give everyone on the planet the same freedom and safety I enjoy I would, but it’s not just up to me. It’s up to all of us. Now, in December, in this time of giving, please consider giving of yourself to those who need it most for not all of us are so lucky.