The burning of a mosque in Peterborough; the brutal attack on an innocent Muslim mother en route to picking her child up at school; vitriolic comments about refugees on Facebook from 'friends' and strangers alike. Send all the refugees back, read far too many comments. To what? This? I ask:
Since when as Canadians do we paint the followers of a specific religion with the same brush? To blame ALL Muslims for the slaughter in Paris or the demented ideology of ISIS is insanity. Shades of Nazi Germany? Dear God, I wish I were an ostrich right now; I could simply bury my head in sand and ignore the burgeoning racism.
Our neighbours in Thornhill for five years were a Sunni family from Iran. Did we struggle to find common ground? You bet. Souhalia wore a hijab and body-hiding long loose dresses, wouldn't shake hands with Jim, and struggled with English. Ibrahim, to my total frustration, addressed all comments to me through Jim. Over time, we learned to respect each other for our differences and a friendship of sorts ensued. I admit that it was not an easy transition, but they were simply a hard working family in search of a better life in Canada for their two daughters. Ibrahim and Souhalia even visited us after our move to Uxbridge during the Christmas season bearing gifts. Unbelievable!
Five years of teaching real estate courses for the Ontario Real Estate Association brought me into contact with an amazing cross section of recent immigrants. I not so fondly remember the Pakistani man who sat at the back of my classroom, arms crossed and refusing to make eye or verbal contact with me for two endlessly long weeks of instruction. He complained to the powers that be at OREA about having a "female" instructor. Welcome to Canada, was their response. Thank you OREA. That said, I met fine students from Iran, Syria, Israel, India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Russia....the list is endless. Many times my heart soared with pleasure watching students from warring backgrounds, Israeli and Iranian, Indian and Pakistani not only working together on projects, but laughing and eating together in the cafeteria. Only in Canada, I remember remarking to Jim.
It is a small wonder we are currently in shock. As a nation, we have undergone a seismic shift from a Prime Minister who played on our fears of all that is different to one who wants to welcome 25,000 refugees before 2016. Add to that the recent Paris attacks and our insecurities, fears, and sadly, discriminatory tendencies have come to the fore. But Canada is better than this.
Why should we take them? Just leave them in the refugee camps and donate money to feed them. How many times have I read this insensitive comment? Think of your child or grandchild, growing up, never knowing a permanent home or country, sentenced to this:
To send the message to these Muslim refugees that we don't want them is to yield to terrorism by suspending what I thought were our Canadian values. This is exactly what ISIS is hoping for - a disenfranchised Muslim world. Like a putrid petri dish breeding germs, the hopelessness of life in permanent refugee camps will breed the very terrorists we so fear. Ripe fields for ISIS recruiters. Let's just hand them victory now.
Do I relish the thought of opening our doors to the issues and cost involved with 25,000 refugees? Not really. Will the adjustment prove difficult for Canada and the Muslims granted entry? Absolutely. Is it fraught with inherent danger? Of course. I can only pray that it is families we invite in, that rigorous vetting takes place and that the laws of our country are emphasized. Too many, too soon? Perhaps, but many of these families have been surviving in Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps for over a year. How do you define too soon? Why then should Canada even be involved? This is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. In my mind, it would be immoral to turn a blind eye to such suffering.
In 1939, a ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and seeking sanctuary in Canada, was refused entry. Ultimately the ship was forced to return to Europe where 254 of those refugees would later die in concentration camps. Oh my God! I cry to think of Canada's then lack of compassion. Never do I want my grandchildren to look back on our country's response today and cringe at our inhumanity.
To those who have stated that they did not vote for Trudeau and therefore will opt out of even minimal acceptance, your understanding of democracy is sadly misguided. May I suggest Political Science 101 for you or perhaps emigration to some benevolent dictatorship. We are in this together. Like it or not, this is OUR government, OUR country.
Little Peterborough has set a true example of Canadian spirit. After the arson and burning of a local mosque, ordinary citizens raised over $101,000 for necessary repairs. The Beth Israel Synagogue reached out with a helping hand, offering its support and facilities as a temporary place for worship. Why am I not surprised that the Jewish population in Peterborough was sensitive to the plight of their Muslim neighbours?
No doubt, difficult times lie ahead for us all. So I ask you, do we meet this with bigotry, vitriolic language and outright hated or do we meet this humanitarian challenge together as a country of pioneers, peacekeepers and compassionate human beings?