Last Friday, we all watched in terror as hundreds of innocent people enjoying a beautiful start to the weekend in one of the most celebrated cities in the world were gunned down in a terrorist massacre. The normalcy of a Friday night came to a horrific halt in a hail of bullets and bloodshed and I spent the next few hours glued to my Twitter account, as I watched it all unfold in real time.
There is something surreal about the way social media and technology can immerse us into every miniscule detail as it emerges, every false rumour, every inspirational or hateful utterance; every heartbreaking image that shakes us to our core. I was far away from it all, yet I was there. I read the devastated messages of people frantically searching for their loved ones and I sobbed for them and for my inability to do anything at all but merely retweet.
In my lifetime I have seen planes fly into New York skyscrapers and watched them crumble to the ground, the way bodies buckle under their own weight. I have watched incredulously as a tall, beautiful soldier in his prime was gunned down while peacefully guarding a monument in Ottawa. I have refused to watch as Daniel Pearl would be the first of many ISIS victims – throat slit, terror reverberating around the world, establishing a new “normal”.
There is something so visceral about horror and fear. It causes us to fold in half, to circle the wagons, to batten down the hatches and seek to eliminate all real and potential threats. Suspicion and survival take over. Our hearts grow small. There is no room for compassion when you have been struck in such a cowardly way and you don’t know where the next blow is coming from. When young men and women are gunned down for no reason at all, logic, too, tends to walk away. Vicious thoughts of revenge and destruction take over. You want to retaliate, to strike back; to keep this from happening to you and your loved ones.
Police immediately started investigating to find out who the terrorists were. ISIS quickly claimed responsibility. A lone Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the men who had detonated himself.
I knew immediately what was coming next.
Within hours, pundits were urging politicians to close the doors to Syrian refugees. Within days, a Peterborough mosque had been vandalized with Molotov cocktails, a Muslim woman trying to pick up her kids in Toronto was viciously attacked as two men yelled: “You terrorist, you don’t belong here. You piece of Sh*!@, go back home”, and a Muslim woman was pushed into an oncoming train in London (miraculously she survived). It would appear that nothing vindicates and avenges the cowardly acts of terrorists against innocent people like more cowardly acts against more innocent people…
Within days, a number of U.S. governors had joined in a cacophonous choir, informing President Obama that their states would not be letting in Syrian refugees, slated to soon be arriving. Never mind that the U.S. Constitution stipulates that it’s not up to them to decide that, they decided to pander to voters’ fears and appear “tough on crime” on the backs of innocent refugees who are now being re-victimized, scapegoated, and demonized for absolutely no reason at all.
“But what if there are terrorists hiding among Syrian refugees?” has been the question on the lips of far too many people these past few days. For the sake of maintaining my sanity and focusing on those minds I can – perhaps – change, I will refrain from focusing on the vile and ignorant Islamophobia masquerading as a legitimate security concern that I’ve seen blow up on my social media feed. Those people are hopeless and I no longer want to spend any time educating them because their bigotry and prejudice overrides any factual information. They will believe what they will believe and nothing anyone tells them will change their minds.
For the rest of you, the ones legitimately concerned about a possible infiltration of terrorists entering our countries disguised as Syrian refugees, here are a few points that you desperately need to read. I think it will go a long way towards easing your fears:
- TERRORISTS ARE INFILTRATING EUROPE BY POSING AS REFUGEES
Not true. All Paris attackers identified so far are European nationals, according to top EU officials. While some people are frantically calling for us to close our doors, because they fear terrorists are infiltrating Europe by posing as refugees, in most cases it’s unfortunately been proven that it’s the other way around and most terrorists have been homegrown – including our own two “lone wolf” incidents in Canada. All the attackers identified in the Paris massacre so far were born in Belgium and France, posing much more complex questions for our society with regards to real cultural and religious integration that I suspect far too many are not willing to acknowledge or deal with honestly. Should we call for a ban on French and Belgium nationals? Funny how no one has suggested that solution.
The number of refugees in the U.S. since 9/11 who have turned out to be terrorists? A big fat ZERO. The same number, by the way, applies for the large number of Bosnian Muslims who came to Canada and the States after the Bosnian civil war.
As for that Syrian passport that someone on their way to blow themselves up to a million pieces conveniently and irrationally felt compelled to carry with him (was he on his way to an all-inclusive afterwards and needed to quickly dash to the airport? Did no one seriously question how nothing remained of this man, yet a paper document could survive a blast this powerful? I have sooo many questions and none of them involve Syrian refugees). The latest reports seem to point to that passport being a fake, which is no surprise considering there is a burgeoning trade at the moment. It would not strike me in the least bit unlikely or exaggerated that a terrorist group would seek to demonize Syrians who “betrayed” them because they are attempting to flee their califate. If you can’t terrorize and kill them at home, why not ensure they are denied anywhere else to go? It’s brilliantly hateful and easily conceivable considering the climate of suspicion currently alive and well in the world.
- REFUGEES POSE A THREAT TO CANADIAN SECURITY
Actually, it’s way tougher for someone to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor. Stop reading silly articles and dubious links chockfull of misinformation shared by your bigoted friend on Facebook and take the time to read real facts about refugees and refugee claimants in Canada from the Canadian Council for Refugees, a national non-profit umbrella organization in Canada. According to their information, the refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants if they are found to be inadmissible on the basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human rights violations. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) checks all refugee claimants on arrival in Canada. Since the screening was put in place in 2001, it’s worth reminding people that the number of claimants found to represent any kind of security concern has been statistically insignificant.
- WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THEM, BUT WE’RE GETTING READY TO ACCEPT 25,000?
Actually, that’s not true. According to a recent CTV interview with Peter Showler, the former chair of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, the UNHCR has already triaged the refugees and assessed those that would make ideal candidates for re-settlement. They, in turn, are then interviewed and assessed by Canadian Visa officers and finally by Canadian security agencies. The vast majority of the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada would be accepting fled Syria years ago (they fled to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq) and have been in neighbouring countries as refugees for four years. To quote Showler: “We know who those people are. So it’s actually quite easy to identify 25,000 that fit into extremely low-risk security categories.”
Also, in addition, and I think worth mentioning for those citing all sorts of convenient reasons for preventing them from coming here, many of the refugees now arriving to Canada are sponsored. Sponsored refugees are not even entitled to government assistance (including provincial assistance) during the period of their sponsorship (usually for one year after arrival in Canada). Their income support must be provided by their sponsors and/or volunteer community groups.
- IS THERE A WAY TO GET THE RISK DOWN TO 0%?
In essence, many of those freaking out right now and trying to shut down our borders or delay the arrival of people who desperately need to come here, are asking this very question. Can we find a way to eliminate the risk factor to helping people? The answer is no. Take a quick look at the world around you and tell me how you think you can inoculate yourself from all threats –real or otherwise, miniscule or major? I’m sorry, you just can’t.
We’ve allowed the government increased surveillance access to our most private conversations, we allow security guards to pat us down and scan our bodies through X-ray machines, we take off our shoes, we suffer through a myriad of questions while crossing the border, we travel on trains that have signs saying “If you see something, say something”. We believe those actions make us safer. We believe they reduce the risk, the fear, the possibility of another plane or another building or another human being going down. But the sheer truth of it all is that they help a little to make things safer, but mostly just create the illusion of safety in most of these cases.
Because deep down inside we know that no security or safety check in the world can predict or prevent a crazed fanatic or raging madman from entering a room full of people and blowing himself up. We know that. Sure, we do what we can, but at the end of the day life is a series of random luck chances and, as the Paris incident just demonstrated, death can simply be about nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now, knowing all that, what do you do about it? You put in place the best security plan you can muster and you go on about your life. And you remain human. You prove yourself a thousand times better than the evil in this world. You go on. Despite the fear and the horror and the paralyzing doubts, you move on and you refuse to recoil and react in horror and hatred, the way these assholes predictably expect you to.
Since 2011, 12 million Syrians have fled their homes because of conflict, making it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis; half of those fleeing are children. More than 3,200 have perished this year alone attempting to cross into Europe via treacherous sea crossing because there is no “home” to return to and their children are a lost generation, wasting away in camps receiving no education and having no hope.
With winter coming, and with every day and week a matter of life and death for many of these people, it is unconscionable that we are delaying admitting them. No rational piece of evidence exists to substantiate such a delay and all safety requests are based on nothing but knee-jerk reactions and fear-based rhetoric. Syrian refugees are ESCAPING the horror Parisians experienced for one night. That carnage, that fear, those tears, and that despair? These families have lived it for years. They have watched loved ones die, their homes destroyed, their hope for a future extinguished, and now are watching from the sidelines as the world vilifies them for something they had absolutely nothing to do with.
If we don’t collectively snap out of it and find our humanity, we will (to use a popular phrase circulating often after 9/11) “have let the terrorists win”. We will have let fear and hate win over hope and love. If we claim to be better than them, we need to be fucking better than them. Otherwise we will look back on this the way Canadians now shamefully look back at the story of the St. Louis in 1939, when 907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner were seeking sanctuary from Nazi Germany and were callously turned away. The ship sailed back to Europe, where 254 would later die in concentration camps.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be part of a country that turns people in need away. If we aspire to learn from our collective failings in the past, how about we start now?