Politics / Social issues

​From Paris to Canada to Beirut – We Aren’t “Civilized” (And What We Can Do Change That)

Genuine reflection on foreign policies and interventions, rather than blame-mongering, needed in wake of Beirut, Paris attacks


As news filters out of Paris today and the pieces start to come together, that one piece of information is finally there: One of the suicide bombers had an express passport and came in with other Syrian refugees through Greece.

There it is. That nugget everyone has been waiting for. As hundreds of thousands of human beings flee war and death and hunger and violence, they have brought with them the very perpetrators of that violence to “our” shores. Just as we suspected.

Naysayers and right-wing security-touting politicians strike gold – we told you so.

Daesh (the name for ISIS used by Arabs to deny the group’s legitimacy) has killed over 100,000 Syrians and Iraqis over the past two years. Just Syrians and Iraqis, this doesn’t even include the Americans, British, Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Libyans.


Numbers that are tantamount to a Paris attack every single day for two years.


There have been countless tweets and Facebook posts urging people not to blame the refugees, who have tried with their very bodies – fleeing, drowning, dying – to tell us what one attack on a western “civilised” city has told us in a day.

There is a gargantuan horror that is being allowed to happen every single day, not so far away from our shores and which our armies are compounding.

Who exactly are we trying to keep away? ISIS fighters have come from our societies. Canada, UK, Paris, the US – exported right to their doors.

“These are the very people that the refugees have been fleeing from,” says one tweet. “Your neighbour Mohammed and his wife are not terrorists,” reads another Facebook post. As if these things shouldn’t be self-evident. The alienating and orientalist discourse by Barack Obama stating that this was an attack on a civilized country has painted an entire region as barbaric.


Let us be clear: There is no “civilized” world. Canadian ISIS-recruit Abu Muslim al-Kanadi used to be Andre Poulin from Timmins, Ontario (for those not in the know, that’s not an Arab name). Colonial taxes continue to be levied in over 14 countries by France. One of the U.S.’s largest allies is Saudi Arabia, one of the largest funders of terrorist groups in the world. When President Hollande can say the words – “we will wage a pitiless war” (essentially another way of saying “An eye for an eye…”) he proves that the world we live in is not civilized. It is blind.

The Paris attacks are not an isolated incident. Beirut suffered two bombings the previous day, just as it has been suffering for DECADES with such violent attacks. Innocent people in cafes, theatres and bars have also lost their lives and loved ones. And yet, Lebanon is the one country that is currently hosting the largest number of the world’s refugees. A 4.8-million population country of 10,452 km2 (FYI that’s less than two Prince Edward Islands) with a refugee population of almost 1.8 million, and it did so despite the continuing infiltration of individuals who would cause harm.

So what do we in Canada do? Do we blame the very people whose lives have been at risk every day and who have faced a “Paris” attack every single day? Do we separate ourselves from the policies, politics, and actions over the past five years since the start of the Syrian war, and say: “The refugees did this! They brought ISIS here! Close the doors!”

Do we close our borders and take our time, slowly, slowly over years vetting each and every person that we allow to eke in? While hundreds and hundreds die as we continue to bomb their enemies in their own homes with our warplanes and guns?

Or do we take a serious look at what our policies have caused? Do we revamp our deficient immigration systems and seriously explore ways that we can continue to offer meaningful help to those who need protection from terror, while acknowledging the real possibilities of attacks? Should we not take a look at these new populations on our shore who stand in solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks, even though they have suffered through their own tragedies, and have nothing but angry, vile accusations thrown at them because of their faith? Should we take on the challenge head-on and realize that there is a difference between people and the intentions of a fringe, extremist group, and think about how to maintain assistance and an open-door policy while mitigating the risks?

Syria Paris and Canada + Refugees

We need to invest in the wealth of human potential, knowledge, education, and acumen that refugees bring to build stronger, more united nations that can jointly face groups like Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and many others before them, AND the much worse groups that will come if we do not change this discourse.

I say “we.” But what you may not know is that I am a refugee myself. Since birth I have been a refugee, and now I am British, and Canadian, and Arab.

Do I differentiate myself from the scores of humanity fleeing war? Not in any way other than the fact that I had the privileged refugee life of being able to fly and emigrate ‘at leisure’, with an education and a chance at a welcoming society simply because I left at a time when the world was a much more open and tolerant place to refugees of my ilk. I was fortunate – unlike many refugee children in Europe today – as my welcome was readied by my father, who went before me to ensure my safety, and my mother who remained behind to take care of me. My brother went before me to a new life and promise of education. We are both successful, privileged people today because of those actions of a few.

Do I differentiate myself from my fellow Canadians and Brits? Not in any way other than some of us share a different past and history of how we got here and why. Canada and Britain recognized me as a valued member of society, and an advocate for those who are fleeing terror today; those who should be equally valued members.

My uncles and cousins have fled Syria and Lebanon in the past year. They have risked their lives and those of their children through a turbulent sea, an unknown land and prison-like camps because they are safer than being in their homes in Syria. Are they responsible for bringing Daesh to your shores? Are they responsible for allowing terror to land outside your cafes and restaurants? I can assure you that they are not, as I am confident that none of their neighbours and fellow Syrians are either.

Some of the world’s biggest security experts haven’t been able to answer some of the questions we face here. Extremists will enter and emerge from refugee flows or through other means. It has never been a fool-proof process and may never be. But I do know that it is much larger than “who do we blame?”

I do know that it is about addressing the questions of how we balance access and assistance to services for people who desperately need them, improving those mechanisms so that innocent victims do not continue to face the backlash.

Let us instead raise calm, tolerant voices and work – even within our own communities – towards robust, sound policies that will benefit the thousands of Syrians fleeing conflict, rather than allowing sensationalist rhetoric and hype to shape the world we live in.

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