(In)tolerant – which do you want to be?

It’s been a while since I have written about religion, politics and world conflict. For a while, I felt like I had nothing new to say or that I was wasting my breath saying things that were unpopular in a world filled with hate, racism and right wing just war theorists.

I’ve been compelled to write over the last few months, but finding the time has been difficult. But the activities of the last 24 hours have finally pushed me to put “metaphorical” pen to paper.

Yesterday’s attacks on Parisians by ISIS-backed militants is just the latest in an increasingly offensive reign of terror being perpetrated by a minority faction that is being mistaken for the majority view of Muslims the world over.

Anecdotally, I have many friends who are Muslims, none of whom want to kill me because I am a westerner or because I am from a country that supported the “war on terror”. Should I isolate myself from them or have them deported simply because they share the same religion as the perpetrators of yesterday’s violence in Paris? I think not. The logic is simply ludicrous. But that is what I am hearing today. People are saying that we should lock the borders, that we should ship out the immigrants, that we should “save us from them”. It’s ridiculous.

Following this same logic would imply that we should hate all Canadians because some of us are criminals, or, as Stephen King tweeted today, “Hating all Muslims for what happened in Paris is like hating all Christians because of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church” (link).

It is illogical to jump from the actions of a few to the hatred of so many. This is how things like slavery, the holocausts (there have been more than one against many different groups!) and McCarthyism (Better dead than Red!) were perpetrated. Fear of the other is a powerful motivator to lock your doors and justify hate and intolerance behind the banner of protection.

But unfortunately, this fear is making us punish ourselves. Modern western political, ideological and philosophical thought prides itself on transparency, freedom and safety for all. But by limiting freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought, we do ourselves a disservice.

In Canada, we have prided ourselves on being multi-cultural. Toronto and Vancouver are great melting pots of various faiths, ethnic backgrounds and lifestyle choices. We benefit greatly from the positive aspects of so many people. Canadians are known the world over for being tolerant and accepting of people of all nationalities. When we start being seen as intolerant and hateful, something is wrong.

Part of the problem here is the problem of perception. We are worried about attacks from people from a distant land, intent on bringing their struggles to our peaceful country and giving us a taste of what they are living through. We are right to be fearful of this. I don’t know about you, but I live a pretty charmed life. I have a house, two cars, a loving wife and three wonderful children. I am living in a dream world compared to most of the world. One of my paycheques could support an entire community for a year in some areas of the world. That sort of discrepancy speaks to the injustice of our world simply because of the circumstances into which we are born.

We have a right to be worried. We don’t want violence in our peaceful lives. Yet we don’t think much about the violence that we are supporting or turning a blind eye to elsewhere in the world.

Wait a minute… did I say supporting? Yep I did. There are various arguments for who started these conflicts. We could go all the way back to biblical times and the tribal conflicts that today’s division of land in the middle east is based upon and we would still be no closer to identifying the root causes of our world instability. At best, we could articulate that somebody started it, which is no better than trying to pull apart two children who are fighting over their claim of real estate in the backseat of the family car.

Bottom line: it’s a lost cause to try to ascertain rightness in who is entitled to what land in the middle east. Judaism claims first rights, Christians claim to trump Judaism and Islam claims to trump the other two. However, these are all faith-based claims, which are dangerous to try to sort out in the best of times. I am a faithful Christian, but even I have grown tired of trying to justify my actions based solely on the word of God as The Bible can be interpreted so differently by so many. Add two other major religions and you end up with an impossible debate based on nitpicking using out of context quotes and logical leaps that even a kindergartener will tell you isn’t fair.

But back to my point about the west supporting violence in the middle east. I’ve been mumbling to myself for a while that the current refugee crisis should be solved by a big backyard BBQ held by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I blame their insanely fanatical “war on terror” in Iraq for grossly inflating the 9/11 crisis into a horribly misguided full-blown bonfire. They used fabricated evidence to justify an invasion of Iraq. They were irresponsible in their planning for their invasion. And they were incompetent in their post-invasion nation building in the region. In a nutshell: they lied, they skimped and they blundered. They abused their power and they messed up the lives of billions (yes, billions) of people as a result.

And they made a bundle off of the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but if I am in charge of policy decisions, my company should not benefit from my choices. That is called a conflict of interest. If my memory is correct, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton for a while and Halliburton was a major beneficiary of the war years. I’d be curious to know if Dick’s friends George and Donald benefited similarly.

So yeah… I think they are adequately funded to help host the whole 2 million plus Syrian refugee contingent in Texas with a big backyard BBQ for as long as it takes to sort out the problems George, Dick and Donald created in the middle eastern homeland. I think that’s a fair tradeoff, don’t you?

And it’s not just me that blames George and his buddies. The Huffington Post raises a compelling argument as well, as does The Washington Post:
For The Record, Yes, George W. Bush Did Help Create ISIS
The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein’s.

(TL;DNR: Basically, George’s war in Iraq displaced a bunch of Iraq military who went on to form ISIS.)

So where does that leave us? Living in fear and increasingly hating those that we don’t understand.

I get it. ISIS has already threatened to attack other countries. They are threatening similar attacks in other cities across the western world. They are threatening to infiltrate refugee camps so that they can sneak into Canada and the US and launch attacks on our soil. Some of the stories coming out of Paris are suggesting that the attackers were from Syria and that they snuck into France via refugee routes. So yes, the path from refugee to terrorist is realistic.

But so is the path from native born to fanatic to terrorist. And so is the path from multi-generation Canadian or American to terrorist. Does this mean we should deport all foreigners? Do we deport anyone who questions our current military and political strategy (they might be an extremist, after all)? Where do we send them? What do we do with them?

Or should we take a step back and think rationally for a moment. The vast majority of refugees are in dire need of assistance. They are not planning a terrorist attack. They do not have malicious intent. They are simply looking for a safe refuge for themselves, their spouses, their children and their extended family.

The vast majority of refugees are tired, hungry, scared, in shock, alone and completely upended. Many have seen close family members or friends killed. They have lost all sense of normalcy and civility. They have traded their homes for the discomfort of long journeys to places they do not know, to foreign lands that don’t want them, after leaving all of their worldly possessions behind.

In this context, I feel ashamed to say this, but to me, a 10 hour car drive during a vacation with my three kids in the back is stressful. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to attempt to relocate my entire family to who knows where, with no end in sight, no timeline and no idea where my next meal will come from.

And we have the audacity to worry that a few of them might be bad apples or that they will come over here and leech off our government assistance.

Shame on us. Shame on all of us for turning our backs on the most needy among us. Especially when we so heartily helped to create this mess.

I don’t know about you, but my biggest problem this Christmas is telling my 10 year old son that Santa will not be bringing him an Xbox One. He already has one game console (an Xbox 360), the value of which is more than which many families can afford (and which is also greater than the complete net worth of many families in the world). When I think about it from that perspective, I cringe, as I know that 25,000 lucky people will win the “come to Canada” lottery this Christmas, where they will be allowed to come live in a faraway land, with no family and friends, no possessions, little understanding of the local language, few prospects for immediate employment and a hostile welcoming party. But they will be coming to a place free from war, free from terror, free from the hostility that made them choose sleeping in fields and on unpaved roads over staying in their homes.

And we want to paint them all with the same brush: dangerous. threatening. terrorist.

But we have a choice. We can choose to be humanitarians. We can choose to change the story. Rather than discriminate and hate, we can love, we can welcome and we can strive for peace.

We can embrace those that need help. We can embrace those that are struggling. We can welcome those less fortunate than us. We can support people as they try to make a better life for themselves and their children in a faraway place.

We can tell a new story – a story of love, peace, tolerance and kindness. This is the kind of story that can help to heal. This is the kind of story that can build bridges to peace. And this is the kind of story that Canadians should be about.

We can create a welcoming environment through:

  1. our thoughts (be compassionate)
  2. our actions (be part of a community that hosts a refugee family or donate money or goods for refugee families)
  3. our values (tolerance, acceptance and multi-culturalism)
  4. our destiny (set an example of universal peace and love)

We have a choice: we can be the tolerant or the intolerant.

Who do you want to be?

By Todd Dow

Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My family, baseball, infosec, privacy & devops are a few of my favorite things.

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