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Thoughts inspired by Aylan Kurdi

by Arthur Milner

Guests of the First Nations

From CBC Radio 1, June 28, 2015:

HARRY FORESTELL: Thank you for listening. I’m Harry Forestell, sitting in for Rex Murphy on Cross Country Checkup. Our topic today: Should Canada accept more of the migrants and refugees trying to get into Europe. We’re interested in what you have to say … An email from Thomas Brawn in Ottawa, Ontario, very succinctly says, “Yes, we should accept migrants from everywhere. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants, ongoing guests of the First Nations.” 1

I laughed. If we really are “ongoing guests of the First Nations,” I thought, it’s pretty rude of us to invite hundreds of thousands of people into our hosts’ home.

Then, five minutes later, I learned I wasn’t the only one to have this thought:

FORESTELL: We have Kahn-Tineta Horn from Kahnawake, Quebec, on the line. Should Canada accept more of the migrants and refugees trying to get into Europe?

HORN: Canadians and yourself are saying that we should be accepting more people. I’m Mohawk. We’ve gone through a horrible, horrific genocide and now there are very few of us left and we are living in the worst conditions anywhere in the world, practically. No water, toxins in the water, the devastation of our environment, sicknesses and all kinds of health problems and we’ve just come through the residential school commission and Canada has committed genocide.

FORESTELL: So is dealing with those problems sufficient reason to not acknowledge other problems in the world and not try to deal with those other problems as well?

HORN: Well, don’t you think you should deal with the problems with us first?

FORESTELL: I’m saying, Can we do two things at once?

HORN: I don’t think so. These people are going to come over – I’ve spoken to lots of them. They don’t even know anything about us, they come here to help themselves to our resources. They’re even getting loans from the banks so they can buy our land, which we never even relinquished. They’re acting the same way as the Canadians, who by the way are refugees.

FORESTELL: So you don’t see any difference between traditional, historical empire-building and people who are so desperately in need of help they have nowhere else to turn. Who should look after them if not Canadians?

HORN: If you can’t even look after us, and we’re in desperate situations, how can you turn around and take care of these people? They want to be in on the genocide, they’ll come over here and they’ll help you with the genocide. Canada is built on genocide. That’s what it’s built on.

Of course, not all liberal Canadians are as idealistic, naive or politically correct (take your choice) as Mr. Brawn, and not all Aboriginal Canadians as militant or extreme as Ms. Horn. Still, I’ve recently attended several events in Ottawa, including at the National Arts Centre, at which a spokesperson “acknowledges” that we are on “unceded Algonquin territory.” OPIRG-Ottawa, whose mandate is “to bring together and build upon a broad-based community dedicated to social, economic and environmental justice,” announces at the top of every website page, “On unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory.”2

Does that mean we should refrain from bringing refugees to Ottawa until its ownership is settled? What would OPIRG say?

The photograph

I am thinking about all that as Canada turns its attention to Syrian refugees, following the release of that genuinely painful photograph of a drowned three-year-old Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but that particular picture has generated a billion words. It might also have been the biggest nail in Stephen Harper’s coffin, yet again exposing him as unable to distinguish between humanitarian action and war. Among Mr. Harper’s recognized qualities is his lack of generosity, and even the most loyal among the Conservative base don’t want to believe themselves heartless. If he had simply said, “Yes, we will immediately begin a process of accepting 25,000 refugees and, if we are in a position to do so in the future, we will accept more.” But no, he kept saying they were doing enough and he kept talking about war, while the country faced up to its embarrassingly low, by international standards, rate of accepting refugees.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the fantastic power of that photograph, but I’ve heard no one say this: It worked, in Europe and America, because Aylan Kurdi looks middle-class. With his running shoes and colourful shirt and tidy haircut and apparent health, he is our son and we are his parents. He doesn’t look different or foreign – like all those desperate, hungry women in their hijabs. He looks like a boy on his way to play an organized sport at the community centre down the road.

For the first time, perhaps, we begin to understand what we, the West, have wrought on that civilization.

Treachery, hypocrisy, abject failure

According to Jewish-Israeli journalist Ari Shavit:

In the second half of the 20th century the United States and Europe contributed to stabilizing a post-colonial order in the Middle East. This order was rotten and corrupt. It was based on a shady deal of supporting dark regimes in exchange for a regular oil supply … But in the early 21st century the United States and Europe toppled the old Middle Eastern order with an insane war in Iraq, an idiotic war in Libya and indirect support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The result wasn’t an alternative order that stabilizes enlightened regimes and advances democratic values, but utter disorder. It was civil wars and fanatics’ wars and inter-tribal wars. The Western powers’ idealistic ambition – naïve, idealistic and cut off from reality – wreaked havoc in the last 12 years throughout the Middle East.3

And Palestinian-Israeli journalist Odeh Bisharat:

Qatar, a U.S. ally, is supporting the sadistic ISIS (Islamic State)4 … Saudi Arabia, of course, is the mother and father of the Wahhabi stream of Islam, which sees everyone except its own adherents as heretics deserving of death. By building on this movement, the House of Saud seized control of Saudi Arabia, supported by Britain. Later on, America replaced Britain … So even as America was ostensibly fighting for human rights all over the world, the Middle Ages prevailed in its own backyard, in Saudi Arabia.

As Saudi Arabia underwent incredible economic development, there emerged a fatal combination between billions of dollars and a horrific ideology of death, which brought about the current Arab disaster. But when the worst occurs, the leaders of the Gulf states, who are still supplying weapons and billions of dollars to these death cults, remain silent. Their money is safely stowed in Western banks.5

And then, of course, there’s Israel. In August 1990, after five months of occupation, a U.S.-led international force ejected Iraq from Kuwait. In its 48th year of occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel remains the world’s largest recipient of U.S. aid. Hamas is condemned for firing largely ineffectual rockets in its fight against an Israeli blockade; but Israel “has a right to defend itself” when it kills thousands of civilians in retribution.

Treachery, hypocrisy and abject failure, from Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration until yesterday’s photo of our neighbour Aylan Kurdi lying in the sand.

Notes

1 http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/checkup_20150628_84305.mp3

2 OPIRG-Ottawa, Mandate and History, retrieved from http://www.opirg-gripo.ca/about-us/mandate-and-history/

3 Ari Shavit, “The Time Has Come to Open Our Eyes to the Arab Disaster,” Haaretz, September 10, 2015, retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.675412

4 “U.S. Signs Agreement for $11 Billion Arms Sale to Qatar,” Reuters, July 14, 2014, retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/14/usa-qatar-idUSL2N0PP22820140714; Janine di Giovanni, Leah McGrath Goodman and Damien Sharkov, “How Does ISIS Fund Its Reign of Terror?”, Newsweek, November 6, 2014, retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2014/11/14/how-does-isis-fund-its-reign-terror-282607.html

5 Odeh Bisharat, “Germany, Light Unto the Nations,” Haaretz, September 7, 2015, retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.674799

 

Arthur Milner is a playwright, theatre director and Inroads culture columnist. His latest play is Getting to Room Temperature, inspired by his mother’s quest for assisted suicide.
 



About the Author

Arthur Milner
Arthur Milner is Inroads’ culture columnist and a member of its editorial board. He is a former artistic director of Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.




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