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Op-Ed: Refugees, Totalitarians and the West

Hot-button issues have a tendency to be over-reported and under-examined. Today, with 10 articles in the National Post, an entire section dedicated to “Migrants” on the online version of the Toronto Star, and four articles in the Globe and Mail — to say nothing of the other newspapers throughout Canada — the refugee crisis in Europe certainly fits the mold. Barbara Kay of the National Post writes that Canadians shouldn’t fear the crisis will lead to genocide (were people saying that, or were they upset about the language employed?), while Tim Harper of the Toronto Star ensures Canadians that, despite the obscenely low number of refugees welcomed into Canada from Syria over the past couple of years (in large due to changes to the federal refugee program), Canadians are still really nice people.

Absent from most of the articles are practical solutions to the problem. And while I am most certainly not the biggest fan of Stephen Harper, I would say that he was correct to promote the idea that the solution is not simply open borders, but action against the causes of the refugee crisis; namely, totalitarian, theocratic regimes including — only among the most widely discussed — ISIS and Boko Haram.

The devastating truth, however, is that if it weren’t for the image of the lifeless body of a three-year old, face down in sand with waves washing over his face, this story wouldn’t have gained the amazing attention it has in the media. Be sure, the refugee situation in places like Calais (France), throughout Turkey and in Greece and Italy (two countries that are utterly unable to bear the costs associated with supporting refugees) has been dire for a long time.

The current firestorm of media coverage is, on the one hand, decent and deserved, but on the other smacks of the same transient coverage that accompanied the “bring back our girls” campaign of 2014. The concern here, at least my concern, is that as soon as the emotions associated with seeing a young child dead on the beach wears out its welcome, the seemingly pressing concern to somehow address the refugee issue will fade into obscurity.

To return to Stephen Harper, he said on September 3, 2015, the following, “refugee policy alone is not remotely a solution to this problem. It is of a scale far, far beyond that.” Harper later continued, “Yes, we are also doing what we have to do to try and fight the root cause of this problem. That is the violent campaign being led against millions of people by ISIS. That is why we are part of the international military coalition.”

While much of his speech was marked (and marred) by the condescending tone that laces many of his statements, the truth of what he had to say was undeniable.

Thomas Mulcair, quite unfortunately, does not see it this way. Nor does Justin Trudeau. This is troublesome.

As any consistent reader of my works will know, I’m a big fan of the late Christopher Hitchens. In perhaps what was his most widely criticized position, he argued that the war in Iraq was just and deserved. This was not because he believed Saddam Hussein to have nuclear weapons (although he did point out that chemical weapons of mass destruction, or extermination, had previously been employed), nor because he thought that George W. Bush knew what was what, but instead because he opposed the reign of a dictator who viewed his citizens as expendable, who crushed dissents with violent force, who executed vocal minorities and ruled through terror.

But here in Canada the pacifist angle appears to trump all. Just as it must be acknowledged that there are migrants throughout Europe who need assistance, it must be acknowledged that they left their homes for reasons other than a simple desire to find a land of milk and honey. It must be noted that they were forced from their homes on pain of death. These threats came from autocratic regimes that would kill certain people before tolerating them. Such regimes ought to be fought against, physically.

While I would not support the war in Iraq as it happened, I do most certainly agree with Hitchens’ point that Hussein needed to go. Where I differ with the war in Iraq is the end-game. It should never have been to simply depose Hussein, but to also organize strong social programs (education, health care, infrastructure initiatives) to ensure that post facto, there would be not a vacuum of leadership begging for the next dictatorship to root (which turned out to be ISIS), but rather a stabilized country capable of progressing, at its own speed, toward a pluralistic and tolerant society.

One of the striking facts I’ve learned from travel and from reading about people in distant places is that human beings — in large — have quite similar goals and desires. In general, people love where they come from, too. This should not go unmentioned. And we all want, at base, those first few lines of the U.S Declaration of Independence; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we want these things not just if we’re in the US, but no matter where we are.

With this in mind, it is not absurd to point out that providing agencies like the UN Refugee Agency with $50,000 here and there (as Nova Scotia pledged today), or by opening boarders to any and all is not the answer. No, the answer is to remove the great oppressors that ruin the lives of millions (I do not mean to imply bombing them, I mean to say shooting them). These power groups exist and can be eliminated, but not with passive, pacifism-preaching jelly-spines. The answer, brutal as it both sounds and is, has to be troops on the ground. Unlike the last operation, which without question did not have a long-term vision for the future of Iraq, we need to develop a viable plan for the future of the citizens in places that need help. Difficult as it will be, it can be sussed out. Conversely, avoiding that conversation is to show a great lack of care for the current refugees in Europe, for those planning escape from their afflicted country, for those who will be affected in the future, and for those who have already lost their lives.

In short, if Canadians and the international community at large want to truly address the “migrant issue,” the answer is not open borders or donations to agencies that operate lacking camps for human beings (at least not solely), but rather, with military plans that aim to quickly end the reign of oppressors and with positive plans for the future of the formerly oppressed. I recognize that it’s an unspeakably more difficult answer, but unlike the “answers” so far proffered, this one works toward a lasting solution.

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