Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Conflict of Simplicities

It is difficult to determine how far to go back.  Do I just go back a few days to Paris, a place now laden with connotations of anxiety, heartache and uncertainty about what's next?  Or perhaps that shoreline on the Aegean in September? The Arab Spring? 2001? 1972? The Balfour Declaration? Whichever one we choose to go back to, there is the guarantee of bringing excess baggage that complicates the discussion at hand or ignoring details that oversimplifies, as has been the case in the last few days when so many politicians have made a point of muddying the line between refugees and terrorists and make the case that we needed to be protected from a group of people that at this moment is at its most vulnerable.

A too small a portion of the time line or the big picture has served to evoke emotions for the sake of a chosen expediency and stoked irrational thought at the exclusion of key details about what is happening and steering us away from a pursuit of the simple facts that need to be sorted through to allow us to proceed on the basis of what we as a society know rather than what we believe. In the wake of terrorist attacks such as that toxic, coordinated statement Friday, November 13, 2015 night or similar events in Bali, London, Ottawa, New York, Kenya and other places that comprise this bleak litany freedoms have been compromised as the flimsy case is made time and again that we are better off and safer with less freedom. There may be a case to be made in that matter but the argument often seems to be along the lines of, "If you have nothing to hide you should have nothing to worry about if we invade your privacy, (whether a little or a lot.)"

We have become less trusting of one another and we have directed our caution away from the thoughts we voice or support. Instead, we are cautious about who we extend our hands and hearts to. The events that grip the world these days become events that television was made for, occasions where we sit rapt and silent sponging up what has happened and hanging on updates with a hunger for a plot twist or other element that will sustain the drama.

None of these events are isolated from one another and none of them are given their fullest possible context because there is a reflexive desire for one set of victims and one set of bad guys without too many shades of grey in between. Time and time again, the simplistic definition of "other" misses the entire point. The region, country, or postal code that you come from does not determine your role in this unfolding drama. All of us, every last one of us -- from presidents and prime ministers, to perpetrators, mourners, mourned, a hopeful blogger and his 4-year-old who remains happily oblivious to this -- are bit players in what is unfolding and will continue to unfold.  The insistence that borders be closed to refugees is evidence of the short-sighted, misinformed stereotyping that we try to sway children from throughout their entire lives.

The insistence among purported "leaders" that refugees be turned away because they come from the same region, race or religion that these same "leaders" believe the terrorists came from makes a deliberate point of avoiding the facts to escalate public opinion and paranoia about how to protect people from the amorphous and ever-looming "them" that serves these fear-mongering politicians so well.  There is a convenience in branding and clustering people in a manner that invites a clamour for building walls, whether real or metaphorical.

Many people belief that they will be more secure by enveloping themselves in a brittle infrastructure and a policy framework that will do little but make fear more evident and tangible while ultimately failing to protect anyone from the threat that goes by the name of ISIS/ISIL, oh, sorry, this just in: they are now known as Daesh.

It has been made clear to us in tragedy after tragedy that our hearts are open and permeable organs that respond to the needs of other when we are made aware of them. Our communities must be just as open and responsive. Apart from the acts of terror that we have become to familiar with and too divided by, we have borne witness in the last decade to disasters and tragedies that have struck rich nations, poor and entire regions. Each time we have responded and, out of our collective compassion, done our very best to redistribute our wealth to the victims of these tragedies while we sat vigil before our televisions - not our most substantial and lasting of responses but we were moved enough at the time.

While the tangle of issues that began (in the short-term sense) in Syria and clustered in Paris a few days ago are far too controversial to capture in the soundbite realm, there are some basic elements that we need to regard as a touchstone in such times of certainty. The refugees are the brave, resilient, tenacious ones who are waking each morning with little certainty about what is next for them and getting through each day on the strength of their hope and their confidence in mankind to do the right thing.

They have the same simple desires and needs that people have always had safety, food, certainty and hopes for their children's wellbeing. They want to be masters of their own destiny as soon as possible and when they have the opportunity and support to achieve those their dreams they will have a transformative effect on their lives and the communities that accept them.  A scant few weeks ago it was heartwarming to see refugees welcomed as warmly as they were throughout Europe: a demonstration of compassion and wisdom that needs to be repeated regularly in the days and years ahead. Grounding ourselves in the simplicity of the lives and dreams of neighbours will provide us with much more guidance than the fact-deficient approaches of those who insist on fearing the weak.