Marwa Tayara says all Syrian-Canadians fear they might lose a family member back home. She says that everyone she knows wakes up in the morning to check sites like Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Facebook for updates on who has died who and who has been captured.
Not for a moment do I think a single Member of Canada's Parliament is ambivalent to the horrors happening every day in Syria, or for that matter any number of other places in the world. It would be delusional to assume that Canadian involvement through force of arms would make the Syrian Civil War go away, even if we had the right - which we most certainly don't. Unlike other nations, we have never declared ourselves the world's policemen; as such we've never had to watch our back like other nations, either. Our more selective use of force and focus on diplomatic approaches has historically served us well.
Yet the Syrian Civil War has seen the death of at least 93,000 souls, 6,500 of which have been children. Our Parliament bubbles over on issues such as abortion or providing sufficient supports for Aboriginal children on Reservations - what about the youth of Syria? The United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees says "we have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rawandan genocide" - a black mark of inaction in our history, yet still our response in both words and actions is diluted. How often do our Parliamentarians give voice to Syrian Canadians, worried about the fate of loved ones back home?
Canada has a proud history of both fighting hard when the time calls for it and serving as an international conscience when the need is dire. One of the most inspired conflict de-escalation tools of the last century - Peacekeeping - was a Canadian innovation. Have we lost that creative solution making ability? Has our resolve wavered?
To the best of my knowledge, we don't presently have any Parliamentarians of Syrian background. As such, none of our Parliamentarians have a direct connection to what's happening on the ground in Syria - none of them have familial skin in the game. This isn't to suggest they are willfully indifferent to the plight of Syrians, any more than they are willfully indifferent to the plight of homeless people or persons with mental illnesses here at home. Human beings are limited in their capacity to understand what doesn't impact them directly and for our current Parliament, Syria isn't personal.
It's not just Canada. The US, who does like to see itself as the world's policemen, are on the sidelines. Britain and France, countries that have never been squeamish about stepping in to foreign conflicts when their interests were at stake, are also sitting on their hands. There's no Suez in Syria, after all. History won't judge us on where we thought our best interests lay; as with the Residential Schools, history rightfully judges us on the consequences of our actions or inaction.
I have to wonder - if there were more Syrian Canadians, or more Members of Parliament with Syrian connections, would we be hearing about this conflict more? Would anyone be advocating for a stronger role for Canada? Conversely, if the Civil War were happening in France, or Britain (countries with more direct, albeit much diluted since WWII, ties to Canada) and the death toll of innocents was similarly mounting, would Canadians be demanding greater action from our government?
It's all well and good for our current government to so heavily promote flag and country, but what makes Canada great, what has always made Canada great, are its people - and they come from everywhere. At our best Canada is a representation of what the world's diverse people can accomplish when they pool their resources and live, build and play together. We create a tapestry as dynamic as it is diverse, as rich as the world itself. It's this variance, this connection to everywhere, that has inspired us to act and given both the raw ideas and personal connection to seek resolution for conflicts wherever they arise.
I worry about the future for Syria, as I do for the people in Greece, in Romania, in Afghanistan and Somalia and in hotspots all over the world. War is a life-forming event; those youth who grow up in conflict will know conflict, but not what it's like to seek compromise. Much as engagement isn't our priority now, diplomacy may well not be theirs tomorrow. Lots of Canadians are worrying, but worrying is not the same as taking action.
This is one of the reasons why I think polyculturalism is a good thing, even a necessary thing as our world grows hotter and our population swells. We simply can't do this: every nation to itself is not going to work any more. Our fates are too intertwined. The simple fact of being Canadian - of living side-by-side with people from everywhere, of being represented in government by people of backgrounds different than yours forces the conversation, empowers comprehension and ideally, nurtures a better world.
Because of our history and our composition, Canada remains best-positioned to set the example others can follow and to come up with the creative conflict solutions that others can share. We've done it before; we can do it again.
It shouldn't matter what the major demographics groups of our population are, nor where our economic interests like. Canada should lead by example for the simple reason that it's what we do best.