On Donald Trump, and war as a means to an end ….

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If this blog was about book reviews, or cooking, or home decor, I’d probably never have moments when I think “some people are going to hate this post”. But this blog is BethBlog, a place for me to say everything I feel like saying whenever I feel like saying it, so I’ve had many of those moments. Because I can be quite a bitch, I kind of like the feeling of stirring the pot – of making people cringe. Some situations call for a bitch – beg for one – and I happily oblige. Other times, I just don’t feel like beating around the bush, so I go in for the kill. In any case, here I go again …. Some people are going to hate this post, for two reasons: 1) I’m saying that President Donald Trump has done something good and 2) I’m saying that violence is sometimes justified.

The civil war in Syria has taken a vast and terrible toll on Syrians. Nearly 500,000 Syrians have died as a result of the conflict over the past six years. Half of a million people – to put that in Canadian terms, Hamilton or Quebec City – and over 50,000 of these were children. President Bashar Al-Assad is raining hell on his country in the form of torture, starvation, bombs and chemicals. A steady tide of refugees has been washing up on the shores of many countries, everything they own on their backs and clutched in their arms, pleading for asylum – for protection, rest and hope. It’s a long, dangerous, crowded-yet-somehow-lonely path, with no guarantee of a happy ending. I’ve met some of them. I don’t even want to imagine the miseries they have endured. Their eyes haunt me.

What have we done about it? Well, so far, we’ve absorbed some of their stories, patched up some of their wounded, resettled some of their fallout. These are all good things, and we should keep doing them. But have we tried to stop the destruction? No – unless you call clucking and finger-wagging action. Every time this madman commits another horrific crime against humanity, we all line up to condemn it – and then we move on. As if Al-Assad gives a rat’s ass what we think of his murderous regime. As if, one fine day, he might stop what he’s doing and say “oh, gosh, I had no idea that what I am doing is so bad – I’m sorry, you guys”. Like a shitty parent giving unlimited chances and countdowns while their child wreaks havoc, the world wearily says “no, no, Bashar, that’s wrong – please stop, or we’re going to get really upset”. Then he keeps doing what he’s doing while we gamely ignore him. A shitty parent threat was levelled against Al-Assad in 2012 regarding the use of chemical weapons – then-President Barack Obama said that this was a “red line” that Al-Assad had better not cross. Up until then, America had stayed out of the Syrian conflict – but if chemical weapons came into play, Obama said, the game would change. In 2013, chemical weapons became a confirmed factor – and the Obama administration looked the other way. This past week, chemical weapons were used again. At least 86 people died in agony. Our darling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a war crime, and condemned it “in the strongest of terms”. Whoa, there, big fella!

Imagine if the world had reacted the same way when Adolph Hitler and his army started bombing, torturing, slashing, and gassing their way across Europe.  “Now, now, Hitler – this is not nice, and none of us like it. Stop it, or we’re going to get really upset. Oh! Look what you’ve done! Poland …. We just said stop – now we’re mad. Ugh. He’s done it again. There goes Holland. Would you look at that? That’s alot of Jews, gypsies and gays. Seriously, we can’t do a thing with this guy. He just keeps going. Ah, well. What can you do? Hitler! We’re so mad at you right now. #PrayforEurope #JewsArePeopleToo #HitlerBlows #WorldSoMad #NotMyGermany”  I have a feeling that things would have gone very differently than they did – and we certainly would not be celebrating the contribution of heroes to the security and freedom of our world every November 11.

Enter Donald Trump. Two days ago, America fired Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from which the chemical attack was launched. Citing the painful deaths of innocents, the continued destabilization of the region and the affect of that on Syria and the rest of the world – as well as our collective failure throughout six years of civil war to change the situation with words and sulking – Trump called on all of us to join America in forcing an end to the suffering. And he is right. Yes, the massively mocked, deeply hated, orange-haired buffoon that seems to have turned the highest office in the free world into a bad joke …. is right.

Violence is a dreadful thing. It’s evil. I hate it. But, sometimes, it is necessary. People – millions of them – desperately need our help against a force that is far more powerful than them and seeks to destroy them in every way. How can we continue to look away as the atrocity unfolds – and worsens – mumbling platitudes about peace and goodwill and brotherhood while Syria and its people burn? Al-Assad has not responded to criticism, argument, disapproval, condemnation or threat. It’s time to tighten the screws. If America’s strategic attacks can bring Al-Assad to his knees and save the Syrian people from hell on earth, I say fire away.

“I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.”  –  Ulysses S. Grant

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Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

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In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.