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

When words fail ….

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So, this week, for the first time ever, I wanted to burn my computer. I wanted to set it on fire, throw it through a window and pour myself a glass of champagne to celebrate its demise. I don’t feel this way during DST, when people whine about how they can no longer function because their clock changed by one lousy hour. I don’t feel this way on May 4, when an army of nerds wishes me the company of the Force. I don’t feel this way every November 12, when people start carping about keeping Christ in Christmas. I didn’t even feel this way when the Minion craze was in full swing – even though I severely dislike (and, worse, don’t really get) Minions and they were all over my Facebook newsfeed. No, what brought me to an all-time low in my experience of the digital world is the overwhelming wave of anti-Muslim memes and rants that I’ve seen over the past week. Horrible things have been posted. Things I wouldn’t say in a sound-proofed closet in an empty house, yet they were proclaimed for all to read. I won’t repeat them, because I can’t bring myself to give them voice. I will say, however, that it is not an exaggeration to observe that my Facebook newsfeed was oozing, dripping, spewing, hemorrhaging hate. So I did what I always do when I don’t like something – I said something. I said alot of somethings. At times, I was buoyed by the positive responses of like-minded people. Most of the time, though, I felt like I was standing alone against a swarm of ignoramuses, bullies, xenophobes, racists. Haters.

I have wanted to blog about this for days now, because this is BethBlog and I’m Beth and I blog. But I’ve been having trouble finding words. Usually, I use my own words. I love to write, and words come easy to me most of the time. Today, though, I can find no better words than those of Jesus Christ in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Today, I’m extrapolating on perfection when I add “For I was a refugee, without home, comfort, possessions, food, clothing or health …. and you opened your arms to me.” 

“They shall grow not old”: familiar, yet tragic, words.

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Somehow, another year has flown by, and another Remembrance Day is upon us. I nearly lost my poppy again this year. It might just have been a time-between-purchase-and-loss record-breaker, had it not been for Ryan’s sharp eyes. I bought it on my way out of a store, wore it while driving home and discovered it missing upon entering our house. Ryan rescued it from our driveway, and I applied the crafty little eraser-chunk fix (as discussed in this post from last November). It’s still rolling with me. For now.

McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” has always been a poignant read for me (and, of course, millions of other people). “We are the dead.” So simple, so bleak. Our war-dead “loved, and were loved”, and now they are gone. A field of people has been replaced by a field of crosses. And that stirring, haunting call at the end! “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch …. If ye break faith …. we shall not sleep ….” As the years roll by, though, I find myself thinking more of Binyon’s “For The Fallen”. This poem, though also beautiful, didn’t really resonate with me. Possibly because I felt so very far from growing old myself – to me, the young men and women who lost their life had already lived a fair slice of it. Now that I’m 35, I know that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Looking at pictures of the brave men and women going off to war, I’m struck by how young so many of them were – far too young to die. Some of them never even finished school before shipping out. Some of them had never been more than a few miles from home until they followed the bugle call across the ocean. Some of them had never been in love. Some of them were lucky enough to have fallen in love, maybe even to have married their sweetheart – but they would never experience the ripening of that love into the unbreakable, bone-deep bond that a lifetime together forges. Some of them had children, but many did not – they would never see their own eyes looking back at them from a brand-new face, would never know what it feels like to have a piece of their heart living on the outside of their body. The ones who had been granted the profound blessing of becoming parents would not be able to watch their babies grow up. They may have gotten along well with their own parents, but they would never relate to them the way you do when you’re standing in their shoes. They likely never had a chance to know themselves, either, because that takes years of experience and reflection – they just didn’t have time.

What an awful lot to give up for the security and peace of people who would never have a chance to say thank you.

“We will remember them” – because that is all we have to give in return.

A little more research should have gone into this move ….

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I was going to write about popsicles today. It seemed a seasonally appropriate topic …. However, as is so often the case, something else caught my eye, leaped to the forefront of my mind, spilled onto my keyboard and into my blog. Specifically, an article in the Ottawa Citizen about a man named François Bordeleau, and his family. They recently moved to Barrhaven, and they have a complaint: there are not enough city-offered French-language recreational programs for his children:

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/french-laugage-city-recreational-programs-lacking-in-ottawas-west-end

“It’s just not enough,” says Bordeleau. “I felt pissed off because you figure, why the hell can’t I get the services that I feel that I’m entitled to, and that anybody else that speaks the other official language can get very easily?”

I have a few problems with his side of things. First of all, there’s the word “entitled”. It is defined as having a right or claim to something. Does François Bordeleau feel that his sons learning to swim in French is a right? His sons playing on a French soccer team is right up there with air, water, food and dignity? Living in the capital of a bilingual nation, the Bordeleaus are entitled to essential services in their choice of English or French. Signage, paramedics, hospitals, policing, notices from the city, by-law information and officers, the city’s website – these things should be in both English and French. And they are. Any sort of municipally funded recreational program is an extra – a privilege. Municipally funded recreational programs at convenient times, in convenient locations, in a language other than the one predominantly spoken – that’s not even an extra. That’s a frill.

Another problem: François Bordeleau states that it’s easy for “the other official language” to access a wide variety of recreational programs, time slots and locations. Of course, it is! Newsflash, M. Bordeleau: the “other official language” is the most common one spoken in Barrhaven. There are far more people looking for programs in English than in French, because there are significantly more anglophones than francophones in this particular area of the city. As the article mentions, the French community in eastern Ottawa is far more robust than that of Barrhaven – and French services and programs expand correspondingly as you move in that direction. The City of Ottawa does an excellent job of serving and promoting the notion of a bilingual community – where it is warranted, based on demographics.

This is a map of Ottawa, colour-coded to cite the percentage of francophones living in any given area. The Bordeleaus, living in Barrhaven, are part of a community in which francophones comprise less than 15% of the population:

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Which segues into my final problem with François Bordeleau’s problem: he did a poor job of choosing a place to live, and now he wants the rest of us to fix his mistake with our tax dollars. The headline, which reads “Barrhaven ought to have been the perfect place for François Bordeleau and his wife to raise a family”, is not true – if something is perfect, it should not inspire complaints. If you want conveniently timed and located French recreational programs, you probably should move to a place where the francophone community is well-established. There is much to consider in the process of moving. Before you choose a community, you should do your research – make sure it suits your needs. The Bordeleaus could easily have found out whether there was sufficient support for French recreational programs in Barrhaven before buying a house there. Instead, it appears that they made their move blindly, and are now whining that it’s not what they wanted. No sympathy here.

Related question: How easy is it to find English recreational programs in Quebec? Shouldn’t be a problem. After all, the “other official language” is well-served there, right?

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.

A good-news story about aboriginals! (my take on the reserve system and why it needs to be scrapped)

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Do we have a caste system in Canada? Many Canadians would be shocked at the very idea, because this is Canada! We send aid all around the world, and welcome newcomers of all kinds! Our healthcare, welfare and parental benefits are generous. Education is free to all! True …. but, in my opinion, a caste system exists. People can be forgiven for forgetting; in most of Canada, members of the lowest caste are invisible. Most of them are neatly tucked away in the wilderness, many of their communities accessible only by boat or plane. Oh, sure, we hear about them from time to time. Usually bad news. Kids huffing gasoline. Women going missing at an alarming rate. Angry warriors blocking roads and burning vehicles. I am talking, of course, about aboriginals. The people who were here before Europeans arrived. The people who were murdered, infected and starved into submission, then parcelled out to remote tracts of land unwanted by their conquerors. For decades afterwards, the Canadian government’s primary involvement with aboriginals was throwing money at them and stealing their children to populate the infamous residential schools.

Cue the righteous-but-resentful indignition …. But they get free housing! Free glasses and dental care! Tax-free gas and smokes! Free university education! Never mind that nearly half of them don’t graduate from highschool anyway, therefore saving grumbling taxpayers oodles of money. They also are more likely to commit suicide, and even if they live a long, full life, it’s shorter than the average Canadian’s. More savings! Their teen pregnancy rate is higher, but don’t worry – even though residential schools no longer exist, we still get alot of their children. Despite representing only about 4% of the Canadian population, their children make up roughly half of the children currently in foster care. Natives are also over-represented in Canada’s prisons. They are more likely to die violently than other Canadians, and more likely to be abused or abusive before they do. Which brings me to a soapbox I’ve occupied for years …. Reservations don’t help aboriginals, and the reserve system should be abolished.

Conditions on reserves are often little better than third-world. Think about Sheshatshiu. Kashechewan. Attawapiskat. All the money the Canadian government gives them never seems to be enough to buy a better standard of living. Natives on reserve are treated like wards of the government. Sure, their housing is free – but it’s not theirs, nor is the land it sits on. And none of the people footing the bill would ever want to live there. Neither did aboriginals, but that’s where they ended up – because that’s where the brand-new country of Canada put them.

Yesterday, as usual, my beloved Saturday paper arrived at my house. Thick and wordy, solid, filled with enough content to chew on for an entire weekend. In this particular paper, there was a rare thing: a good-news story about Canadian aboriginals, happening right here in Ottawa. The article began with the experience of an Inuit woman, Lynda Brown, who moved to Ottawa as a child. Her mother was informed that she could not send her child to school in “slippers”, so Lynda took off her mukluks and started claiming Chinese heritage to avoid the shame of admitting that she is Inuit. Fast-forward to today, and Lynda Brown is proud of her identity and culture. She wears a t-shirt that says “Lifelong Urban Inuk”. The article goes on to describe how this change came about. Ottawa is home to roughly 3,000 Inuit, the largest population of them south of Nunavut. Ottawa is also home to an Inuit health centre, daycare, kindergarten and after-school program. Not only do Inuit children receive the usual standard of education, and help with their homework, but they also learn about their culture. They are taught in both English and Inuktitut. They learn traditional drumming and dancing, as well as throat-singing, and how to play traditional Inuit games. They play with the classic toys your average Canadian knows and loves, but also with traditional Inuit toys made of stone, bone and skins. Inuit people are living in Canada’s capital city, with all kinds of people – not just other Inuit. They can buy properly priced groceries instead of $28 jugs of orange juice – and they can buy traditional Inuit foods like char, seal and whale. They can travel wherever they want without the expense and hassle of leaving a remote area. They can train and apply for a wide array of jobs – not just what’s available in Iqualuit and surrounding areas. Their children are able to play soccer and learn ballet, to visit libraries and museums and parks. In short, they are learning how to be both proud Inuit people and fully engaged Canadian citizens.

Are there problems in Ottawa’s Inuit community? Of course. Their levels of addiction, prostitution and family problems are higher than the general population – but significantly lower than that of their fellow natives who live on reserves. And, as they continue to take advantage of what’s always been available to the rest of us, I predict that the gap will narrow. Perhaps we can even hope for its closure. I wish our Inuit neighbours great success, and I hope that, someday, all aboriginals will be able to do what they are doing. Only when aboriginals leave their reserves and join Canadian society, fully recognized and enfranchised, will we be able to proudly say that Canada doesn’t have a caste system.

Thank you.

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Every November, without fail, I buy a poppy and lose it the same day. Sometimes, this happens more than once. One year, it happened four times. The pin is an unreliable method of keeping the poppy attached to me. This year, a friend told me to try sticking a chunk of an eraser on the end. It worked. After buying and losing the first poppy, the second one I bought has been with me for days. This year, too, a little pin fastener was included with some of the poppies for sale. I bought poppies for Fiona and Bridget, and – thanks to the fastener – they’re still wearing them.

The poppy has always been a powerful symbol for me. Years ago, it seemed to me that everyone wore them. I remember when they were green in the middle. Now, they have a black centre – and there are white poppies, too. I see less of them than I used to, but there are still many. Poppies are simultaneously beautiful and sad and hopeful. The sight of them piled on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Remembrance Day ceremony is deeply moving, and heavy with the collective memories and sacrifice and sorrow of all those whose lives have been affected by war.

When I was a child in rural Newfoundland, Remembrance Day stood out to me because, at 11:00 a.m., for two minutes, everything stopped. This never happened any other time of the year, and those two minutes seemed endless. Sometimes, we were listening to the radio, sometimes we were watching the broadcast from the war memorial in Ottawa. Now I live in Ottawa, and most years I don’t try to jostle my way downtown and back – but I still watch it on TV. The faces of the veterans, struggling for composure in the chilly November wind, broke my heart every year. They still do.

I don’t have anything new to say about poppies, or Remembrance Day, or war. I just want to take this moment to honour our soldiers. Those who have fallen, those who are still standing, and those who are still fighting. You traded your security and peace for ours. Thank you.