I recently had the chance to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan at a round table meeting in New York discussing ways to help Jordan cope with the Syrian Refugee crisis. This was the third time in 2 years I sat at a table of the elite and powerful in global politics and business, mixed with prominent international ‘do gooders’. This time, the star power in the room didn’t faze me. Instead, I remember a feeling of impotence as King Abdullah and President Clinton outlined challenges seemingly on a biblical scale. I am a pathological problem solver and optimist –I was not used to feeling this helpless.
This third meeting of our small group was different for two reasons. Firstly, the situation had gotten considerably worse. With a population of approximately 6.8 million people, a minimum of 1 out of every 9 people living in Jordan is now a Syrian Refugee. 70% are women and children. Many are orphans.
This situation is wreaking havoc on the ability of Jordan’s economy, healthcare, sanitation, water, and education systems.
The second reason this meeting was different was the startling image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey. Aylan’s image still haunts me– his lifeless body face down in the surf on an empty beach is as a loud scream as I have ever head.
He is one of thousands of children, who paid the ultimate price because their parents had the audacity to try to protect them from guns and bombs. My younger son is Alyan’s age. Given the choice, I would have attempted that doomed journey as well. His father lost his entire family for trying. To lose 2 young children is surely gut wrenching. But to lose them so cruelly simply because you wanted to improve their odds of simply growing up is unfathomable.
While this issue has become a political football in the United States, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to resettle 50,000 Syrian Refugees by the end of 2016.
Some people say this is too many: “Surely we have many people who need our help at home.”
As the Arab proverb goes: “I would rather be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.”
Canada and the US have accepted millions of refugees in response to global crisis over their short histories from the Irish to Vietnamese–almost always with open arms. But this time, there is clearly an unease that some people feel. Syrians are different. They are mostly Muslims. Surely, they will have different values ….and what about Sharia, niqabs, hijabs and… jihad. I understand where these fears come from but I have seen them from a different lens.
I am a Christian from Egypt. Most people don’t realize that there is a very ancient community of 10 million Christians still living there. I was raised on a sporadic diet of injustice–stories of churches being set alight with worshipers inside, of rampant and crippling university and workplace discrimination, and even the odd story of relatives that were tortured, kidnapped and/or shot. A couple of my cousins even became refugees. And there is no denying the apathy, if not complicity, from elements of Egyptian society and government. But Syrian Refugees is not that issue. And Christianity certainly does not oblige me to keep score. Right now, there are many genuinely peaceful people living in tents… in the snow. Cold and hunger have no religion.
This is an opportunity to prove that the values on which our countries are founded ….mean something. In fact, that is the only proven way we can defeat evil… we must lead with our values.
Alyan deserved the same right to life that our children have. I know there are dangerous people living in the Middle East, but their number is vastly dwarfed by the ordinary and mundane–families led by teachers, plumbers, electricians, lawyers and doctors. These innocents are not hard to identify; they include millions of widows, young families, the elderly… and orphans. Our sense of proportion and scale has been turned upside down. Finding the innocents is not like looking for needles in the haystack… the bad guys are the needles.
A few months ago the Globe and Mail had a stinging cartoon about ‘Canada’s refugee policy’- it was a camel bent down with their head resting on the ground… it was squinting to see through the eye of a sewing needle. For those of you familiar with the Bible you will immediately get the reference (Matthew 19:23) where Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get to heaven.” The cartoon is poignant and clever. It is also profoundly contextual because it implies a little known truth… even the least well off among us are ‘the rich man’ in comparison to the hungry and desperate that are escaping war zones.
We are all familiar with the fabled richest 1% in our societies who are castigated for excess and greed. However, if you expand your context to the entire world, our sense of moral superiority might quickly be eviscerated. If you earn more than $35,000 per year then you are in the top 1% of earners globally.
We are the rich people reclining at the dinner table, and Syrian kids are sitting outside waiting for the crumbs to fall from our table.
King Abdullah put it in great perspective for me. Jordan is not a large or rich country and yet, in US terms, they sheltered the equivalent of 40 million new people in just a few years. So why not shut the border….I mean the country is already bursting at the seams. He explained poignantly that, Jordan ‘can’t just close a border while pregnant women and children run across it with bullets flying at their backs.’ Jordan’s values cost them. This demonstrates profound moral courage–a value many in Canada and the United States would recognize as ‘Christian’, compassionately demonstrated in a Muslim nation. King Abdullah’s courage moved me off the sidelines.
Today, I am immensely proud that our staff at Bluedrop have committed to sponsoring 2 Syrian families to Canada–one Christian family and one Muslim family. It will take approximately $35,000 to make this happen. We have almost 200 employees and they will be raising funds, find partners and donating a small amount per payroll for a few months. Bluedrop will match employee contributions. I think we will get there in a few months. I welcome any companies, organizations or individuals who want to join us to expand the number of people we can help.
Someone once said that your values don’t mean anything until they are tested–until they cost you.
So what values do we want to claim in response to the biggest human migration since WWII?
And shouldn’t those values cost us just a little?
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