Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Lebanese Evacuation

Some Canadians are absolutely incensed with the idea of rescuing thousands of "sometimes Canadians." These complaining Canadians, of course, take the most extreme examples of dual Lebanese/Canadian citizens who have not been in Canada for over twenty years and then proceed to whine about multiculturalism and the waste of tax dollars on rescuing these Canadians of convenience. They never mention the vacationers, six-month residents, or the strong Lebanese community here in Canada. No, for these fiscally-conscious Canadians the lives and well-being of these people is not as important as balancing the budget. As I was involuntarily listening an inane talk radio show yesterday several people pointed out that these Lebanese-Canadians should not choose to live in a violent area and then expect to get rescued.
Suddenly, according to these budget-balancers, the onus is on the victims to read the political climate of the place they are living and correctly predict a sudden outbreak of violence. Would these same people be so harsh on the Jews living in Poland in 1939? After all, some people were aware that Hitler had plans to expand his influence. The Jews should have understood this and immediately dropped all of their belongings and livelihoods and moved elsewhere.
Would these Canadians be so harsh on snow-birds if a war were to break out in Florida? I doubt it. After all, snow-birds are usually white, elderly, and fairly wealthy. Lebanese-Canadians, on the other hand, are viewed as Arabs who took advantage of Canadian generosity by buying a sure-fire insurance plan to be rescued in the event of war.
First of all, Lebanese-Canadians are a diverse mix of Muslims and Christians who can be divided further into a number of religions and ethnicities from Greek Catholic to Kurdish to Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox to Druze. Far from the imagination of many complaining Canadians, the Lebanese are not camel-riding extremists in the middle of a desert. Lebanon is, or rather was, a beautiful, mountainous country and ideal vacation spot with breath-taking beaches on the Mediterranean Sea. Secondly, few Lebanese could have predicted that Hezbollah's ill-advised aggression would have resulted in Israel bombing Lebanese suburbs and infrastructure along with supposed Hezbollah military targets. Many Lebanese feel they are being caught between two war-mongering extremists and they want out. Those who do support Hezbollah do so out of a sense of injustice. While this is no excuse, it is natural to want to lash out and strike back. Of course, that is no way to create peace.
Many Canadians were also upset over a perceived lack of gratefulness on the part of the rescued Lebanese-Canadians. Personally I believe that Canada is doing an admirable job amidst a staggering number of logistical and organizational nightmares. Unlike many European countries and certain ubiquitous world powers, Canada does not have a presence on the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it difficult for Canada to find ships willing to risk errant shells in order to pick up refugees.
I understand that many of the Lebanese-Canadians are under quite a bit of stress. It is exceedingly difficult to maintain a calm demeanor when bombs are falling without any apparent pattern all around you. Imagine, if you will, that you have just gone through several days of bombings; perhaps a bomb even landed close to you. Now, imagine that you finally find out what the government has planned for evacuation after several days of disorganized announcements, an extremely busy phone-line, and a useless internet connection. Imagine that a country that was, perhaps, on the verge of an economic breakthrough has been bombed back twenty years. Imagine that you have an extended family who is constantly at risk and cannot come with you to Canada. Imagine that you finally get on a ship after risking your life to come to port two days in a row and imagine that this cargo-ship is uncomfortable and floats in the water anywhere from sixteen to twenty-four hours. Now, imagine that you finally get on a plane once you reach Cyprus or Turkey. When you finally get home imagine that a camera and a microphone are shoved in your face and the following statement is implied, "You must be relieved and grateful to finally be back in Canada."
My first reaction would not be to wax eloquent about how great Canada is. No, my instinct would be to point out that people are dying in my country and that I am far from relieved. Then, with anger building inside of me I would launch into a tirade about all of the incompetent things that happened on my journey. Then, maybe when I went to a hotel, my home, or the home of relatives, maybe after some sleep I would start to be relieved that I was alive. Still, I wouldn't start dancing in the streets. After all, my country is still on fire.
On this same radio show, the host pointed out the bias against Israel. He claimed that few people attacked Russia over its heavy-handed atrocities against Chechnya, but as soon as Israel defended itself, everyone was ready to point out Israel's crimes. This logic sort of reminds me of a gradeschool boy who excuses himself for punching another student in the face by arguing that another student had done the same thing earlier. The host agreed with our prime minister that "Israel has the right to defend itself." I agree that every nation has the right to defend itself. Of course, defence implies a certain amount of restraint. If someone were to punch me, I would be justified in punching him back. Now, if I not only punched back but also pulled out a knife and slashed the individual forty times I would be overreacting. I am not astute enough to divine the reasons why these attacks are occurring, but I am clever enough to know that it isn't because of two kidnapped soldiers and some violent rocket attacks. Whatever the reasons, I pray that there may be peace.


Jono_or_Janice said...

Well written article, John. Just an observations that you are free to disagree with...
Is it really justifiable to punch your attacker back? After all, who is to judge how hard he hit you, and is your punch really exactly the same? My feeling is that much of the volitility in the region would be done away with if not everyone felt that they had to retaliate every time, even if it is "equal".

John den Boer said...

I agree and you make a good point. I should say that it is understandable to hit your attacker back, not justifiable but understandable.

Jake Belder said...

"One love, one heart, let's get together and feel alright..."

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mutoni said...

my favorite aspect of this whole fiasco (if that's even possible) is a phenomenal quote delivered by one Condeleeza Rice the other day during a press conference : (I'm paraphrasing here) "These are growing pains that the Middle East is experiencing". Yes, Condi, growing pains.

Jon Stewart (Daily Show) had perhaps the best response : "Today's growing pain took out a whole CITY BLOCK!!!!"

(I, too, pray for peace--and less 'growing pains')

Jono_or_Janice said...

Did she mean "growing pains" as in pains that come as a natural consequence of getting older, or "growing pains" as in pains that just keep getting bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, the second definition seems to fit the situation better.

Jono_or_Janice said...

John, although I appreciate your article and admit you have made many good points, I would like to point out that it is the general practice of the government to charge the people who are being evacuated with the cost of the evacuation. It is not just something that "fiscally-conscious Canadians" worry about. It is just how things are normally done. During our time in Korea, if Kim Jong-Il had suddenly felt the urge to send his hordes across the DMZ and we were to be evacuated we would have footed the bill for our cost of being evacuated to safety. We did not expect our fellow Canadians to pay for that. Canadians living abroad should understand this.

Marten denBoer said...

John, I appreciate your comments. I think one of the more noble characteristics of Canada and Canadians is their sense of caring and concern for each other and for the world. Those who complain about the cost of rescuing Lebanese-Canadians should reconsider. Perhaps the next time there's a major snowstorm we should let those trapped pay for their rescue. After all, they put themselves in danger by living in an area where snow could be expected.
And you're correct that though every nation has the right to defend itself, the reaction has to be proportionate. Reacting to a punch with a knife is not. And two wrongs do not make a right. We are bound by ethical standards even if those around us do not adhere to those standards.

jrod said...

this issue also raises the question of what it means to be a canadian citizen. does citizenship entail responsibility on the part of the citizen, or only the country? what of canadian citizens living abroad who no longer pay taxes to canada?

John den Boer said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I've been away because I had no internet for quite some time.

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