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How to Really Help Syrian Refugees and Those in Need

10/13/2015 12:10 EDT | Updated 10/13/2016 05:12 EDT
JanBaars via Getty Images
Sad Asian boy behind barbed wire. Focus on barbed wire. Like a refugee camp.

It's been just over one month since the image of a dead Syrian child face-first in the sand propelled his people's plight into the headlines. Today the story of Syrian refugees has come and gone, dumped by the news cycle. Yet despite their apparent disappearance these millions of homeless still roam purgatory, making all our former heartbreak and deep think-pieces seem a bit like cheap sweet talk found on a crumpled bar napkin.

I'm generally just as guilty of this fleeting sympathy as the next newsfeed swiper, my passionate good intentions disappeared by the next thing to go viral. But we should fight this. We should linger a bit longer. So in honor of those who still suffer, and in attempt to prove my passions sincere, I will try to keep a light on this very serious issue... by talking about Donald Trump.

I believe that the two stories to dominate our news lately -- the Syrian refugee crisis and Trump's candidacy for President -- are, as strange as this may sound, intimately connected. Obviously the connection is not direct, but they are more closely linked than you might think. And the coincidence of their parallel timing as top stories is a convenient metaphor for the underlying theme that called from my gut, a most crucial aspect of our biggest issues that is rarely given proper consideration.

Consequence.

"By and large, the world as we have it -- defiled, disorderly, violent -- is our world... Whatever you see out your window or across any ocean is the doing of those we are content to leave in charge."

And with federal elections coming up in both Canada and the United States, the subtle connection whispering to me from that heartbreaking picture of young Alan lying lifeless on the beach was given more air and opportunity to be heard.

"All those lives interrupted, ruined or lost altogether: Who cannot be moved? But it is only the honest among us who can then admit that every picture coming from a Mediterranean beach or a highway in Hungary is a mirror a migrant holds up to us."

Consequence. Thinking about the bigger picture and the longer-term repercussions of your actions. How little we do this. How often we look at nothing but the next step in front of us. How surprised we are when chaos continues to reign.

The aforementioned quotes come from this piece by Patrick L. Smith, one that digs deeper into the question of history and causality. Yes the Syrian refugees that briefly broke our hearts are real people living a nightmare, but let's see even more, let us "think with history". Their situation, as any situation, was borne of consequence. They are a living mass of real life repercussions.

Donald Trump gives us a caricature of the worst of our political world: saying whatever, whenever, pushing buttons not with wink-wink dog-whistle terminology but with blunt xenophobia, cheap tough-talk, and a complete and unapologetic ignorance of the world's finer points.

In this way Trump is useful. He serves as a tool of living satire. He makes it easier to see what we do wrong.

So let's use him. Because all too often the more subtle ignoring of consequences by our leaders goes undetected and unimpeded, causing great harm and more terrible situations for us to deal with, which we then once again handle with only the shortest of short-term thinking, causing more chaos and more consequences and so on and so on...

Take the Canadian Prime Minister's reaction to last month's image of poor Alan dead on the beach. Stephen Harper echoed the shock and sadness of the other candidates, injected thoughts of his own family, but when pressed about what Canada should do to help, moved the question from humanitarian aid to a defense of military intervention.

"...we are also doing what we have to do to try and fight the root cause of this problem. That is the violent campaign being led against millions of people by ISIS."

Applause came from his supporters, lined up so neatly and ethnically diverse behind him. And if taken as it was delivered, as a piece of strong common sense for a difficult world, you wouldn't be blamed for letting it slide and nodding your head and accepting that yeah, maybe we should bomb ISIS.

But the Syrian refugee crisis was not caused by ISIS. It's the Syrian civil war against President Assad, now 4 years old, that has killed approximately 300,000 Syrians and forced millions to flee their homes. According to this piece and an interview with Amnesty International, of the more than 2,000 Syrian children killed this year, nearly 1,900 were victims of Assad's war and only 100 killed by ISIS.

And so here you have a leader, when confronted with the question of helping refugees, falsely identifying the "root cause" of this issue so that he could drive a political point home during an election campaign.

"...the choice migrants put before us is very stark: Rethink everything and alter course, or proceed as you are and live with the human consequences of what you do on your doorsteps, exposed for all to see." More consequence from Mr. Smith's piece.

ISIS itself was created when Western leaders decided to intervene militarily in Iraq -- a fact seemingly completely lost in this perpetual myopia. So, arm and prop-up Osama bin Laden in the 1980s because you don't like Russia, which leads to today's Al-Qaeda, which leads to 911, which leads to invading Iraq, which leads to the creation of ISIS and you now promoting more short-term intervention as a means to "help" with the very problem you don't bother to notice that you helped create in the first place.

All of these actions without the consideration of consequence. All of these consequences causing real life suffering.

And so what can we do to truly help those now sleeping in refugee camps and dying on beaches?

Make the relatively small effort of learning from history and seeing past your short-term interests, and force those who act on our behalf to do the same.

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