Being a US citizen, I can't help feeling smug about choosing to live in Canada where the gun culture is not so alive and well, along with a sense of despair about how deeply entrenched it is in the US. But then, being an observer of brands and myths and icons, I wonder why this event had such a powerful impact on me, and on the rest of the world. Of course, it's a lot of people, and mainly children. But why is the killing of "innocent" children so much worse than the killing of thousands of people caught in the violence in Syria? Or young urban males shooting each other every day all over the US? It can only be that we feel those other victims are somehow partly to blame for getting killed.
As the civil war in Syria continues, a significant number of Syrians remain loyal to the embattled government of Bashar Al-Assad. One Christian friend explained to me that although they didn't like the current regime, they considered it inevitable that, should it fall, Syria would descend into a state of violent chaos reminiscent of Afghanistan or Somalia.
The other day I found myself in a 100-year-old Anglican Church in Vancouver, in a place called rather fittingly, the Sanctuary. I was there to rehearse for a benefit happening the evening of Friday December 7th for Syrian refugee relief and emergency aid to Gaza, with funds directed to Doctors Without Borders and the ICRC's Middle East fund.
The Syrian government has now established a permanent network of surveillance over the old city. One night recently I was strolling through the souq and saw a figure walking slowly ahead of me in the poorly-lit passage, an object dangling from their arm. When I drew within a few paces, he started and turned quickly to face me, watching me closely as I passed.
Recently, I was approached to give an interview by a rather right-leaning foreign news program. It may be no surprise, but our visions did not fit together. The news show, however, sent me a list of questions about the future of Syria, the Assad regime, and the prospects of the newly unified Syrian opposition. Here are my answers.
The announcement in Qatar on November 10 of the formation of the Syrian National Coalition with an elected president is an event of monumental importance, in my opinion. There will be the usual misgivings and apprehensions about the chaos that is expected to follow the collapse of any of these very long Arab dictatorships but none of that will materialize, and the Syrian nation as a whole will do quite well, with a little help from its friends.
The Sunday before last, a bomb exploded in Bab Touma Square in the middle of the morning, killing 13 people and injuring several others. While bombings of government targets and public spaces have become increasingly common over the last few months, this attack constituted the first of its kind in the old city since Syria's political crisis began in March last year.
I was one of the lucky few who was invited to attend a rare opportunity to have a roundtable discussion with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who was in Toronto for an exclusive speaking engagement as part of an ongoing speakers series. Annan answered our questions which covered various hot button topics including the ways towards a successful society, Iran, Romney and China. Here is what he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country as a direct result of the violence that has engulfed the country since the outbreak of the civil war. Meanwhile, many of those that have so far escaped the violence are suffering the economic consequences of the crisis and are thus trying desperately to find a way to escape the country.
The stage was set at Boca Raton's Lynn University. The desk dusted, chairs put in place and zingers primed and ready for volleying. Oh, and it was supposed to be about Foreign Policy. Right? Well it kind of was. Kind of. According to Romney, American grade school teachers are part of American foreign policy. Confused? Wait, there's more...
On Canadian Thanksgiving Monday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a major foreign policy address to the faculty and students of the Virginia Military Institute. He did not mention Canada once despite the fact that his vision of U.S. global leadership is like the Hollywood-budget version of Canada's indie foreign policy sensation. Should Romney become the 45th president of the United States, it will be essential, though, for him to recognize that U.S. leadership must be exercised in a spirit of partnership for it to be successful. The message to Ottawa in January can't be "Thanks Canada for doing the right things in world affairs -- we'll take it from here."
To the East of the old city there is a busy road that tanks and other military vehicles often drive along as they travel between the nearest base and whichever suburb they happen to be fighting in on a given day. Recently, a friend saw a tank drive down this road in a convoy with some other vehicles. On its side its crew had had spray-painted, in big white Arabic letters, "Assad! -- or we destroy the country."
While many Syrians have suffered immensely during the current conflict, others continue to live much as before. One week, a young single mother and her two-year-old son came to stay in my house for a few days, her home destroyed and ransacked. Later that week, I went out and met a western friend for a drink in the old city. All of the girls were expensively and revealingly dressed and danced with their male companions seemingly unencumbered by their towering heels, while everyone was knocking back a range of exotic cocktails and shots.
There is no consensus on military intervention among Syrian opposition, neighbouring countries and UN Security Council members. However, everyone including the regime emphasizes how committed they are to ending the violence. The most effective way to stop the violence quickly would be to deploy a multinational peacekeeping force.
Recently, there has been much discussion about establishing a "safe haven" within Syria's borders to protect the growing number of refugees fleeing the country's civil war, which unfortunately have received little backing. Can we hold that bordering states have a duty to accept more fleeing Syrians? This is a tough call, as the international community is not helping the situation in any certain terms.