So many young Canadians are looking to make their mark on the world. Some pick up a shovel to build a school or a ladle in soup kitchens to serve the homeless. A small number choose a different way, traveling to Syria to pick up an AK-47. Where does the road diverge between the youth who choose the path of helping and those on the path of harm? And for those on the road toward extremism, are there points along their journey where they might be set on a positive path?
Syria was intolerable long before ISIS existed. It was so intolerable that brainwashed Syrian schoolchildren like me -- Christians, Muslims, and all other faiths -- have grown up to free their minds and sacrifice their lives by the thousands for a free Syria. The international community ignored our cries. Now that the Islamic State is in the picture, the world is paying attention to Syria again. As the world fights the radical presence of ISIS, they must keep in mind that Assad and the Islamic State are two sides of the same coin. They are both brutal, bloodthirsty murderers. If we destroy ISIS now, another ISIS will quickly emerge. I believe that the only way to destroy ISIS is to destroy Assad too.
Zahar and Baghdadi, Hamas and ISIS share the same final goal: democracy must give way to theocracy, plural religions to a single Islamist belief, freedom to submission and social equality to the dictates of Sharia rule. Standing against Hamas and ISIS terrorism transcends politics and party lines. The rights and freedoms that comprise the very heart of our way of life are under direct attack in the Middle East from these and other groups seeking to build a radical, theocratic mega-state across the region, and, if they can achieve it, even beyond.
The Western interest in dismantling the Syrian regime was motivated by two factors. First, the Syrian regime had proven to be a sustained source of discomfort for Israel. Containing Syria meant additional operational space for Israel. The second factor had to do with the Arab regimes' interest in containing Iran's rising influence in the region.
Recent news that several young Canadian men, including two Calgary brothers, died fighting for ISIS has shocked Canada's Muslim community -- the vast majority of whom scoff at the notion that the terrorists who have overrun Syria and Iraq are acting upon authentic Islamic teachings, much less a compose a "caliphate."
The Iranians allegedly do not want talks to break down because of a likely Israeli air attack, which though it would not be permanently incapacitating, would do great damage, retard development, and could be repeated as needed at intervals. The Vienna talks will have one more session before breaking for the summer. Though no one seriously expected that they would achieve an agreement, the Iranians have apparently put their program on hold, without rolling it back very far.
Azraq Refugee Camp is seen as a model for all future refugee camps. It has schools, a hospital, playgrounds, soccer fields, community centres and even a supermarket. But for the few hundred families already settling in, and for the 100,000 Syrian refugees who will live here when the camp is completed, it's not, and will never be, home.
In the coming weeks, we can hope that finance ministers from some of the world's most developed countries take heed and remember the real victims of Syria's war: its people. As they attend the IMF-World Bank to talk about their budgets, they must not forget their financial commitments to Syria. Political leaders, too, must look at their collective influence and ability to address a conflict that has limped from one tragedy to the next.
There was a time when Canada realized that while military security was an important investment, it was the long-term planning involved in relief and development that would ultimately bring greater measures of peace to our world. Somewhere along the way we lost that. We also lost a seat on the UN Security Council, the world's respect through our lack of action on climate change, and our altruism the moment we decided to invest development resources only in those nations that enhanced our own local economy and brought political benefit to the government.
The international community must strengthen its efforts to work towards a political solution to the Syrian civil war. It cannot afford to lose focus, as the children of Syria cannot afford another year of suffering, another year without education, healthcare, and protection. There are no enemy children, and we must do whatever it takes to save lives.
While the UN Security Council holds urgent talks and Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon urges dialogue to resolve the Ukraine crisis, other areas of crisis fall to the back pages of newspapers. Yet, four level-three emergencies are currently affecting children: the Central African Republic, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Syria. The three conflicts are claiming lives and childhoods.
As long-awaited Syria peace talks begin this week, World Vision's Tanya Penny will be watching closely. She has been living alongside Syrian refugees in Jordan for the past two months, telling their stories with words and photographs. Here, Tanya describes the heartbreak that even the camera can't capture.