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We Are All Complicit in the Tragedy on Turkey's Shores

09/04/2015 01:09 EDT | Updated 09/04/2016 05:59 EDT
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
MUGLA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 4: Flowers are seen in the sea as people commemorate Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy dressed in shorts and a red T-shirt, and 12 Syrians who drowned in the Aegean Sea after two boats filled with refugees en route to Greece sank, at the beach where they washed ashore in Mugla, Turkey on September 4, 2015. (Photo by Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

By now everyone has seen the tiny corpse of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on Turkey's shores.

Alan's family tried to escape the horror of ISIS (also called Daesh), leaving Syria to travel to Turkey. The family of four was travelling with others in a lifeboat wearing fake life jackets given to them by a corrupt crew when their boat capsized in the Aegean Sea on Sept. 2, 2015.

Alan's bereaved father, Abdullah, was the family's sole survivor. Recently, referring to the millions of refugees fleeing the region, he profoundly announced: "I want my son to become a symbol of our situation."

The part of this story that may hit home for most Canadians is that Abdullah and his wife wanted to join us all here in Canada. They had made an application to seek asylum here. They wanted what many of us have here -- a safe place to raise their kids, to build a life, to make their hopes and dreams for the future come true.

After all, to the world, Canada looks like heaven. We are the wheat belt, surrounded by the Rockies, the redwoods and the Canadian Shield. And, most importantly, we are considered peaceful. What the world envisions when they think of Canada is not immigration detention centres or deportation.

So, while the world mourns the loss of Abdullah's family, we Canadians must ask ourselves, do we not have an obligation to live up to the global expectations we have created beyond our lovely scenery?

Do we not have an obligation to rise to the occasion and create the asylum innocent families fleeing war-torn Syria, Iraq and other regions so desperately need?

Should we not have an action plan to implement our national ideal that Canada is a model of compassion and peace?

With the election close at hand, we now watch as our political leaders jockey to use the tragedy to score points, either by casting blame or refuting it.

While Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has promised that under his leadership Canada shall receive more refugees (easy to say -- but is that enough?), Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander insists that "Canada remains a model of humanitarian action" and that the Kurdis' refugee application could never have been considered because it was "incomplete".

I wonder how many other asylum applications from Syria and Iraq are incomplete. It must not be easy to complete an application in a war zone where little girls are being bought and sold as sex slaves, water is the cost of rent and bodies of decapitated soldiers lie decomposing in the street.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Harper offered this wisdom: "The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is at the root of the problem." Yes, Mr. Harper you are correct. But let's not forget those ISIS/Daesh supporters who fund and promote the religious fundamentalism that plagues the region like a cancer, using billions of dollars in oil money.

Where does that money come from?

Perhaps while allowing innocent people asylum, Canada and its allies must work harder to focus squarely on the root of the problem.

Perhaps we must acknowledge that the root of the problem in the region is actually the lack of human rights, withheld not only by ISIS/Daesh, but by others, as well.

And instead of maintaining trading alliances with the worst offenders of human rights abuses in the world, whose laws are, in essence, no different from those of ISIS/Daesh, we need to explore the possibility of how boycotts and sanctions may be better suited to demand reform.

Furthermore, in place of standing by idly as human rights leaders like Nobel Peace Prize nominees Waleed Abulkhair and Raif Badawi (whose Montreal wife is demanding his asylum to Canada) are imprisoned and languish in jail, we should loudly insist on their release.

After all, only when citizens in the region can freely express their desire for reform (so feared by Gulf dictatorships) will there result the ripple effect that may permit the very safety and security so many migrants desperately seek.

Until that happens, we all remain complicit in the tragedy that causes tiny corpses to wash up on Turkey's shores.

Related: The video "No2ISIS: A Message From Canadian Muslims" was produced by four Canadians, Muslim and non-Muslim, of various backgrounds, hoping for constructive dialogue in Canadian society in response to the violence of ISIS and features Director of Universalist Muslims, Shahla Khan Salter, Dr. Aisha Sherazi, Imam Mohamad Jebara of The Cordova Spiritual Education Center and Sheikh Wael Zayn of the 313 Youth Club.

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