04/06/2016 11:08 EDT | Updated 09/07/2018 12:45 EDT

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Has Tested Our Logic And Ideals

Right now, 71 per cent of Canadians do not want Canada to accept above the original target of 25,000 Syrians. The warm feeling of moral righteousness is not particularly useful for devising a policy at a time when 60 per cent of Americans agree with Donald Trump's proposal to ban entry of all non-citizen Muslims to the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees to Canada December 2015 at Pearson International airport, PMO (CC)

It must feel good to be a refugee-hugger. Until a day when your neighbour tells you that your "moral preening," "utopian kumbaya," "politically correct humanism," and your "misguided idealism" endanger our way of life, our women and western Judeo-Christian values. And it is your nice neighbour who says that to you.

The split among Canadians on the question of dangers of the current refugee crisis has been highlighted during Friday's Munk Debate at the Toronto's posh Roy Thomson Hall. After listening to the arguments from two sides, a whopping 45 per cent among the well-attired, well-educated and well-intentioned in audience went home convinced of the perils of holding on to the ideal "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." They must have forgotten recent darling photos of our Prime Minister putting winter jackets on the shoulders of shell-shocked Syrian children landing at our airports.

Munk Debate on Refugee Crisis, April 1, 2016, by Nicholas Nazar

On one side of the debate stood ever-undaunted Nigel Farage (leader of the U.K. right-wing party UKIP), flanked by sly and eloquent Mark Steyn (popular writer, commentator). These pragmatists squared off against the idealists -- refreshingly sane unshakable legal juggernaut Louise Arbour (Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals) and poetic historian Simon Schama.

Madame Arbour, quoting Canada's obligations under 1951 Refugee Convention, insisted that Canada needs "to welcome people who like all of us came from somewhere else" and to "provide a generous resettlement program." She added that the panicked voices of the opposition are a replay of the old "ugly response to every new wave of immigrants in history."

The real danger to us, she intoned, lies not with refugees swarming our shores but with violent jihadi groups who "seek to destroy our democracies by letting us slowly self-implode in response to fear."

"A three-year old was raped by a refugee" shouted Mr. Steyn for the pragmatists. Five hundred cases of sexual assault were reported just on one New Year Eve night in Cologne -- "migrant rights now trump women's rights," he said. The chief of police of Vienna advised women that it is no longer safe to go out unaccompanied -- "migrant rights trump the right of free movement." In Sweden the influx of young males has skewed the ratio of boys to girls among the 16-year-olds to 1.23 to 1 -- a number worse than that in China. This immigration wave is different, Mr. Steyn said, many newcomers are not refugees but "economic migrants who want to avail themselves of the comforts of advanced societies."

Shall we do a reality check? I believe that most Canadians do not give a hoot about Canada's "special obligations" under some 1951 convention. Madame Arbour, it will not move anyone to suggest that "we have done only a fraction of what we should do" and that failure to generously welcome refugees is "to look to the past and to stagnate in isolation."

Mr. Farage is absolutely right when he says many Europeans have become "hard-hearted." Advocates of a more generous refugee policy must acknowledge the reality on the ground. Madame Arbour, your aspirations notwithstanding, current political context matters. Right now, 71 per cent of Canadians do not want Canada to accept above the original target of 25,000 Syrians. The warm feeling of moral righteousness is not particularly useful for devising a policy at a time when 60 per cent of Americans agree with Donald Trump's proposal to ban entry of all non-citizen Muslims to the United States. For real. 60 per cent. Do you get a feeling that "we are not in Kansas anymore?"

The Wizard of Oz, Warner Bros.

What are we, bleeding hearts, left to do in this situation? Pivot. Take a dose of reality, a pill of optimistic pragmatism and pivot. Canadian government showed that it knows how to do so. First, it preempted the sexual predator argument and a security concern by excluding Syrian single men from the new asylum admittance rules. Do you think the Refugee Convention allows for that? Do you think Germans could easily get away with the same approach? Also, the government has hinted at moving away from placing "a special priority on Syria." Again, wise move.

Is there a certain ideal that informs our values on immigration?

If Canadians still have questions, let us address them openly and head on. Do Muslim men pose a special danger to women? Years of trauma from violence and war, ever-present stench of death, hate and destitution mixed with adolescent mob mentality -- if unchecked -- will erupt in violence. No surprise. What is key to this issue is a loud and clear confirmation, as Canadian Council of Muslim Women asserts, that the violence against women in Muslim communities in North America is "at a similar rate to women in the general population." There is no Muslim sexual beast roaming the streets out there. Period.

Where Mr. Farage is right, I believe, is on the point that we need to feel no shame about changing our minds (our policies, our obligations from 1951) about what we demand of the newcomers to our shores. Reality on the ground forces us to adjust our immigration policies, not -- and this is critical -- our way of life. European bureaucrats, beware. We can stand proudly on what we choose to accept and what we do not. Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, is an idiot for suggesting after the New Year Eve attacks that German women ought to adopt a new "code of conduct." No, no chance. Period.

What is dearly missing in this whole debate is a reassuring voice of wisdom that can help us see if we Canadians got it right in formulating our immigration policies. Is there a certain ideal that informs our values on immigration? Is there an ideal that has withstood test of time and will endure new challenges to it, come what may -- Syrian refugee crisis or another world catastrophe?

Certain pragmatic idealism in our ancestral memory beckons to us at this moment. It is a balanced position epitomized by two minds, who can be credited with planting on this continent centuries ago seeds of good immigration policy. In their words we can see a jubilant embrace for the poor and the huddled, tempered with reasonable caution. Our values have grown out of the ideas articulated by these architects of the American Experiment. Our values have not changed fundamentally, they are strong -- they have weathered the test of time.

If they come of themselves, they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship: but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements.

-- American Founding father, Author of Declaration of Independence, third American president Thomas Jefferson, 1782

Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules.

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1801

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.

-- American Founding father, Commander-in-Chief in the American Revolutionary War, first American president George Washington, Address to the Members of the Volunteer Association of Ireland, 1783

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