Isolationism and Canada’s role in the Syrian refugee crisis

FREDERICTON, N.B. (CUP)—As of late, critics, political commentators and the Trudeau government alike have been preoccupied with one issue: the worldwide refugee crisis in Syria, and the admission into Canada of those same Syrian refugees. Two of Trudeau’s recent pronouncements are particularly relevant on the matter. At the same time, they are wholly incongruous with one another. What are these pronouncements, you might ask?

The first promise, undoubtedly popular among the Canadian electorate (considering it was one of Trudeau’s campaign promises) was a full-out withdrawal of Canadian jets from the coalition air strike effort against ISIL. Though it appears that this promise has not yet been fulfilled, we have heard nothing from the government suggesting that it has rejigged its expectations for this goal.

The second promise, also heralded in the election campaign, was a commitment to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of the 2015. The government wisely reconsidered this goal, and decided it would be able to bring in only 10,000. However, the government also failed to achieve this goal. It seems as if, sometime this month, the 10,000 goal will be reached.

How are these two promises at all inconsistent with one another? One might argue that they aren’t. They are a decisive pull away from militarism, a focus on peacekeeping in Canada’s historic tradition, and a bent toward military isolationism which has obviously struck a chord with the Canadian electorate. Yet, to accept this inconsistency is to accept an impoverished view of Canada’s role in the world.

First thing’s first: These refugees exist as refugees because of Islamic terrorism and infighting in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. These people have been displaced not only by corrupt governments, but by terrorism. The international community has decided, in its wisdom, to fight against ISIL because of what it represents. Not only does it represent a bastardization of the Islamic faith and an existential threat to people the world over, but it represents a real humanitarian crisis. ISIL cannot be ignored. We have seen branches of this deep-rooted tree rear their ugly heads in Paris, California, Philadelphia and southeast Asia. The international community is attempting to up its game by responding with force to ISIL. At some point, countries the world over decided that enough was enough.

Yet, Trudeau has not. Drunk on the tempting liquor of isolationism, Trudeau indicated to U.S. President Barack Obama that Canada would not contribute to air strikes against ISIL. ISIL itself, insofar as it is a consistent group, has acknowledged the damage that these air strikes have done and can do on its infrastructure. Yet, our country is not a part of this worldwide effort. We have implicitly said that ISIL, Syria and the Middle East are not our concern. We have focused on the comforting but flawed thought that it is enough to provide safe refuge to those who have suffered under ISIL.

Of course, that comfort is a necessary condition, and in fact, Canada should be doing more—though, first, Trudeau should probably achieve our outstanding promises to the international world. We have the capacity to accept even over the promised number. And, as a Western world with means, it is our responsibility to welcome refugees into our nation with open and tolerant arms. But to live in splendid isolation and believe that we are tolerant and “doing our part” is a fool’s thought. Foreign affairs cannot be separated into neat boxes – we cannot say we are compassionate if we are not doing our full part to address the root cause of the refugee crisis.

Prime Minister Trudeau needs to consider the fact that the world is far more complex than simply “doves” and “hawks.” Sometimes, in response to a robust threat, the world needs to respond in a robust way. If we do not do our part to stop ISIL now, as an international community, Trudeau should make contingency plans to accept Syrian refugees ad nauseum.

That is, if we can settle the first 10,000 people sooner rather than later, in a way which fulfills our solemn promises to the international world.

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