Christie Blatchford: We should accept as many Syrians as want to come

Let us remember what Bobby Kennedy once said, and to Canadian political leaders who so struggle for oratory amid the partisan slugfest that is any election, Kennedy said these things while in mid-campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

It was April 5, 1968, two short months before Kennedy, like his brother JFK before him, was assassinated.

It was the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the day after Kennedy, then speaking to a predominantly black audience in Indianapolis, had broken the terrible news to the crowd in such a remarkable way that his remarks are sometimes called the speech that saved Indianapolis.

Now, he was at the Cleveland City Club.

Kennedy was brief.

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He began with this: “This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics.” He condemned the violence that had seen King killed, but also what he called “the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.” He rued the fear he saw.

Then he said: “Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens.”

He finished with, in part, the following: “But we can perhaps remember — even if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness … surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us…”

Well, this also is a time of shame and sorrow, we too know what we must do, and it’s throw open the gates of this magnificent country to our suffering Syrian brothers. We should get as many Syrians here as want to come, as many as we can bring.

I’m not naïve.

There is a shadow over people from this part of the world. They hail from a country where oppression, violence, jihad and war are now a way of life. Some — a few — might actually pose security threats, and in ordinary times, they might not pass ’s screening.

Yet I believe there’s little to fear from the Syrians.

I have sufficient confidence in them to believe that once they are safe, not fighting for life every minute of every day, they will be grateful, embrace the freedom that peace allows and will be good citizens.

I also have sufficient confidence in my countrymen to think that we will make them feel welcome and won’t look upon them with suspicion.

There will be a few among them, of course, who are already irredeemably stunted by where they live or what they’ve endured. There’s always some who arrive, beyond help. So it has been with almost every group of refugees fleeing war and chaos — Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, Somalis in the late 1980s to mid-1990s — who have arrived en masse in Canada in my lifetime.

As a young reporter for the Toronto Star, I flew to Kuala Lumpur years ago to cover the first big group of Vietnamese boat people’s journey to Canada.

About a decade later, my ex and I were living on Ossington Avenue, in Toronto’s west end, when it was known as Little Saigon for the plethora of Vietnamese cafes in a several-block strip.

The one adjacent to our place didn’t serve only coffee and tea, but also hookers and heroin. We sold it after someone fired a bullet through the storefront window that was my ex’s studio. We presumed it was a sign of disapproval for our regularly calling police.

I mention this only as some evidence that I’m not pretending that accepting a whackload of desperate, broken Syrians will be easy, or that all of them will make a smooth transition, or that all of us will be lovely and accepting.

But, my God, read Death Everywhere, the May 2015 report of Amnesty International on war crimes in just one Syrian city, Aleppo.

One of the world’s ancient cities, Aleppo’s residents remained mostly uninvolved when protests against Bashar Assad’s brutal government began in 2011.

Now, Amnesty says, there are at least 18 non-state armed groups, including ISIL, operating in or near Aleppo, and though all sides are cheerfully breaking every humanitarian law on the books, the report is clear that “government forces have been responsible for the large majority of violations and crimes.”

What began with state crackdowns on peaceful protests has morphed into torture, sanctioned executions and what’s called “collective punishment” of civilians through merciless bombardment via prohibited weapons — “barrel bombs,” the giant flying IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, which are packed with metal and nails and sometimes chlorine gas, dropped on the places where people gather from helicopters.

In the 14 months ending March, Amnesty says, Assad’s forces used barrel bombs or their like in Aleppo on at least 14 public markets, 12 transport hubs, 23 mosques, 17 hospitals and three schools.

Of course the U.S.-led coalition in — of which Canada’s military is a tiny part — should be expanded. In my view, we should be fighting Assad too, and face the unhappy fact that this will require lots of boots on the ground.

But until then, let’s get on with binding up the wounds on the planet we so imperfectly share.

About Christie Blatchford