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Communications around Syrian refugee crisis shows our character for what it is

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As could be expected, the Paris attacks have heightened the public debate over the Syrian refugees. That debate has been burning up social media as it puts on display both the best and worst of our collective character. It is centered of course on the fact the refugees are mainly Muslim, just like the terrorists.

For some, that’s license to parade their racism and for others to share their exaggerated but honest fears. For some politicians, it’s a chance to grandstand and score some points with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Stephen Harper tried that in the recent election, but to Canadians’ credit, it didn’t work. But in the United States, on the heels of what happened in Paris, at least 31 Governors are declaring that they don’t want any Syrian refugees in their states. They don’t have the legal authority to enforce any such thing, but that’s another matter – this is about catering to the majority of voters.

It’s good to see that in Canada we are doing things a little differently. We’re displaying a more generous spirit. But a quick scan of social media shows we don’t have room to be smug, as there is no shortage of naysayers, but for all the mean-spirited and nasty content, there are many times more generous and compassionate comments.

The good thing about this volume and diversity of opinion is that it forces the debate, and it puts our own beliefs, prejudices and hypocrisy to the test, and a little soul searching never hurt anybody. Often it is the memes that do this most effectively. Some through humour, like this:

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Others are more poignant.

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Or this:

b2ap3_thumbnail_refugees-Kermit.jpg

While a lot of criticism is aimed at Christians for being hypocritical – it is mainly the southern states in the US where the Christian Right holds great sway that are the most vocally opposed to allowing any Syrian refugees in. But on the other side of the coin, and jumping back to New Brunswick now, it is the churches that are among the first to step up as sponsors, just as they have in the past.

What all this discussion also does is crank up all that old BS about refugees and immigrants taking our jobs and being a drain on our economy, and about how we should be looking after our own first. On that, gotta share one more:

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Participating in the political panel on CBC Shift last Friday, I made the point that governments and multicultural organizations have failed in their communications in not doing enough to counter these myths. It turns out I just wasn’t patient enough.

So credit where credit is due, it is great to see that the New Brunswick Multicultural Council has now taken the initiative with #RestoreHope, a campaign aimed at giving New Brunswickers an opportunity to sign a petition of support for bringing Syrian refugees to the province. But more than that, the site lists eight specific reasons why we should support the refugee effort, including tackling some of the persistent misinformation. It’s a start.  

So if you are so inclined, go check it out, and if you sign you can also mention why you have signed it. I can think of a lot of reasons, but they are all variations of simply because it is the right thing to do.

And if you want to help with this refugee settlement initiative, the Multicultural Council has started weekly lunch and learn sessions, at least here in Fredericton, where you can find out how.

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