The title of a recent Global News article:
How chocolate-selling Syrian-refugee family defied skeptics, made their dream in Canada
This Syrian-refugee family did not defy sketpics — another phrase overspilled on the English language from the reservoir of cliché by ESPN athlete profiles and puff pieces everywhere. The article indicates they may have been too busy: fleeing their country, surviving in a refugee camp, traveling to Canada, beginning chocolate production.
Neither did this Syrian family make or realise their dream in Canada. Narratives such as this are foisted upon us over and over. A constant implication of those who promote them assume Canada is better than Syria for Syrians. Their arguments, if not nebulous, rely either on proof by induction or by GDP. These from the same enthusiasm as “America is the greatest country in the world.”
I have yet to meet a Syrian who had not wanted, had not planned, to stay in Syria. Their dreams involved Syria. Those dreams became nightmares. And if they avoided the barrel bombs, escaped detention, skirted checkpoints, and were sprung from limbo by lottery, they came to Canada. This is a reprieve, a refuge. You don’t wake up from a nightmare in paradise. You wake up in a cold sweat.
It’s called Peace By Chocolate. And you can follow them on Facebook,” Trudeau told world leaders in New York.
Not exactly perfunctory — an everyman’s bootstraps and gumption — to have a Prime Minister doing your social media advertising at the United Nations.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of Syrians. But don’t take my word for it.
In Saleem Haddad’s Guapa, despite the protagonist being a closeted gay man, at-risk of communal and sanctioned government violence, readers still understand his ideal life involves being in Damascus. If you really need an anglo angle, Diana Darke makes her case for buying a house in Damascus and moving there in My House in Damascus.
Musa, the protagonist in Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell, chooses to go back to Syria from Paris! If you’ve followed Samar Yazbek’s works, you’ll find her expressing similar sentiments. It is not just the rural or the working classes, whom I have interviewed across Turkey and in parts of Europe, it is Syrians from all classes, all educational achievements, who yearn for Syria.
I am inclined to believe that Canadians’ misunderstanding of this is parochial guesswork; an unexamined assumption. I don’t think anything particularly nefarious is going on in the average Canadians’ assumptions. But the outgrowth of these base assumptions can be (have been) hurtful in their personal interactions with Syrians and wrongheaded when it comes to policies local and national.
The best piece I have read this year on the topic is here, written by a Turkish writer whom fled following the coup attempt and resulting purge. The tremendous writing besides, the key matter is that she is right. Refugees who come to Canada should be free to exhibit the full spectrum of human condition, including anger, disillusion, sarcasm, bitterness, and ennui. When they act or react in unexpected ways, this is an opportunity for the observer to learn something.
On the other hand, when they are chastised or singled out for behaving in human ways on account that they should be humble and/or grateful simply because of their refugee status, an ignorant dynamic is being introduced. Someone even told my friend the other day that she should be proud to be a refugee. Proud her fellow citizens are at the bottom of the Mediterranean? Proud her country lays in rubble? Proud some of the children who survived sieges and gas attacks have missed five years of school? Proud of a label she wishes to cast off but that someone in her new country is determined she, the Syrian, bear and embrace against her will because she, the Canadian, says so? This is paternalism of the worst kind. This pride is a sin.
The truth is that Canada is a second option for Syrians. And that’s okay — there is nothing wrong or insulting about that. We can still help them and we can try to understand where they are coming from. Many have nowhere to go back to. The Greene family is such a case. The war is not winding down in their province; their home village remains under daily ariel bombardment. They have nowhere else to go. I am fundraising to bring them to Canada here and personally matching all donations up to $1,000 made before October 1st.