Refugees Then and Now
The United States is famous for its Statue of Liberty, its beacon to the tired, the homeless and the poor, to paraphrase Emma Lazarus’ poem, which, along with the statue, is well known as a proud welcoming image for immigrants to the United States of America. A short time ago my husband and I had occasion to see this statue for the first time.
The poor quality of my picture belies the thrill this Canadian felt as our ship cruised past an icon which I’ve admired from afar for many years. The magnificent country to the south of us grew from the daring exploits of all kinds of people whose varied roots and beliefs added to the richness of the new country just as a patchwork quilt is more beautiful because of the diversity of its parts.
My Loyalist Trilogy tells another story of dispossessed peoples rising again, this time in Ontario, Canada. Over 200 years ago those people chose to stay loyal to Britain, a decision which cost them dearly but which led them to be part of the exciting beginning of what is today Ontario, Canada.
They were Canada’s first refugees and over 100,000 fled from the Thirteen Colonies, soon to be the United States. About half of those landed in Canada, the rest going back to Britain or seeking sanctuary in the West Indies and other parts of the world. The point is, they were refugees. They needed shelter. They needed help. They needed to find ways to survive. And many of them found help from those First Nations peoples who were here before.
Our world today is not much different for many, many people. Fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, new brides and old grannies, lonely men and put-upon women–people of all colors and religions, dreams and skill sets–all need help in one way or another. Refugees. I don’t have to mention all of the refugees created in the last few years but especially in the news these days.
Just now I’m reading a book which has opened my eyes to the meaning behind words I’ve heard about for many years: Gaza Strip, Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, Bedouin, Hebrew, Israeli, Arab-Israeli, Sephardic Jews and many more. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has written I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey with the voice of truth and a sensitivity to the subject matter which only someone with his mindset could manifest. He chooses to look for answers to the Middle East tragedy, a decision which cuts into my heart for one main reason. Three of his daughters died because of the unending fighting between Arabs and Israelis.
“If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss.” (Words on the cover.)
And this week all of Canada is reeling from the senseless bombing of a mosque simply because it is a mosque, I guess. Six people are dead and many more injured. They were worshiping, for Heaven’s sake! Our country prides itself on opening its doors to people from all parts of the world who truly want to start a new and good life here. Oh, I’m sure we have restrictions and I’m not saying many cannot get in, but the point is we try to accept as many as we can. And Canada is stronger for it.
Just a few weeks ago a wonderful Dutch Canadian lady died. She came here with her husband and child back in the fifties because my father needed help on our growing farms and his sons were too small. Arend (who died first) and Jenny were a wonderful couple who raised a large family here, every one of whom has contributed greatly to our Canadian way of life. When I read the obituary my eyes filled with tears as I remembered this kind and joyful couple from my childhood. My husband and I counted up the descendants who came after Arend and Jenny. Hundreds. (I think they had 111 great grandchildren.)
And I thought of all the immigrants to this country, just like my ancestors, and their huge contributions to the Canada we have today. The same goes for the United States. Imagine the blessed diversity simply because so many people came to settle in the United States and Canada looking for a new life. Even those who came to North America against their will have added much more than their varied gene pool. If only we could look at our neighbors near and far and see the strengths they offer!
Driving in my car Tuesday afternoon, I turned on CBC radio to hear a talk show with an Islamic woman talking about her pride and joy at living in Canada and pleading for others to see behind her clothing to the real person inside, a person with the same interests and needs, joys and heartaches, a person who has learned to come out of her shy persona and talk to people all around her. Why? She wants them to see she is like them.
I love the way that private individuals are speaking up for what they believe and support in these difficult times. Many write songs and articles, books and speeches, all manner of heartfelt expressions of sorrow at the injustices we hear about every day. The pictures on the news of bouquets of flowers marking outpourings of sympathy and women marching along with men to celebrate those women all give me hope. We have not lost our humanity nor our charity, Christian or otherwise.
Like the refugees that were our forefathers, let us fight against all odds to make this whole world the kind of place I dare say all of the good books from all of the religions want. If we could collectively do that the word refugee would disappear from our vocabulary. That’s what happens to all unnecessary words.
My Goodreads Review of this book: I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had this book on my to-read list for about 3 years and finally got to it this week. Wow! What an eye opener! Dr. Abuelaish has a way with words that allows his amazing personal beliefs to shine through his story. The book rates five stars not because its editing is perfect or its setup is the best it could be but because its human tale shines over and above all such mundane things. This is a must-read for those of us who have never truly understood the meaning of the Gaza Strip and its continuing struggles with Israel.
The author tells us from the outset about the tragic deaths of his three daughters and one niece when his home was targeted for bombing by Israeli insurgents but he amazes the world and the reader as he chooses not to hate in the wake of this despicable and avoidable act. A must read for all of us citizens of the world.
The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck, The Loyalist Legacy
by Elaine Cougler
Available at Amazon.com and many other places.