We all know better than to venture into that terrifying place where anonymity gives wings to absurd, racist and often violent opinions: the dreaded comments section.
But sometimes our curiosities get the best of us and we go there, despite our better judgment, only to be reminded why we so stringently avoided them in the first place.
Recently, after ignoring the warning alarms going off in my head, cautioning me to go no further, I found myself 50 comments deep in an article about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s warm embrace of the Syrian refugees that recently arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
The comments ranged from lauding the newly elected Prime Minister for “bringing Canada back,” to racist prevarications likening the refugees to Daesh (There was even one accusing the Syrians fleeing their war-torn country of being colonialists #facepalm).
But one particular sentiment, repeated on numerous forums, stood out like a hijabi in public school. One comment, by username Zozzle, on a Toronto Star article reads, “Are our own homeless and jobless people forgotten or are they all going to be set up with all life’s necessities too? Ahhh but supporting them isn’t trendy or newsworthy is it? This is a sad day for all Canadians in need.”
A toxic rhetoric of mutual exclusivity has punctuated online talk about Canada’s role in aiding Syrian refugees. To those espousing this particular brand of divisive logic, compassion should be circumvented by borders and limitations, our generosity bound by lines drawn in the sand.
I do acknowledge that we must take care of the less fortunate within our own communities; that is indisputable. I also recognize that often local issues are swallowed up in the raucous surrounding global issues.
We cannot challenge injustice abroad while feigning ignorance to its existence in our own backyards. The Idle No More and Black Lives Matter movements taking root all over North America exemplify this point perfectly. We should care what is happening abroad without neglecting to act in solidarity with the grassroots movements forming in our own communities.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The problem with the “charity begins at home” paradigm is that it creates a false dichotomy where our dedication to one cause cancels out our concern for any others.
Do we have to ignore the plight of the Syrian refugees to care for the homeless here in Canada, or vice versa? Does helping one struggling population oblige us to forsake all others? Many of the homeless in Calgary don’t seem to think so.
According to a CBC article, a number of Calgary’s homeless don’t believe that any cause should take precedent over the other, expressing their sympathy with the Syrian refugees and their hopes that Canadians help both groups.
Such a narrative depends on using the homeless, or any other marginalized group in Canada, as a false front to muddy the discourse on refugees — presenting their hardships as a problem for someone else to deal with.
The above comment and those like it expose the thinly-veiled hypocrisy in the ongoing discussion on the refugee crisis. Such a narrative depends on using the homeless, or any other marginalized group in Canada, as a false front to muddy the discourse on refugees — presenting their hardships as a problem for someone else to deal with. But the refugees, like the homeless, are not a problem for someone to take on or a burden for us to carry.
They are people who need help.
It isn’t difficult to disentangle the false sincerity in those who push this argument; their fervor is impelled more by their racism than their genuine concern for Canada’s homeless.
Underneath the messy logic conveyed by such a rhetoric, after it has been stripped of its phony emotional plea, is the truth; they don’t care about the refugees and they don’t care about the homeless. Compassion is not such a fragile entity that it threatens to collapse at the mere mention of helping someone outside your frame of reference; it isn’t a zero sum game.
And if your involvement with one disenfranchised population teeters on your disapproval of helping another disenfranchised population, that’s not compassion; it’s hate.
If you lack the compassion to help a handful of refugees — 25,000 out of the more than three million who have fled Syria — displaced by a war that is ravaging their country, it’s hard to believe you possess the benevolence to help those displaced by poverty at home.
Images: Volunteer Toronto and CBC