Building Walls

BRIDGE OF SPIESI just finished watching Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a great spy thriller based on the account of James Donovan, a New York lawyer who represented a Soviet spy in court in 1957, and then who subsequently was the main negotiator, five years later, coordinating an exchange of that Soviet spy for an American pilot shot down over the Soviet Union. Amongst many memorable scenes, one stood out for me: Donovan is returning to West Berlin by train from East Berlin, after having spent the night in a Stasi jail cell and, as the train crosses the now-erected and newly infamous Berlin Wall, he watches in horror as several people try to climb over the Wall and are summarily shot and killed.

Hungary, fence, migrants, refugeesI don’t know whether Donovan actually witnessed this incident, but the scene made me immediately think of the wall put up by Hungary to deter the flood of migrants and refugees across the Hungarian border from Serbia. Apparently there are more walls that have been put up already by other countries (see Adam Taylor’s Washington Post article from August on walls). These walls vary in length but the intent is similar: to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe.

The scene from the movie is poignant, as people are desperate to leave the oppressive German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for the democratic West, and make every attempt to do so, even at risk of their own lives. The Wall only is a physical hindrance, and the intention of the Wall – to keep people in – can only be implemented by the use of force.

The reality of the walls being built in Europe today is the same – they will not act as deterrents unless the countries that erected the walls are willing to use force to implement the intention of the walls: to keep migrants and refugees out. One might argue that the walls are not being built to keep migrants and refugees out, that the walls are being built to better channel the human flood, but if you examine the nature of walls, it is to control the ability of people to enter and/or to leave. How far are European countries willing to go to enforce the walls that they are building?

Particularly in light of yesterday’s attack in Paris, more walls are going to be built throughout Europe: physical walls, mental walls; blockades against migrants and refugees; barriers to multiculturalism; moats to weather a modern siege of Europe. Walls have never really helped to stave off evil and, more often than not, walls become symbols of oppression: the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Ghetto Wall, the West Bank Barrier.

It is in this moment of desperate times that we have a choice as to whether to keep raising walls, or to raise arms in welcome.


AFP, Paris AttacksWhen I first heard about the Paris attacks today, I was listening to the radio and the hourly news headlined with the attacks: 18 dead the report said, multiple attacks, explosions and shootings. When I arrived home for a late lunch, I tweeted out the BBC article on the attack: 120+ dead.

I feared the worst and that fear has, unfortunately, been realized.

My second thought was that France seems to be a more viable target for these extremists than any other country outside of the Middle East. What is it about France that draws these kinds of attacks? I’m not just thinking of the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier in January of this year, but the subsequent attacks:

JANUARY JUNE Lyon – a lone wolf attacker beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a gas plant;

AUGUST Oignies/Arras –  train attack foiled by passengers;

NOVEMBER Toulon – plot to attack France’s largest naval base foiled (and now I wonder whether the Toulon plot is potentially linked to these Paris attacks).

Is it because of the significant Muslim population (4.7 million, 7.5% of the French population – Pew Research Centre)? But then, Germany parallels France in these statistics. Is it because of some de facto internal socio-cultural practice stemming from France’s colonization of northern Africa? Is there resentment against old colonizers? Is it because many individuals amongst France’s minorities are not, or have not, integrated into French society and live in certain ghetto-ized arrondissements around Paris, and in ghettos in other major French cities?

It is easy in these kinds of moments to experience a knee jerk reaction to such atrocities and to wave the anti-migrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim banner, and brush all Muslims – and I would even add all people who are from the Middle East and look Muslim (as there are many non-Muslim refugees and migrants from the Middle East) – with the same brush of tarring and feathering. We cannot. I do believe that, on some level, that is exactly the kind of reaction that these kinds of ISIL/ISIS militants look to solicit from the West; a racial reaction would help the ISIL/ISIS propaganda machines justify any negative actions carried out on the West.

But that sentiment of Islamophobia is for a different time and place (for an good overview of Muslims in France, see Adam Taylor’s article from the Washington Post on the topic).

My question still remains: why France? Why not the United States, the more obvious target for a terror plot? Is it a simple matter of security, and that US intelligence and security are more robust than that of France? What is the disconnect in France that elicits these kinds of attacks? There will be more attacks, and I wonder whether these brazen attacks will inspire other cells in other countries to do something similar.

It’s funny, funny in a peculiar and frustrating kind of way: about a year ago, after the attack at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, someone plastered a pro Taliban, Alghaeda (Al Qaeda), Hamas, Bokuharam (Boko Haram), Hezbollah, Ekhvan Moslemin (Muslim Brotherhood), and ISIS poster all over my apartment complex. I notified the RCMP but was essentially told that this incident was irrelevant and meant nothing. In the light of these attacks in France, I do wonder whether more effort should be made in investigating these kinds of incidents, because who is to say that the perpetrators of today’s Paris attacks didn’t start out by plastering their arrondissement with similar posters?

Anyhow, why France?

Remembrance Day Thoughts (in the moment)


A minute of silence has just passed. I wondered what each veteran,  who stands so proudly in front of me,  gnarled hands holding flags high,  flags of Canada,  of British Columbia,  of the UN,  of regiments. What memory is the poignant one upon which their thoughts dwell in this eternal present minute?

Is it the moment of fear as they are stranded in a hut at the edge of a minefield, once a farm field, full of life  now sown with death, bullets whizzing past their heads,  from an anonymous invisible enemy?

Is it the moment of terror as they hide behind a house that sheltered them from a predatory enemy, but the dull thud of boots and rattle of tank treads providing early warning and time to hide. Praying for silence and wishing that the heart did not beat so loudly in case their position was given away by fear.

Is it the moment when they walked into a town,  liberating it from monsters disguised as men?

Is it the moment when they find a shattered doll, with unblinking eyes having at the sky,  lying in the mud, and knew for certain that the doll’s owner was lying in that same mud,  over the hillock?

Is it the moment when they came back to Canada expecting to be heroes but instead find themselves strangers in their own homeland?

*  *  *

A bald eagle just flew overhead as we all bowed our heads and prayed to God for those who served and for those who serve.
May those memories be uplifted,  and uplift.
And may they never be forgotten.

Lest We Forget (and with thanks)

To date, to Canadians, to Commemorate:

Remembrance Day, poppy, Canada, veterans, peacekeeping, ISIS, ISIL, WWII, WWI, Korean War, Yugo, Yugoslavia, Somalia

The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War, World War I: 1914-1918
17 Main Players, et al…

This War started out one foot at the end of the Napoleonic period, and ended with the other firmly striding into modernity.

Note there were three empires – British, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – this was their last knell.

But it did not end all wars, and merely set the tone for the next.

The Second World War, World War II: 1939-1945
35 Main Players, of whom many asserted their nationhood on the world stage, out of the shadow of their parent empire.

It was during this War, in Poland, that one grandfather was killed by the Nazis, at the age of 24. The other grandfather fought with the Polish partisans, and watched his best friend’s head get blown off by a sniper.

No more empires, but an attempt at empire-building, thankfully waylaid.

Attempts at extermination.

Affirmations that humans can be superbly evil; affirmations that humans can also be sublimely good.

The Korean War: 1950-1953
The UN had its first command at this particular theatre. The UN, sprung whole out of the minds of war-weary leaders, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

The Koreas are still at war; North Korea put a cross on the old Armistice a few years back anyhow. Air raid sirens toll periodically throughout Seoul to remind diligent citizens to be on edge.

We sent out sons and daughters as UN Peacekeepers, to Kashimir (1948), Cyprus (1974 to date), Congo (various, 1960 to date), Somalia, Yugoslavia (1992-2003) and Somalia (1993), making them live the horrors of war without being able to keep the peace.

The UN Peacekeepers were honoured with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1988. Recognition, in the face of flying bullets, that can only be dodged, not returned.

Then there were the Iraq Wars, first (1990) and second (2003-2011), and then the Afghanistan War (2001-2014).
What does one say to something so recent. We always thought that our modern world was too civilized to have to deal with War, and, indeed, modern Wars seem far removed from our doorstep, here in Canada, in North America really.

We are not Europe, forced to deal with a wholly new kind of refugee crisis, one where the refugees are empowered by information and globalization.

And yet, I am so proud to support Canadian soldiers who are sent to deal with the kinds of people (can you call ISIS/ISIL that?) who think it perfectly acceptable to stone people, to hurl individuals from the roofs of multi-storey buildings, to decapitate persons, and to condone slavery. Somewhere, out in ISIL territory, some secret clan is gathering, trying to find out new ways of instilling fear and horror in the local populations and around the world.

I am glad that there are Canadians, and others, who are doing their damnedest, on our behalves, to stop the spread of such rabid fanaticism.

Lest we forgot the past, so that we can understand why we are doing what we are doing in the present, in our best effort to stave off potential horrors in the future.

And this it is that I say to all Canadian veterans, old and new, and to those Canadians still serving: thank you.