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Guelph crowd told it needs to turn up the heat on the federal government regarding Syria

Two people with intimate knowledge of the Syrian situation share their thoughts in Guelph

Make life miserable for your local member of parliament if you want to see the Canadian government to take a more decisive and proactive stance on the Syrian crisis, a Guelph gathering was told Saturday.

That was the message delivered at a speakers’ event at Harcourt United Church offering a broader perspective of what is happening in Syria and what should be done next.

Haroon Siddiqui, a respected journalist and commentator on international affairs, made the statement that the Canadian government needs to feel the heat.

“It’s a small step, yes, but an important one,” said Siddiqui. “The function of democracy is to hold their feet to the fire.

“We should be asking tough questions” and calling for changes that will eventually find their way into policy.

His comments drew some chuckles from some of the 70 people who braved the nasty weather to hear the speakers, given that (initially unknown to Siddiqui) Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield was in attendance.

Siddiqui, who is the editorial page editor of the Toronto Star, was joined on stage by Monia Mazigh, an activist, scholar and author whose husband Maher Arar was detained and tortured in Syria for almost a year.

Mazigh detailed the plight of her husband and her plight in her book Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband Maher Arar.

Both speakers shared their perspectives on the Syrian situation.

Siddiqui said Canadians and the Canadian government have to “find our inner self and we have to speak up.”

He said things such as supporting Saudi Arabia by selling them military vehicles, ignoring the plight of blockaded Yemen and that of the Rohingya Muslims “strips you of your moral core.”

What was already a relevant and timely discussion Saturday became even more poignant in the wake of Friday’s missile attack by the United States and its allies.

“Where was the outcry before the chemical attack?” Mazigh asked.

“We need to shine a light on the hypocrisy,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t see that hypocrisy. They hear things and they take it all at face value.”

“Hypocrisy knows no bounds,” added Siddiqui, who called Islamophobia “the new antisemitism.”

Siddiqui detailed several moments in recent history where the world stood by while atrocities even worse than the most recent chemical attack on civilians took place.

“Mr. Trump is shedding tears for Syrian Muslims,” sighed Siddiqui, yet has done nothing to help the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The reason he led an attack on Syria on Friday, Siddiqui theorized, could very well have been to deflect from his own issues.

He stressed the need for Canada to take a lead role in addressing Syria on a policy level.

“Canadian values are at stake here,” Siddiqui said.

The problems in Syria and throughout the region, she said, is multi-levelled and very complex. Not black and white.

Mazigh said the long-term solution to Syria remains looking at the region as a whole and understanding others.

“At the end of the day, we are all half angel and half devil,” she said. “Who is the good bombarder and who is the bad bombarder?

“It is a privilege to live in peace … we have to use it to make differences,” she said.

Saturday’s event was organized by the Guelph Multifaith Bridging Group, a multi-faith Guelph organization that meets about once a month with the goal of building community and friendships.

“We hope that, through informed and active citizenry, Canadians can push for bottom-up change that becomes a model for Canada’s engagement on the world stage.

“We hope that, through gaining understanding of what happened in Syria, we might be better neighbours in the future,” said organizers in their description of the event.