Words burned into my mind

Sometimes words burn into my mind and I can’t stop hearing them.

Imam Hassan Guillet spoke powerful words at the funeral of three of the men who were shot and killed while they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City last Sunday night:

We are here to celebrate Khaled, Aboubaker, Abdelkrim, Azzedine, Mamadou, Ibrahima. We are going to have a prayer for those who could not finish their prayers. We pray for them. Those [who] didn’t choose their place of birth. I don’t think anyone in this hall selected their place of birth. And no one on the face of this earth selected their place of birth.

If you haven’t read the full transcript of the Imam’s address, I urge you to read it here. His message is so very needed at this moment.

Having just read it when I looked through 30 years’ worth of pictures of my sons yesterday on the occasion of my eldest son’s 30th birthday, I couldn’t help but think about the freedom, opportunities, and privilege afforded to my children by the accident of their birth. As their mother, I have never had to worry that they wouldn’t have enough to eat, wouldn’t have the chance to go to school, might be seriously injured or die from sniper fire or landmines, might never have a place to call home.


My sons didn’t choose to be born in Canada any more than other children choose to be born in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia—or anywhere on earth where life has become so unbearable, and the hope of a safe, happy future at home so impossible, that people are forced to flee.

More than 65 million people around the world have been displaced by wars and other disasters, including foreign policy disasters. Less than 1% of them will be resettled.

What will happen to the rest?

Millions will spend their entire lives in refugee camps. Many will be imprisoned for years in inhumane conditions in “processing centres” like Manus Island and Nauru.

I’ve chosen to live in something of a media vacuum for the past ten years, so I hadn’t heard of Manus Island or Nauru until a few days ago. When Donald Trump told Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, “I don’t want those people,” I wondered, who are “those people”? Why did the Obama administration make a deal to take refugees from Australia?

I learned that Australia’s strict policy is that no one who arrives by boat seeking asylum will ever be allowed to settle there. The desperate people who arrive in Australia by boat are shipped to processing centres in Manus Island and Nauru, where Australian tax payers foot the bill to hold them, against their will, in horrible conditions. They can’t go home, and they can’t go anywhere else. Hundreds of people, including children, have already been imprisoned there for years.

Photo source: CNN

Photo source: CNN

These are the people Trump callously dismisses when he says “I don’t want those people.”

These are the words burned into my mind:

Asylum seekers on Nauru, including children, have stitched their lips shut in protest at being held in detention for more than a year.

Asylum seekers [stand] against the perimeter fence holding placards reading “I’m tired, please kill me.”

Imam Guillet, in his funeral address for the victims of the shooting at the mosque, described how killers are made, not born. How some are poisoned, often from childhood, by rhetoric and policy, by the media, by politicians.

Politicians like Trump who, unlike the wise, compassionate, courageous Imam, do not connect the dots.

The Imam didn’t talk about how anger over social injustices breeds terrorism, but those dots can be connected in much the same way. He talked about transforming enemies into friends, about uniting in our dreams, hopes, and plans for the future. He wasn’t talking about the forgotten children of Nauru. But their words are burned into my mind, and I can’t stop hearing them.

Photo source: Facebook, Free the Children NAURU

Photo source: Facebook, Free the Children NAURU




6 Responses to “Words burned into my mind”

  1. theresa

    What a good post. And we were all once “those people”, unless our ancestors were Indigenous. There were always people who didn’t want our grandparents, our great-parents, with their difficult names and strange accents. It should make us bigger, braver, kinder, but that’s so often not the case.

  2. commatologist

    Thanks, Theresa. How true – it should, and so often it does not.

  3. carin

    Oh, Leslie, this is so valuable. Thank you. For the eloquence and passion of your words as well as info provided through links. I didn’t know about Manus Island or Nauru either…

  4. Sheila Peters

    Very thoughtful, Lesley. As a member of Amnesty International, I’ve been hearing about the horrors so many face, both as refugees and in their home communities for over 35 years now. I still remember a woman from Guatemala speaking in Smithers in the early 1980s about watching her country sink into a terrible civil war, never quite believing it could happen. It can and does happen anywhere, she said. Our own best protection is to speak and work on behalf of people everywhere, especially those who are not just like us. While that can feel overwhelming, the feeling is assuaged by doing even small things in your own life, your own community. This posting is one great example. Thank you.

  5. commatologist

    Thank you, Sheila, for reading, for your comments, and for the work you do.


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