Many years ago I had the distinct honour of hearing Pope John Paul II deliver a speech in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square. He ended his remarks with these words: “the future starts today, not tomorrow”. These words have always resonated for me. Indeed, as I took over the professional leadership of the Mosaic Institute only 30 days ago, my thoughts were focused on the future that started the day I began.
Many will recall that in mid-September the little body of three-year-old Alan Kurdie, a Syrian refugee, washed up on the Turkish shores of the Mediterranean. Along with his five-year old brother and parents, he was desperately trying to escape the violence of his homeland. We at the Mosaic Institute immediately understood that we had a role to play. As an organization that promotes and facilitates dialogue as a way to create a better, more peaceful world, we felt an urgency to be part of the solution to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Within days of my appointment, and working hand in hand with the Mosaic Institute’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council, we convened an ad-hoc group, comprised of a number of distinguished Canadians from all walks of life, to help articulate a Canadian response to the crisis. We called this group the “Humanity Wins” committee. The main task of the committee is to provide the Canadian government with advice on how to effectively respond to the refugee crisis, and to encourage it towards the goal of opening Canada’s borders to help save lives.
“Humanity Wins” has published ads and op-eds in key newspapers across the country. Committee members have made numerous radio and television appearances. All of this geared towards our goal of encouraging a more compassionate response to the Syrian crisis, one that would allow a significant number of people to find safety and opportunity in Canada. Led by the Honourable Ron Atkey, Minister of Employment and Immigration during the Joe Clarke government and one of the people who spearheaded efforts to bring Vietnamese refugees to Canada in the late 1970’s, “Humanity Wins” became one of the “go-to” groups when it came to understanding this crisis.
Others who have lent their experience and good names to the “Humanity Wins” committee include the Hon. Ed Broadbent; Hind Kabawat, a Syrian Canadian lawyer at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution; Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a medical doctor and peace activist from Gaza who is now based in Canada; the Hon. Louise Arbour, a former UN Commissioner for Human Rights; Donald Morrison, Founder and Chair of the Thomas Merton Centre; Norman Inkster, 18th Commissioner of the RCMP and past president of Interpol; Sarkis Assadourian, a Canadian of Syrian/Armenian origin and a three-term Canadian Member of Parliament; Atom Egoyan, the Academy Award-nominated writer and director; and Dr. Pamela Divinsky, Principal of the Divinsky Group. They came together to help, motivated in large part by the respect they hold for the work of the Mosaic Institute and its Chairman Vahan Kololian.
And that was in my first week. As we juggled this vital initiative, the staff of the Mosaic Institute were hard at work ensuring the ongoing success of our programs. A trip to Montreal with Alpha Abebe, Program Manager of our “UofMosaic” initiative, allowed me to meet with our UofMosaic Fellows at McGill and Concordia universities to discuss their ongoing projects. We also focused our work on two other vital areas: our “Next Generation” program for high school students, which will be delivered in partnership with school boards in Ontario and British Columbia starting in early 2016; and our “New Beginnings: The Intra-Jewish Dialogue on the Middle East”, which is creating a neutral and safe platform for young Jewish men and women representing a broad range of positions in the political spectrum to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ways we here in Canada can engage with different actors to promote a peace agenda.
We have also not lost sight of our research initiatives during this past month. We have continued to work collaboratively with a number of community members to launch a national ethnographic study that would examine the actual and perceived relationship between Canadian mosques and instances of “radicalization” among Canadian youth. I have worked closely with our Sr. Project and Communication Officer Lorenzo Vargas on this initiative, which is tremendously important at a time when bias, discrimination and questioning of loyalty seem to have taken root in Canadian public discourse. The Mosaic Institute hopes to lend its energy and years of trust-building experience with numerous diaspora communities to contributing to a more nuanced understanding of community dynamics in Canada.
And let’s not forget our fundraising. Wendy Sung-Aad, our skilled Director of Development, continues to work to increase the pool of funding the Institute needs to continue its ambitions programming and research agenda. Please consider the Mosaic Institute in your charitable giving.
Indeed, my future at Mosaic started the day I began my work on September 15th. We have much ahead of us, and many miles to go before we sleep. I am grateful that my initiation into the Mosaic family has been so seamless thanks to our Board, our dynamic Advisory Council, my professional colleagues, and the host of student interns and volunteers. May we all continue to go from strength to strength.
Bernie M. Farber is the Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute