Canada's welcoming reception of the first planeloads of Syrian refugees has prompted an overwhelmingly positive response in the Arab media, with one Jordanian news site going so far as to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "Superman" for his acceptance of refugees.
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Online interest in Canada has seen a huge upswing among Arabic speakers in recent weeks. The number of people searching for the word "Canada" in Arabic doubled in the past month, according to Google Trends. The primary source countries of the queries were Jordan and Lebanon, but internet users in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Libya also generated some of the searches.
CBC News found tens of thousands of Arabic searches within the past week (Dec.8-15) for "Canada + Syrian refugees."
Commenters use Canada to shame Arab states
When it came to comments in Arab media and on online message boards, the general trend was to thank Canada for its warm reception of Syrian refugees, but there were some dissenting voices, such as one reader on the Al Jazeera website who chastised the refugees for not staying to fight the Assad regime in Syria.
'Canada's prime minister put Arab rulers in an embarrassing situation when he said, "Welcome to your new home."' - WatanSerb
Many other commenters contrasted Canada's favourable treatment of Syrian refugees with the actions — or inaction — of some Arab countries.
"Canada's prime minister put Arab rulers in an embarrassing situation when he said, 'Welcome to your new home,'" said an editorial on WatanSerb.com, a California-based news weekly for Arab Americans.
"It's hard to believe what Canadians are doing for Syrian refugees," it said in its commentary. Jordanians pointed to the footage of Trudeau and other government ministers greeting refugees at the airport in criticizing their own government's mistreatment of refugees.
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Readers of AlJazeera.net demanded "clarification on why Gulf countries are refusing to host Syrian refugees." One reader of the Dubai-based Orient News, one of the leading news websites of the Syrian opposition, suggested that "history is going to write how Muslims in general and Arabs in particular did not stand up for Syrians whereas foreigners did and were more merciful and supportive."
(It's worth noting, however, that since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, Muslim countries have taken in Syrian refugees in far higher numbers than Western states, with Turkey and Lebanon alone taking in more than three million, according to the UNHCR.)
The negative comparisons were not only directed at Arab and Muslim countries. Canada's example also prompted readers to reflect on how Syrian refugees were being treated by some European states.
"At a time when Canada is opening its doors to Syrian refugees, Berlin is facing criticism of its plans to contain refugees and the lack of basic life needs," wrote Zainab Kherfati of Dubai on the website of the Al Arabiya TV network.
Similarly, Ahmad Abdel Zaher wrote on the Saudi Arabia-based site The Message of Islam that while Canada celebrates Syrian refugees, "Denmark blackmails them," a reference to reports that the Scandinavian country is considering seizing refugees' jewelry and valuables to help offset the cost of resettlement.
The United Arab Emirates newspaper Alitihad contrasted Canada's warm welcome to what it described as the cold attitude of its neighbour, the United States.
Ottawa choir's song well timed
A performance by an Ottawa-based children's choir of the traditional Muslim song Tala Al Badru Alayna (The Full Moon Rose Over Us) also triggered a huge response in the Arab media. The performance occurred about a week before the refugees' arrival in Canada, and a YouTube video of it began to be widely shared, including by the prime minister, around the time the first refugee planes were touching down in Toronto and Montreal.
The high school choir performs a traditional song from a different culture every year and this year chose an Arabic one, and although the song was not planned to coincide with the refugees' arrival, many interpreted it as a sign of Canada's welcoming multicultural spirit. The Morocco-based news website Cawalisse.com called the performance "a legendary scene that is hard to be believed" and pointed out that efforts to welcome Syrian refugees were being made not only by government but by ordinary Canadians.
A reader of Orient News wrote: "You sang a song that is the most cherished to our hearts in a time when many countries of our own skin let us down."
Many articles pointed to the symbolism of the song, which was purportedly sung by residents of Medina in the seventh century to welcome another group of migrants — Muslims fleeing Mecca with the prophet Muhammad.
Farfesh, a pan-Arab cultural news site, described the performance as "a gesture that signified humanity and superiority." Zaman Al Wasl, a Syrian news website based in Qatar, said that the choir and other ways in which Canada is welcoming the newcomers have put it at the top of countries that care for refugees.
Canada challenging 'terrorphobia'
Middle East Online, a prominent news website based in London, praised Canada for "challenging the terrorphobia" that emerged in the wake of the Paris attacks and cited Trudeau's speech at Pearson airport in Toronto ahead of the refugees' arrival, in which he called on Canadians to "show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations."
'All that is required from the Syrian refugee now is to work, study and respect the laws and regulations of their new country.' - Erem news website
The action of the Trudeau government was also praised by Alwan Radio, which said Canada acted the fastest in fulfilling its promise to refugees and "created an atmosphere of glee among Syrians on social media."
The Erem news website, based in Abu Dhabi, challenged the refugees to take advantage of their good fortune.
"All that is required from the Syrian refugee now is to work, study and respect the laws and regulations of their new country," it said in an editorial. "In addition, you are required to respect its traditions and customs and try to integrate within their new society as well as working on serving and developing it."