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Syrian-Canadian says the way to fight ISIS is with ideas

Ous Sakbani spoke with Checkup guest host Laura Lynch about the instability in Syria that he hears from his friends and family. He says that if the West cannot win with superior technology, it must fight back with ideas.
Damaged buildings in the town of Rabiya after forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the rebel-held town in coastal Latakia province in Syria, in 2016 (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to boost humanitarian efforts in response to the fight against ISIS. To date Canada has accepted 22,000 refugees from the war-torn region.

Ous Sakbani is a Syrian-Canadian living in Edmonton, Alta., who sponsored five members of his family as Syrian refugees. He spoke with Checkup guest host Laura Lynch about the instability and devastating conditions his friends and family living in Syria still face.

Checkup caller Ous Sakbani was born and raised in Syria. He agrees with the Liberal decision to bring the CF-18 jets home. 7:24

Laura Lynch: What should Canada be doing [in the fight against ISIS], if anything?

Ous Sakbani: I strongly agree with taking out the jets. When seven or eight of the greatest armies in the world are trying to fight a bunch of guys with jeeps and AKs, and they still can't beat them, then the problem is way larger than just who has more men or who has better technology.

ISIS became more than just people. It became an idea that has spread worldwide and I think you can only fight ideas with ideas.

ISIS is focusing more on their marketing, on how to recruit, on how to make themselves look big and tough, more than the time they're spending on the ground and actually fighting people. They spend a bunch of time setting up to make a horrifying video, so the whole world would see. It spreads really quickly—all that hate that is going around.

LL: And you also speak as a Syrian.

OS: Yes, I was born and raised in Syria. I spent about six or seven years of my life in Canada. I'm currently in Canada, of course. When you live [in Syria] before the war, the government that we had didn't allow you to say one thing about politics. Even over the phone, even as a joke. There is a possibility that you would just disappear for days.

LL: Have you still got family in Syria?

OS: Most of my family is in Syria, and a lot of my friends as well. I lost a lot of them as well.

LL: You lost a lot of them. Do you mean they were killed?

OS: Yes. A lot of them were living in the areas where the chemical bomb was dropped by the government. I had a few friends die on the same day and it wasn't easy.

LL: I'm sorry to hear that. I'm wondering what are your friends and family who are still there telling you about what life is like right now?

OS: You can never really depend on what they say because they cannot speak what's on their mind. Damascus, the capital, is controlled by Bashar [al-Assad] and everything is watched. When I try to talk to them on the phone or on Facebook and ask how are things, they will always say, "It's getting better. We're getting the country back to how it was," because they're not allowed to say otherwise. If they do, they know they could be gone to nobody-knows-where. You can never rely on what they're saying. I think you see a clearer picture of what's going on inside if you are outside of the country.

Different cities have different circumstances. For example, right in the middle of Damascus there's nothing. There's not really any bombings or shootings and nobody's near it. The government has a firm grip on it and there's no war there. But if you go a few miles outside of the city and you see all the massacres, the bombings and scud missiles.

LL: Have any of your relatives left and joined you in Canada because of the conflict?

OS: Yes, of course. Actually just a couple weeks ago I was able to sponsor five members, including my aunt, cousin and uncle. I brought them here and it took me awhile to get them here, but I finally did it. They live with me now. And, if I can, I would try to [sponsor] a lot more to keep them safe.

LL: Ous, presumably they have been able to speak to you more frankly about what the situation is now that they're out of the country, and I'm curious to know what they told you.

OS: They're just hopeless about ever going back, or the country ever going back to how it used to be. They know it got way more complicated than anyone ever imagined, and they just lost hope. They would love to go back because you can never forget your home country. But they like it here, they're really happy that they've made it here. They know that they're settled. They know that they're going to become Canadian and probably live here for the rest of their lives.

LL: Do you think that the country you were born in will survive, or is it gone?

OS: I would like to think a miracle would come by and bring it back, but that's exactly what it needs—it needs a miracle.

Laura Lynch's and Ous Sakbani's comments have been edited and condensed. This web segment was prepared by Champagne Choquer.

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