Albert Camus once wrote that, “At every corner of every street, the absurdity of life can hit anyone in the face.” No words come more to mind than these as we ponder the deaths of the victims of Ukrainian International flight 752 shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile.
We seek comprehension. We seek ways to cope. No attempt at either can be successful without realizing the capricious absurdity of life. But though coming to rational terms with any tragedy that is nearly impossible, we can learn from those who mourn how to go forward and not yield to understandable dismay.
All the lives lost were precious. But Canada was particularly stricken. Of the 176 people killed, 57 were Canadians. Many were students who had gone to visit family and friends over the Christmas. Most were university students and professionals of high accomplishment. Those who mourn them, in Canada and Iran, are teaching us how to cope.
It is estimated that Canada has the third-largest number of expatriate Iranians in the world. Many came in the years right after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But many others kept coming — leaving family and friends behind — and headed for our universities. And Iranian-Canadians are an accomplished group academically and professionally, as can be seen by the descriptions of those who perished. They have made contributions to this country in science, medicine, business, academia and the liberal professions out of all proportion to their numbers. And in the midst of this tragedy, this community is teaching us all not just how to keep hope alive, but how to carry on and thrive.
The community’s spirit was perhaps best expressed by Payman Parseyan, the past president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, when he said, “It’s (the Iranian immigration) a gift to Canada, and you know what, it’s the regime’s loss in Iran. The regime has suppressed the people, the people are upset with the government and so they leave. The best minds learn to get out.” Edmonton was particularly stricken with some two dozen members of the community killed in the crash. His words reflect the grit and determination of what has rightly been described as the most western-oriented, best-educated and secular population in the Muslim world. He went on to say that, “...the amount of support we’ve seen from Canada versus our motherland is something collectively as Canadians we can be proud of. ”
His pride in his adopted country and his sadness about Iran, was reflected in many ceremonies and vigils of remembrance across the country, including that in Montreal which is reported on our front page. Many voiced bitterness and anger that the Iranian regime had not even issued a statement of sympathy. The word “shame” was heard often in both English and Farsi.
That anger and defiance was also reflected at Tehran University. So many of the dead were themselves students, and surely had friends there. Just days after the crash, the Iranian regime tried to politicize the tragedy and spread out giant flags of the United States and of Israel on the campus and encouraged students to walk over them. In a remarkable display of courage and empathy with their dead brothers and sisters, the students took great pains to avoid walking over the flags. When two internal security regime agents made a point of trampling the flags themselves, crowds of students shouted “Bi Sharaf” — no conscience! Videos have made their way around the world. The Tehran students were not going to be complicit in allowing the regime to profit from human grief.
Perhaps this is the lesson we can all take from this tragedy. The lessons of the students. The duty to live life with dignity and compassion even in the face of tragedy.