Did you know? That Canada is not only the world’s leading exporter, but now the leading producer, of lentils? That we grow more than half-again the crop of all India? Verily, three-eighths of the whole planet’s ongoing supply?
What a fool I’ve been, never to have noticed a single lentil bush growing in an Ontario field — was my first thought upon encountering this fascinating piece of statistical information.
But then it all fell into place. Ninety-six per cent of Canada’s lentils are grown in the fine Province of Saskatchewan, which I was myself raised to think of as 60 million acres of wheat. But no! Nearly half of that farm space today is other crops, including, too, 99 percent of Canada’s “gram,” or chickpeas.
Canada; or more precisely, Saskatchewan; or more precisely, a certain Murad Al-Katib, is now the major player in the world trade for lentils, chickpeas, various other pulses and beans. Note that definite article.
In anno 2001, none of us were growing lentils. (I’m still not.) And yet, then as now, much of Saskatchewan was as close to ideal lentil-growing territory as the planet could offer. (Except for the short growing season.) And — trust me, I’ve been around — a lot of that planet takes lentils with its rice or chapatis. (High protein content; delicious even before spicing; tremendous variety, and culinary range. Drought-resistant. High yield with machines, and higher still with human hands.)
For it was in 2001 that Mr Al-Katib — descendant of refugees, like the rest of us — started up as “Saskcan Pulse Trading.” This was in a room in the basement of his house. He had himself for an employee, and a very pregnant wife (twins), who wasn’t speaking to him after he quit a well-paid government job. “The love of my life,” as he still speaks, unabashedly and with a face-grabbing sincerity, of this ’Chewanian girl, Michelle.
But she is speaking to him now.
I love a love story. Murad was fat, and foreign, and had a big mouth, at the front of some class in the University of Saskatchewan. Michelle hated him on sight. But she was for Murad his muse. Eventually they worked out their differences; and he credits her for everything he’s achieved.
He had this clever idea, you see: “Feed. The. World.” And a trading connexion in Turkey he had chosen to trust. (You have to trust people sometimes.)
I like to shunt like this, from statistics to some little human story that is at the root of it all, like Adam and Eve. I was once a hack business journalist. This story was gold, I couldn’t resist it.
And now for the segue. Syria contains much rich, traditional, prime lentil-growing territory. It could feed itself with twenty million people, even under an unpleasant dictator. The farmers for the most part ignored him and got on with it. But the Daesh they cannot ignore.
Four million Syrian refugees in transit, currently, according to UN statistics — a scale that now well exceeds that of Rwanda in 1994. A very high proportion of them are Christian, and the overall numbers are rising at more than 100,000 per month. Gentle reader may have noticed that their attempts to get into Europe currently dominate the European news headlines. Sympathy for them — which was huge when they were a sentimental abstraction — is now declining rapidly. The proposal to “send them home” is being expressed, politically, with ever increasing candour.
Libya is the other principal source of refugees, at the moment — people risking their lives, quite recklessly, to get out of a country that the Western world decided to mess with on progressive principles, just a few years ago. We congratulated ourselves on the success of their “Arab Spring,” and declared that democracy had triumphed again. (All the liberals still speaking to me were gloating about how cleverly Obama had pulled off getting rid of Gaddafi.)
The number of Middle Eastern countries vomiting refugees will itself continue to rise. Though by the time it includes all of them, the phenomenon is likely to be concealed by the fact of another planetary war. For things are getting seriously out of hand, and the list of flashpoints in the tinder is growing.
It is a point I was reaching for, these last two days. The United States and allies could still go in with military, to bring Islamism to a conclusion, starting with its Sunni apparatus and form — as President Bush was attempting in light of 9/11. Alas, like Churchill, he was “ahead of his time.” (Murad Al-Katib also likes to quote Churchill.)
Or we can sit back and watch, dropping a few bombs meticulously here and there, to prove that we are not totally indifferent; and performing the occasional drone assassination. This has not retarded the spread of the Daesh; but in theory it was supposed to. (Liberalism is all about theories.)
We got a taste of what would be involved, in Afghanistan and Iraq, before our electorates came to their decisive, “no thank you.” Indeed, there is seldom thanks for good deeds, as military veterans across the USA are once again discovering. As to Vietnam, they were sent into the fire, for a cause that their masters would soon abandon. And yesterday’s heroes, with all their traumatic disorders, become as welcome back home as Syrian refugees. (Kipling once wrote a poignant poem on this.)
True, this is how the world works — its way from one catastrophe to another. That is why we put our faith in God, and not in men.
Air, sea, and ground military action, for all its horror, remains the only practicable solution to, among other things, the refugee crisis, so far as I can see. It is like stopping Hitler in the 1930s; or stopping Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, et cetera. It won’t be done with peace talks. Or perhaps we are hoping that, for instance, the Ayatollahs and their nuclear missiles will, like the Soviets, eventually fade away. Forgetting, perhaps, that they are crazier than the Soviets, and actually banking on Armageddon in their stated beliefs, having vowed to annihilate another six million Jews. Et cetera.
And just wait until Nigeria is emptying out.
For the moment, the choice is between going right in with boots on, to defeat the common enemy at source (we could still wipe out the Daesh without nuclear weapons); and continuing to absorb millions upon millions of refugees — among whom are many who will take their war to us.
We think we have stepped out of it. We haven’t, and we can’t. We have instead broadly surrendered influence over our own fate.
For serious military action — the kind that won’t relent till victory — is now unthinkable. We tried that, got bored, and slightly bruised; then walked away.
One might almost say it is a principle of democracy, to take unnecessary action, every day. But when it comes to necessary action, we leave it until there will be hecatombs and vast, unimaginable destruction.
Something, anyway, to chew with the lentils.