Anser Daud is a medical student at the University of Toronto who writes about health advocacy and human-rights issues.
When Ukraine airlines Flight 752 took off from Khomeini International Airport on Jan. 8, the 176 people on board could not have had the slightest hint of what would hit them moments after take off. In what has become the biggest and most tragic story of the young new year, what should have been a routine passenger flight toward Ukraine, before many of them headed to Canada, became a disaster when two Iranian defence missiles struck, killing everyone on board and raining fiery debris onto the ground below.
With tensions high between the United States and Iran, the news captured the world’s attention; every new development, conflicting report and rumour in the initial hours and days was met with intensifying agony and sorrow. Just last weekend, the Iranian government finally admitted that it had unintentionally fired on the plane.
Here in Canada, such big international news is not often so keenly felt. But the deaths of at least 57 Canadians on board that flight have forced us to truly experience the kind of devastation and despair that can sometimes feel like the exclusive realm of those living in areas of conflict and disaster around the world. An irreparable dent has been created in our common humanity here, and we may never truly grasp the full extent of what was lost on Flight 752.
My classmates and I felt this deeply, in our heavy hearts, when we learned we lost Mohammad Asadi-Lari.
Mohammad was a medical-doctoral student at the University of Toronto, an inspiring classmate and friend to many in the U of T Medicine community with his warm personality, simple sense of humour and his charisma. An accomplished leader who had a gift for easily forging friendships, he founded STEM Fellowship, a non-profit that promotes scholarship and data science for high-school and undergraduate students. He was well known in the national and international youth leadership circles associated with UNESCO and the World Economic Forum, to name a few. And despite all of his achievements, he was incredibly humble. "There are very few people who are as accomplished as him while still maintaining their kindness to the world around them,” Sujay Nagaraj, a fellow MD/PhD student at U of T, shared in the wake of his death. “There will forever be a gaping hole in our MD/PhD community, in medicine, in global health, in the world,” added Alex Florescu, another classmate.
As the emotional dust continues to settle, Ms. Florescu’s words hint at something we’ve been forced to grapple with: the unseen and immeasurable losses beyond the 176 innocent lives.
Lost is the inspiration that Mohammad’s classmates would have derived from him every single day; his positivity and commitment to making the world a better place constantly rubbed off on his peers. Lost are the thousands of hours Mohammad would have spent on patient care and research, transforming lives in Canada and perhaps around the world; his clinical interests were in ophthalmology and neurosurgery, and as a PhD student, he was devoted to the process of discovery. Lost is the mentorship that young students might have gained, as is the empowerment that others might have felt by his advocacy work, the impact of which cannot be quantified. Mohammad and his sister Zeynab – she was also on the flight – would also have been pillars for their parents as they aged.
Mohammad Asadi-Lari was just one of the many brilliant people whose promise and trajectories – along with the better worlds they could have helped create – were brought to an abrupt end. With each life lost, society also lost their goodness, their energy and their future contributions to our world.
The geopolitical aftermath of this tragedy will be studied for years to come. Indeed, the purportedly strategic attack by the U.S. against Iranian General Qassem Soleimani escalated tensions to dangerously high levels, thrusting Iran into instability. A small mistake on either side was likely to produce catastrophic suffering. To the misfortune of 176 innocent passengers, Iran made that unforgivable mistake almost immediately after Flight 752 took off. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “If there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families.” Instead, both American and Iranian leaders now have the blood of Canadians on their hands.
But even if we manage to move on from this, we must never forget the impact of each victim, and the impact they had – and could have had – on the people in their lives. There is no measure for the nourishment that their love provided. There is no metric by which to weigh their lost potential. Perhaps the unique experiences of one of the passengers would have led them to stop global warming in its tracks, or to find a cure for cancer. Perhaps, that could have been Mohammad’s role – one that he now doesn’t get to play. That’s a loss for us all.
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