• Week of 30.01.2017
Christian Jihad | An Interview with Frederick Douglass | Busyness
The Roundtable Podcast 78
• Week of 30.01.2017
The Roundtable Podcast 78
IN AN OCTOBER 30, Ottawa Citizen column (“Terrorism vs. Mental Illness: a Totally Bogus Debate”), Terry Glavin sketches out the respective positions and concludes that, whatever one’s view—that recent murders of Canadian soldiers were an act of terrorism, or that they were the work of mental illness—the current Parliament lacks a capacity to confront either.
TO UNEARTH SOME latent implications of Edward Snowden’s recent act of whistle blowing, and the landscape of surveillance it has brought to the fore, I propose the following thought experiment. You are to imagine a world in which the infrastructure of potential effective and total citizen invigilation by the state and its proxies is realized, and additionally in which the potential to abolish the private life of the individual is at hand. My question is this: do you think the people of that world should care?
The case of Omar Ahmed Khadr has long divided Canadians into two respective camps, Bring Him Home and Let Him Rot Over There. The federal government of Canada now appears to constitute a third, having for years shilly-shallied and otherwise kept the matter in limbo.
The Let Him Rot camp might do well to review the following facts. Born in Toronto, on 19 September 1986, Khadr was eight years old (give or take a couple years) when he perhaps met the falsely accused Maher Arar. He was ten when he met Osama bin Laden in Jalalabad. After September 11, these childhood encounters constituted a state asset and a potential weapon against al-Qaeda, and as a consequence Khadr was detained, tortured, and likely permanently damaged.
There are — as always in battle — contradictions, ambiguities, and gaps in the record. On July 27, 2002 Sergeant Layne Morris lost an eye and Sergeant Christopher Speer his life in Khost, Afghanistan. The lawsuit filed on behalf of these individuals, by Morris himself and by Speer’s widow, was against the estate of Omar’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr. Some distance was to be traversed to leverage “an act of terrorism,” as the formal charge put it, against a court-enforceable civil liability. To further this case, the plaintiffs argued that Khadr senior was ultimately responsible both for the loss of an eye and the loss of life, and that his estate should pay.
This case, whatever its merits, was in my judgement aiming in the right direction. Khadr senior’s movements, from Peshawar to Logar to Jalalabad, are winks and nods to the knowing. One does not accidentally end up in Bab al-Jihad (Jihad’s Gate), as Logar is known. Nor would Ahmed Khadr be observed by intelligence agencies with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Laith al-Libi, and the bin Ladens as a matter of mere coincidence. In the case of Abu Laith al-Libi, it seems clear the young Khadr was being exploited and perhaps groomed by his elder on account of his ability to speak, among other languages, Pashto. (This detail serves to remind us that international jihadism was imported into Afghanistan by outsiders – in the case of al-Libi, a foreigner of Libyan origin.) Omar Khadr is a bright individual, and even at fifteen he had some experience of the world and would have presented himself as ripe for the taking.
One crisp January morning, on the way to a Parliamentary breakfast with members of the federal Senate, a former CBC journalist wryly told me that 80% of that august body was useless, but that the other 20% made up for it. Among the redeeming contingent is surely Senator Romeo Dallaire, who considers Omar Khadr a former child soldier, and who on this foundation rests his call for the Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s release.
Khadr, the son, may well have gone down the dead-end Jihadist road upon which Abu Laith al-Libi found his martyrdom, but at no time during the events under consideration does he appear to have been an instigator. He was a child who had the all-encompassing misfortune of being born to rotten and hateful parents, and for that proxy offence he has paid enormously — in a decade’s detention and in the currencies of interrogation, abuse and humiliation (both, please note, by American and Canadian officials). The trial which gave rise to his plea agreement was a piece of calculated cynicism designed to rehabilitate the Guantanamo name brand, by applying charges like “murder in violation of the law of war” which could be defined and re-defined as required — as indeed they were. Among those arguing the wrongness of Khadr’s treatment have been the United Nations and the Supreme Court of Canada. Last month, my own publisher McGill-Queen’s University Press released the critical anthology “Omar Khadr, Oh Canada” featuring contributions by Dallaire, Maher Arar, Craig Kielburger, and many others.
The disagreement over Khadr’s place, or lack of place, in Canada will go on, but the moral battle is in my view already lost. The Khadr detention and especially the dirty work of Guantanamo which followed was a disgrace and a crime. Now there appears a new challenge and a new opportunity, to reintegrate and restore a Canadian citizen so badly abused, by so many, and for so long.
Across the past few days and in deliberation of the Guantanamo Bay trials we have, all of us, had ample opportunity to note the ideological, intellectual, and moral deficiencies of our opponents. Omar Khadr confesses in a military commission to his crimes, the case against Ahmed Ghailani unfolds in civilian court, and there arrives fresh news of terrorism originating in Yemen. Justice is done, or is undone, depending upon one’s perspective. What we perhaps fail adequately to clutch is that we are all of us in this together. I say this quite without sentiment, my point being only that an explosive device is indifferent to the bend of your politics. If that is not a compelling cause for solidarity, then it happens that nothing is.
Then there is the personal. Here is one example: the cargo planes destined for the United States and for a destruction prevented this past weekend were meant to have exploded in the coming days over Chicago. As it happens, I will myself be flying to Chicago this week. I know this is a facile pairing, but can you honestly say a thought such as this would never have crossed your mind, were you in the same position? Nor is this the first time I’ve had occasion to draw such an inference. From a statistical view of things, any one of us has little to fear — but you are quite probably on the list, comrade. Your kind is marked, by the Takbīr shouting killers, for destruction. If you are not on the list, it is because you are one of the murderers, in which case I will be happy to see your wish for martyrdom fulfilled in the least ceremonious and individual manner possible. That is, without harm to others and with the pointlessness of it all laid bare. Continue reading The Diminishing Marginal Utility of Torture