Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sons of Al Qaeda

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the Khadr family, mainly because Omar Khadr is so much in the news lately.

Omar Khadr is the Canadian boy who has been held in Guantanamo Bay and is now on military trial. He was taken prisoner in Afghanistan when he was 15. He is 19 now. He has been charged with causing the death of an American soldier and may face life in prison, though the prosecution originally was arguing for the death penalty. Omar is in the news daily, at least here in Canada, as we await what unfolds for him. For reasons that probably had to do with the Mad Cow Disease controversy and softwood lumber dispute, the Canadian government did not negotiate this boy’s release, as Britain and Australia did for their citizens, much to our shame.

Omar is one of six children of Ahmed Said Khadr, an Al-Qaeda member who was killed in a shoot-out in Pakistan. Ahmed Khadr was Canadian, though he was living in Afghanistan with his wife and family. They lived in close connection with the bin Laden family.

Ahmed’s wife Maha has returned to Canada with the youngest son, Abdul Karim, who was injured in the same shootout that killed his father. He is paralysed from the waist down. His mother returned to Canada to get better health care for him. There was a bit of an uproar when she returned, for obvious reasons. However, her rights were guaranteed as a Canadian citizen. Despite her husband’s apparent terrorist activities, she does not appear to have been directly involved. However, she is still quite loyal to her husband’s memory and to his politics and has made very pro-terrorist statements on television. She has lost a great deal--husband, son's health, son's freedom, son's love--and she has become hardened by that loss. There is also a younger daughter, Mariam, though I don’t know what her situation is.

The elder daughter, Zaynab, has also returned to Canada. She is also very devoted to her father’s memory and to his politics. Her computer has been comfiscated by police, but they couldn’t find anything on it that was directly incriminating. In television interviews, she has come across as angry about her father’s death and defensive about his anti-Americanism/anti-Westernism.

The eldest son Abdullah (25) has just returned to Canada after being released from a secret prison in Pakistan. It’s not known who held him or why he was released. However, the US immediately demanded an extradition so that they can charge him with terrorist-type crimes. Abdullah is currently in custody in a Canadian prison. Since it’s against Canadian law to extradite anyone who might face death or torture in another country, Abdullah will be able to use this law to prevent or indefinitely delay the extradition. However, he’ll remain in prison while he does so.

The middle son Abdurahman (21) returned to Canada two years ago in a flurry of controversy. He later appeared on television (CBC/PBS documentary “Son of Al Qaeda”) to say that he had been arrested by the US military in Afghanistan and then paid by the CIA to become a spy (or else face penalties). He was brought to Guantanamo Bay, tortured as much as the other prisoners, and grilled daily on what he had found out. He was later released to do missions in other Muslim countries, some of them extremely dangerous. Because of the risks to his life, Abdurahman wanted out and called his grandmother to secure his return to Canada (the US military had taken his passport). The US military and CIA have not denied Abdurahman’s claims, so his story is probably true. However, he is now estranged from his family, who consider him a traitor.

That’s the family. That’s their life: someone always in jail, someone always watching their every move, always fear.

I think this is what is meant by the expression: "The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons." The father led the family into this situation. The kids had to do what they were told. They grew up in an Al Qaeda camp surrounded by a bizarre value system. When war broke out and afterward, they each did what they had to in order to survive.

Does it make any sense to go after these people to put them in prison? Will it in any way stop the flurry of terrorist activity in the world?

It makes me think about hijacking. You can hijack a plane. You can hijack people’s minds and souls to get them to fly those planes. You can hijack a religion--or a democracy.

You can also hijack children’s lives and hold them hostage forever.

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