By Debra Fieguth
I can’t even remember the first time I heard about Omar Khadr, but I’m sure it was years ago. What I heard was a young teenager who was a Canadian citizen, had been incarcerated at the notorious military prison in Guantanamo Bay, for killing an American soldier.
I followed the story over the years, and when I heard that a professor from The King’s University in Edmonton had been reaching out to him, I was intrigued. Here was an angle: a Christian professor helping a controversial young Muslim man, believed by some to be a cruel, cold-hearted killer, and by others as a young teenager caught in a situation not of his own making.
In late May I sat in professor Arlette Zinck’s Edmonton office and heard her speak with passion – and compassion – not just about Omar Khadr’s education, but about the injustice of his situation. I later spoke with several others who had met Khadr, all of whom saw him as a decent young man who had been given a raw deal.
Because Canadians are divided – some vilify him, others feel sorry for him – I wanted to learn as much background as I could about the story. I read Michelle Shephard’s Guantanamo’s Child, published in 2008; I watched the documentary Out of the Shadows (made shortly after Khadr was released on bail) four times, just to be sure I had details right. I read and listened to as many news reports and commentaries as time allowed, to get a broad perspective.
And of course I saw, with millions of Canadian viewers, the news clip of Khadr finally arriving at his lawyer’s house and standing out on the driveway after 13 years of imprisonment. I saw a man who was smiling and happy instead of angry; who didn’t seem vindictive but who seemed to want to show our Prime Minister that he wasn’t the bad guy some people thought he was.
Although I would have gladly had a direct conversation with Omar, I wasn’t able to interview him myself: with so many journalists wanting to have time with him, he understandably had to stay away from the spotlight, especially so soon after being released. Through Arlette Zinck, who contacted him on my behalf, I got one short quote from him about how education has been a lifesaver in a dark place.
Khadr’s task now is to figure out how to live a normal life. That is not a small task for someone who has spent almost half his life in prisons in Afghanistan, Cuba and Canada. I wish him well, and I hope all those who have been coaching and nurturing him over these past years will be encouraged also.
Debra Fieguth is a senior writer of Faith Today. She tells the story of Omar Khadr’s unusual relationship with The King’s University in the Sep/Oct issue of Faith Today. Check out our Sep/Oct subscription book offer today!