Reflections by Winnipeg Free Press Faith Page columnist John Longhurst
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Forgiveness, Restoration and Terrorism: The Case of Omar Khadr
Omar Khadr, who was convicted of war crimes committed as a 15-year-old in
Afghanistan in 2002, wants to be released from prison in Alberta while he
appeals his sentence. Now 28, Khadr says he only plead guilty to get out
of Guantanamo. Many people have vouched for him, saying that he is a very
different person today than when he was forced to fight as a child. This
includes Christian friends at Kings College in Edmonton, who also see his case
as a matter of justice.
cornerstone of Christian belief is forgiveness, mercy and the restoration of
the sinful individual. But does message that extend to someone convicted of
being involved in terrorism? Arlette Zinck believes it does.
associate professor of English at King's University College in Edmonton, has
befriended Omar Khadr, who was captured at age 15 in 2002 after a firefight
with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In a plea
bargain, Khadr pleaded guilty to the death of a U.S. soldier, spying, aiding
terrorism and attempted murder. He was given an eight-year sentence and sent to
Canada in 2012 to serve out his time.
50, became involved with Khadr's case following a visit by his lawyer, Dennis
Edney, to the Christian Reformed Church-sponsored school in 2008.
"something about his presentation" that moved her and many students
at the school, she says.
decided to write Khadr. After he wrote back, they struck up a correspondence.
Impressed by his responses, she was soon she providing him with tutorials, sending him books to read and quizzing him on
Khadr's U.S. military defence team asked her to turn the informal tutoring into
a formal lesson plan. She was also invited to travel twice to Cuba to provide
Khadr was in prison in Edmonton, she worked with other professors from the
school to offer lessons in subjects such as math, literature, history and
his favorite books was Rudy Wiebe's classic tale of Mennonites dealing with the
impact of war, Peace
Shall Destroy Many. Since Wiebe also lives in Edmonton, he
also visited Khadr.
found him to be a very amenable and understanding young man," says Wiebe,
a member of Edmonton's Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church.
he found important in the book was how to live your convictions in a changing
world. What do you do about your traditions and teachings when the world is
Khadr, who was taken by his father to al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan when
he was just 10 years old, it's a chance to get the education he missed out on
as a child.
Zinck, who was raised Roman Catholic and attends an Anglican church, it is a
chance to use her gift of teaching and put into practice her Christian faith.
Christian, "I believe in restorative justice," she says, "There
is no other kind."
she says, "has a long and rich tradition of pioneering the best programs
in restorative justice. We need to return to a day when we don't seek vengeance
but true justice, which is restorative justice... the goal is to renew, restore
and reconcile those who have erred, even those who have erred horribly."
includes Khadr, who she believes has suffered a grave injustice at the hands of
the U.S. and Canada.
court in Guantanamo was not a legitimate American court," she says.
"No American could ever be tried in that court. What happened to Omar
shouldn't happen to anyone."
same time, she is concerned for the widow of the soldier killed in the
firefight that involved Khadr. "She also deserves meaningful
support," Zinck says.
not everyone agrees with what she is doing. But she feels that is because many
Canadians have only heard one side of Khadr's story -- they don't know enough
about how Khadr was also a victim, forced into becoming a child soldier by his
what all this has meant to her personally, Zinck says her work with Khadr has
"affected me very deeply." This includes how she, a Christian, and
Khadr, a Muslim, have developed a close friendship across a religious divide.
sincere people of faith get together, we can grow in appreciation for things we
hold in common, and for the things that split us apart," she says, adding
Khadr has "a vibrant and life-giving faith."
also discovered "what it means to live purposefully, and in a way that
doesn't let me write people off," she says.
Khadr's aptitude as a student, Zinck says "he's a remarkably healthy,
whole and outward-focused young man who wants to get on with his life. He's a
hard worker and he has great academic potential." As for
the lessons themselves, "I enjoy it as much as teaching any student, but
there is extra satisfaction in being a witness to the power of the human
spirit, how he manages to focus on all that is good."