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This essay was first published in Omar Khadr, Oh Canada, edited by Janice Williamson, McGill-Queens University Press, 2012
Our Kids

Things That Happen to Omar Khadr before He Turns Eighteen

  1. He is born in Toronto.
  2. He is taught to speak English, Arabic, Pashto, and Dari. Also some French.
  3. His father, a terrorist, takes him, his mother, and his siblings to Pakistan and then Afghanistan, to plot and make jihad. Omar learns to fire rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. Also to build and plant IEDS (improvised explosive devices).
  4. He turns fifteen on 18 September 2001 in Afghanistan.
  5. His father assigns him to work as a translator for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Does undercover reconnaissance among American troops.
  6. He finds himself pinned down inside a mud compound. Refuses to leave with women and children, or to surrender. US war planes bomb the site, and Delta Force commanders enter. Omar, hiding behind a wall, tosses a grenade at a soldier (“like in the movies,” he later admits). He is shot twice in the back.
  7. The US soldier, Sgt Speer, dies ten days later. Omar survives multiple surgeries, including on his right eye, hit by shrapnel. He loses sight in it.
  8. Spends three months in military hospital in Afghanistan. Is interrogated forty times. Claims he is hung by his wrists and soaked in water, a hood over his head.
  9.  He turns sixteen. In isolation cell in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Claims he is spat upon and shackled to ground for hours. Weeps during taped confession and cries out for his mother.
  10. His father is killed in shootout with Pakistani authorities.
  11. During interrogation with Canadian foreign affairs officials in Guantánamo, he urinates on photo of his family. Twice. Then he lies next to photo in “affectionate manner.”
  12. His younger brother, also fighting at his father’s behest, is caught in crossfire with US troops. Kareem Khadr is paralyzed from waist down.
  13. While still in solitary cell inside Camp 5, Omar is visited by lawyer, who embraces him. “No one had touched him in years,” the lawyer says.

Things That Happen to Anna Foran before She Turns Eighteen

  1. She is born in Montreal.
  2. She is taught to speak English, French, and later some Mandarin.
  3. Her parents, a writer and a teacher, relocate her and her younger sister, Claire, to Peterborough, Ontario, to be near their Canadian grandparents. Girls watch The Lion King obsessively during move into new house. Meet neighbouring girls, the Bartleys, on first day. Recreate scenes involving Simba and Mufasa in backyard fort, singing “Circle of Life.” No one wants to play the evil lion Scar.
  4. Participates in familywritten and performed plays inside barn on grandparents’ farm. A friend videos one show, titled “The Play Is the Thing.”
  5. Parents decide to relocate again to Hong Kong for three years. Anna and Claire are enrolled in Canadian International School, where they learn to say “Give me a break!” in Cantonese and sing “Frere Jacques,” now about a tiger, in Mandarin. Christmases and vacations in Bali, China, Malaysia, and Thailand.
  6. On TV in apartment on Hong Kong island, Anna watches Twin Towers fall. “Today, the world changed,” her father says (pompously). He still reads her a chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before bed that night, despite his misgivings about J.K. Rowling’s prose.
  7. Back in Canada, she takes piano lessons on piano in living room. Makes her high-school basketball team and helps organize movie-themed school dances, “Grease” being especially popular.
  8. Turns sixteen on 19 January 2007 in Peterborough. Requests Indian dinner for a dozen friends, all girls, who paint henna tattoos over each other’s arms and watch the video of the family barn play. “You were SOOOO cute!” the friends say.
  9. Develops obsession with BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Possibly a Daddy crush on actor Colin Firth.
  10. Divides summers between visiting other grandparents in Milwaukee and attending Camp Kawartha on Clear Lake. While at camp, turns wild-eyed and feral, skin deeply tanned.
  11. Joins high school model UN trip to The Hague and Barcelona. First time away from family. Many hugs – mother/daughter, father/daughter, sister/sister, father/mother/sister/sister – upon departure. Some tears.
  12. Attends tea party in backyard of family house before Grade 12 formal. Has first boyfriend. He does not accompany her to dance.
  13. Is accepted by McGill University. Parents full of general worries about train derailments, dark alleys, biting cold. Very proud of their girl.

Things That Happen to Omar Khadr before He Turns Twenty-Four

  1. He is charged with murder. Ordered to stand trial before military commission. Claims his confession of throwing grenade at Sgt Speers was coerced.
  2. Is kept in solitary for a sixth year. Has not seen any parents since he went to Afghanistan, on his (dead) father’s orders. Has not seen his siblings (one paralyzed from waist down) since then either. Has not seen Toronto since his parents took him away from the country of his birth, so they could make jihad and, by the by, destroy their children.
  3. He continues to go largely unhugged by any adult. He continues not to attend high school dances or summer camp.
  4. He turns twenty-two. Is finally transferred to Camp 4 at Guantánamo, a communal section, where he can mingle with fellow prisoners. Spends days drawing pictures with crayons and reading. Likes the Harry Potter books (early high school level), Great Expectations (standard Grade 11 text) and Huckleberry Finn (Grade 11 or 12). Also, novels by John Grisham.
  5. His oldest brother, Abdullah, is charged with gun-smuggling in US. His sister, Zaynab, is under investigation by RCMP. His mother declares public support for suicide bombers while also saying, “Omar has been branded by the family.” Media call the Khadrs “Canada’s first family of terrorism.”
  6. He is visited by a psychiatrist, a retired US army brigadier-general. “He is a very decent, kind young man – and he has faith,” Stephen Xenekis reports of his one hundred hours with Omar. “I don’t think it has radicalized him,” he adds of prison. “There is no hard edge to him at all, and there is no sense of vengeance.”
  7. Is passed smuggled notes from a professor in Edmonton. “Your letters are like candles very bright in my hardship and darkness,” he writes back.
  8. He reads A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, concerning a thirteen-year-old forced into Sierra Leone army. Afterwards, writes to Edmonton supporter, “Children’s hearts are like a sponge that will absorb what is around it, like wet cement, soft until it is sculptured in a certain way.”
  9. He spends his three-thousandth day and night in prison. One-third of his life. All of his adulthood. Most of his teenage years.
  10. He is put on trial for war crimes. Signs a plea deal, confessing to throwing grenade at age fifteen while trying to please his father, to be a good, dutiful son, a worthy (extremist) Muslim, in exchange for another eight years of incarceration. “He’s a murderer in my eyes and always will be,” says the widow of Sgt Speer. “My children are the victims.”
  11. He waits to return to a home that does not want him. He waits for his life to stop being about parents’ fanaticism and mistakes, bequeathed to their jihadi boy soldier, their precious, beloved son.

Things Anna Foran Does before She Turns Twenty

  1. Gets a cell phone. Calls her Mom and Dad most days or is called by them. Prefers to text message or Skype her sister.
  2. Spends her first year in university residence, single (monastic) room, with meal plan. Noisy neighbours, food not so great. Room often needs tidying. Accepts invitations from friends of family who offer to cook or take her to dinner.
  3. Rides overnight bus to New York for long weekend with classmates. Remembers to bring passport. Her parents worry sick when she does not call on arrival.
  4. Enrols in first-year Arts Legacy program. “Moving from ancient societies to modern time and focusing on Western and non-Western traditions alike,” the website says, “ the Arts Legacy curriculum gives you the opportunity to establish a foundation of knowledge on which to build your university career. “ Anna attends art exhibits, hears a speech by the Dali Lama, goes for drinks with professors. Loves every minute.
  5. Struggles to write essay on Islamic and Christian religious iconography. Writes a good paper, regardless.
  6. Misses family wedding in Georgia, and chance to see her American grandparents, due to spring exams. Sees her Canadian grandparents regularly once school is finished.
  7. WWOOFS with her childhood friend Ingrid on farm near Uxbridge in May. Parents inquire about the acronym, which stands for “World Wide Organization of Organic Farms.” Plants seeds, clears fields, takes photos of animals. Loves every minute. Works for rest of summer at a local daycare.
  8. Rents a Montreal apartment with two other girls, one from Vancouver, the other Brooklyn. Funky Plateau neighbourhood, charming flat. Also rundown and overpriced. Excellent life-learning experience.
  9.  She meets boys. Boys meet her.
  10. Signs up for weekend painting class. Can’t decide on major: art history or maybe English. Loves to make collages, to read about art, to think about art, but also to study literature. (Gulliver’s Travels is a major discovery of fall semester. “Nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison,” Jonathan Swift writes of perceptual irony of one group appearing grotesque simply because their dimensions magnify what are otherwise ordinary human flaws.) Loves every minute of her life in Montreal, at McGill.
  11. Returns home for Christmas holidays. Parents feed her, do her laundry, encourage her to sleep in. Very proud of her, and her sister. She can’t wait for second semester to begin, for spring travel plans to unfold, for the summer ahead. She can’t wait.



All but a handful of these details about Omar Khadr have been taken from the Maclean’s cover story for 15 November 2010, “Who Is the Real Omar Khadr?”


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