04 February 2010

Omar Khadr, conservatives and the tribal impulse

The Harper government's refusal to seek Omar Khadr's release from Guantanamo is the most callous act by a government of Canada that I can remember. Allowing a foreign government to torture and otherwise abuse the rights of a Canadian teenager is almost incomprehensible for a civilized society. Every other Western government successfully retrieved their citizens from that tropical hellhole. But not us.

The obvious reason is that he is a Khadr, a member of a family despised by Canadians. Stephen Harper is, by his own admission, thinking strategy every moment of his waking day, and there are no votes to be gained and possibly some to be lost from the Conservative core by catering to a Khadr. But this just makes it all the more callous: punishing a boy because of his parents. And it fails the ultimate test of human rights. Defending the rights of those you like is easy, defending the rights of those you don't like is hard.

And it is particularly hard for conservatives. We are all tribal, hence we all care more for those who are like us than those who are not. But conservatives are especially tribal. They are more inclined to think in terms of us and them, black and white, good guys and bad guys. Thus their tough stance on crime, their passion for things military, their urge to patriotism, and their contempt even for simple decency for Omar Khadr.

The Khadrs are alien to the Canadian majority in almost every respect: ideologically, religiously and ethnically. So they are beyond the pale, and one of their tribe can be freely sacrificed to the American lust for revenge. To the Harper Conservatives, there are citizens and then there are citizens, some worthy and some not, some too different to be considered one of us and therefore not deserving of the rights the rest of us take for granted.

Omar Khadr is a tough luck kid. Betrayed by his parents to a life of extremism, then betrayed by his country to incarceration and abuse. For him, justice is a stranger.


  1. Nicely done.

    I got a letter in my local paper about this topic:


    Frank Bedek

  2. Succinct & extremely well said! Thank you!