01 August 2012

Is Omar Khadr an untermensch?

I have thought long and hard on why so many Canadians hold such a callous attitude toward Omar Khadr. Here is a young man who has spent his whole life as a pawn of others. Indoctrinated in an extremist philosophy throughout his childhood; sent to serve jihadists in Afghanistan when he entered his teens; severely wounded, brutally treated and imprisoned by the Americans; and finally betrayed by his own country, Khadr has lived a life of victimhood. Yet many Canadians, including our government, show a complete lack of compassion toward his suffering, even justifying it.

What explains this hostility? Canadians are, after all, a generous people, normally compassionate toward the less fortunate. We have shown compassion toward the child soldiers of Africa who, through no fault of their own, became killers. Yet toward Khadr, very much the child soldier, many utterly lack compassion, to say nothing of understanding.

It almost seems as if his detractors consider him unworthy of normal human feeling. Their attitude is a testament to the flexibility of human morality. Toward those we consider one of us, or at least worthy of being treated as one of us, we exercise sympathy, even empathy, but to those we consider alien, fellow feeling is easily suspended, and respect replaced with contempt. In 1930s Germany, for example, many people, even seemingly decent men and women, referred to those fellow citizens they considered insufficiently German as untermenschen—essentially subhuman.

Today this attitude is commonly applied to radical Islamists. They can be abused, even tortured, denied all the rights of international convention, because they are unfit to be treated as fully human.

It seems Omar Khadr's detractors place him in this category and form their attitudes toward him accordingly. But this is grievously unfair—Khadr never had a choice. He has never in his short life had control over his own destiny. Holding him responsible for his associations and his resulting actions makes no more sense than holding a Ugandan child soldier responsible for his behaviour in the service of Joseph Kony.

We can understand the American's lust for revenge for 9/11, although taking it out on a mere boy does no credit to their nation. Canadians don't even have vengeance as an excuse. It is time for our government at least to rise above its baser instincts, recognize the humanity of Omar Khadr, and bring him home.

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