Sunday, July 27, 2008

Was Omar Khadr a “Child Soldier?”

5 November 2007, 5, 8, 11, 12 & 13 May, 27 July 2008, 25 October, 22 November 2010, 19 November 2012 (Updated)

CBC Radio did a short feature on
Omar Khadr this morning (November 5, 2007). He was described as a “child soldier.” His (recently updated and greatly expanded) story is well-documented on Wikipedia.

Omar is the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, one of Osama bin Laden’s senior lieutenants. The family lived in Peshawar from 1985 through 1997, though Omar was born in Toronto, and he and his family members are nominally Canadians. Omar, along with his siblings, was trained by al Qaeda, under the direction of Osama bin Laden. Omar’s family and bin Laden’s family associated with each other on a somewhat regular basis.

Omar, at age 15, was the only survivor in a July 27, 2002 battle with US forces in Afghanistan. There are various versions of his capture. In short, when found, he was originally reported to have killed one US soldier (Christopher James Speer) and injured three others. He was also injured in the confrontation, but then rescued and treated for his wounds. He was bleeding heavily, and would have died if not treated (according to the CBC).

More recent documents indicate that the grenade which injured the US soldiers, killing Sgt. Speer, may have been thrown by another militant. US courts in other rulings have determined that the throwing of the grenade was an act of terrorism, not an act of war. Video footage reveals that Khadr assisted in the burying of landmines and that he handled weapons and explosives with enthusiasm. Khadr's training by al Qaeda and his active involvement in al Qaeda activities (including statements of praise by Osama bin Laden) are well-documented. A recent biography (Guantanamo's Child) has just been released, authored by Michelle Sheppard. I have ordered but have not yet read the book, though I think the book's title makes no secret of its intended progressive ideological slant.

The point I wish to make – as indicated by the title of this piece – is not a semantic one.

Soldiers are members of armies who fight in battles and wars on behalf of governments or other entities having political status. If our country is at war with the army of which the soldier is a member, we have the option of making terms of peace or war with the political entity sponsoring that army. That is, we can declare war, propose a truce, offer our surrender, or declare victory following a decisive outcome in combat.

Al Qaeda is not a political entity with which it is possible to establish terms of either war or peace. We have no option as to engaging or not engaging, or even of surrendering to this “enemy.” This enemy has engaged the nations of the west on its own terms, focussing upon our full civilian population as its target. Al Qaeda is an unusual enemy in another respect, as it also has no army. Its agents – whether adults or children (and al Qaeda does not demonstrate concern as to whether its agents are adults or children) – are not soldiers. All, whether adults or children, and whether we find it palatable or not, are trained in the tactics of terror and violence.
Al Qaeda is a tightly-knit but widely dispersed totalitarian political movement utilizing terrorism and suppression of opposition as its primary mode of operation. Its adherents are agents of oppression, advocates of uniformity and proponents of the elimination of competing belief systems on an international scale.

The terrorist participants in this illegal international organization train their children to be terrorists.

However dangerous we may suppose the agents of al Qaeda to be, we can hold little doubt that the children trained by this extralegal underground network are as dangerous as the adults whom it has trained.

Al Qaeda's well-described training program is bone-chillingly militant and aggressive, devoid of human compassion, single-mindedly focused on the disruption of civilian life, all-encompassing in its ideological stance, puritanical in its preference for civilian attack versus the attainment of military objectives, and persistent in its impact on its participants. The fundamental lesson imparted by al Qaeda to its trainees is a simple two-element message: “Kill the infidels (meaning anyone, Muslim or otherwise, who does not adhere to their hate-fuelled belief system); and continue on to die a (so-called) martyr's death.”

Despite a smokescreen of intense ideological rhetoric, this organization is best understood by examining its actions rather than by attempting to grasp its ideology. The members of this extra-legal group view the killing and injury of civilians as their overarching mission. Al Qaeda dispatches no emissaries and maintains no embassies. It holds no plan of government or policy of international relations. The organization exists entirely outside the framework which makes it possible for international law to take on the meanings which (within our only partially law-governed international culture) we desire to ascribe to it.

The resources of al Qaeda are devoted entirely to the acquisition of explosives and weaponry and to the conversion and training of agents of destruction based on a rhetoric of hate. Terror is not a means to an end for this organization, but an end in itself. The more innocent civilians (or soldiers) who are killed and injured, and the greater the suffering and loss of their victims, the more glorious al Qaeda's victory.

Adherents of al Qaeda also view it as a supreme honour to be killed in carrying out their mission of death and destruction - and I suspect that this is so because these individuals hold out no more positive goals for their own lives than for those whom they intend to deprive of life, liberty, health and safety.
It is an unseemly fact that al Qaeda is recruiting adults and children alike with the single plan of injuring and killing their self-defined enemies at home and abroad. This organization has no other program. What we do or do not do will not alter their plan, as it is ideologically driven, and therefore fundamentally independent of the flow of world events.

The question as to how we are to respond to al Qaeda and the Islamic extremism it represents is before us. These current choices are more difficult than the past half century has prepared us for, and are by all means entirely shocking to our sensibilities. Yet we must now begin to formulate our responses to the present extraparadigmatic circumstances. The necessity of doing so will press upon us evermore as time drives us forward.

From our own cultural perspective, Omar Khadr was indeed a child at the time he allegedly murdered one US soldier and injured three additional US soldiers (or fought enthusiastically alongside the person or persons who did so). But he was not a soldier by any definition of the term that I am aware of.

I will leave it to you, the reader, to determine your own response to the following questions:
Was Omar Khadr an innocent victim of the terrorists who succored and trained him, twisting and distorting his thinking during the vulnerable developmental phases of childhood and adolescence? Was he too young to understand and comprehend the mission of death into which he had been recruited through the influences of his father, his other family members, and their associates? Do international legal standards pertaining to the treatment of child soldiers apply to him for such reasons, regardless of the status of the organization in which he participated, perhaps due in some large measure to a presumption of the application of direct or indirect coercion upon him as a child? 

Further, and perhaps idealistically, might it in some way be possible to rescue Omar Khadr from his exploitative circumstances and restore him to a peaceful, productive and cooperative way of life - in the same manner that our own lives are productive - whether in Canada or in the Muslim world? Given competing priorities (not the least being the compensation of the multitudes of victims of terror both at home and abroad), is it wise to allocate societal resources to the project of rehabilitating Omar Khadr and those like him? Might there be some higher benefit accruing to us due to the learning about fundamental principles of international human relations which might be gained from such a project?

Alternatively, was Omar Khadr a committed - perhaps reflexive - child terrorist, fully (or partially) responsible for sharing and invoking the brutal vision of the organization (into which he was assimilated essentially from birth) that recruited, guided and trained him, and to which we can only assume he had sworn allegiance to the death? Was his conditioning, based on lifelong family participation and organizational membership, so early and deep that it is fundamentally irreversible? Were his personal motives and intentions inseparably allied with those of the adult terrorists with whom he lived, trained, decreed jihad and battled side-by-side? Was he functioning under the auspices of an extra-legal terrorist organization that itself makes no recognition of international law, and expects no such legal status for its members? 

Further, does Omar Khadr demonstrate any desire to change and to reconcile himself to peaceful coexistence with the peoples of the west - or even with that great portion of Muslims who do not condone al Qaeda and its methods? Is the cost of rehabilitating terrorists - whether children or otherwise - greater than the resources our society can bring to bear on this problem, given the plethora of unaddressed challenges that already confront us closer to home - or that are more central to the core principles of our society? Finally, is rehabilitation the wrong question - a Quixotic venture that will only lead us astray while we remain susceptible to further attack by those whose only intention is to do us harm?

Proceeding further - stretching beyond these initial questions - was Omar Khadr
an innocent child victim and a committed international terrorist, concurrently? Or, yet again, was he - is he now - something other than either of these diverse but inherently constraining portrayals might allow?

I encourage you to exercise your own judgement in answering the above questions.

It is indisputable that the recruitment of children into hostilities by any organization is treated as a war crime under international law, making clear that al Qaeda itself is an international criminal organization, and that their recruitment of Omar Khadr was a criminal act.

Around the world, thousands of children are now being born into the families of individuals who have committed themselves to the totalitarian and genocidal ideologies of various Islamic extremist movements. The children of these persons will surely be raised to give comfort to and to stand beside terrorists if not to practise terrorism themselves. They will do so in the company of their parents, their school teachers, their religious leaders, and many other members of their families and communities.

Conditioning of this type is very difficult to reverse. It raises an entirely different set of questions than does the matter of child soldiers in settings such as Africa, where children recruited into combat are separated from their families and inculcated in ideologies that are incongruent with prior family and community practice.

Omar Khadr, during his developing years, was one of this multitude of Islamic children being raised in extremist environments. As has already occurred in the case of Omar Khadr, we can expect that we will surely be facing such persons in future battles for many years to come. That these future combatants will have been recruited into jihad through their families as children will in most cases not be a concern to us when we face them in battle, whether as children (from our point of view) or as adults.

I submit, therefore, that the most difficult element for us in the story of Omar Khadr is not that he was imputedly a child soldier, but rather that as an individual born in Canada, his story is more approachable to us than are the stories, for example, of the children of the madrasahs of Waziristan. Our egalitarian instincts drive us to attempt to treat him as we would any other Canadian child. This reflex is less automatic in the case of children born to foreign cultures in foreign lands.

(The politics of Waziristan - again for example - are complex, with Islamic radicalism there driven by the region's conservative native Pashtun tribespeople, an ascendant Taliban movement, and the influx of al Qaeda and other radical elements. Click here for analysis from US News & World Report.)

We know little about the children who are being raised into extremist environments across the Islamic world. Yet it is almost certain that we will be engaging such children in battle - whether we desire to or not - while continuing to conduct operations in the region with the intention of stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing to an end its role as an international terrorist haven.

Those who are the children of Islamic extremists now will emerge as adults later, and we will be in no position to make subtle differentiations in response to their targeted attacks on civilians in public places (
these organizations certainly draw no distinction between adults and children in such attacks), or their attacks on health workers, aid workers, teachers, elected representatives, other leaders, suspected collaborators - and of course, soldiers - both our own and native Afghani troops.

Taken in context, Omar Khadr stands as a symbol, if you will, of a rising tide of Islamic youth who are being drawn into radical causes, with the full intention on the part of their families that they will do battle with infidels both at home and abroad as participants in a global jihadist movement.

Therefore, I will permit you to refer to Omar Khadr as a child (at the time of his capture) if this is your preference, though I consider this characterization of him questionable in his own cultural context (that is, while we would view him as a child, that was not a matter of concern to his recruiters, including his family members).

Additionally, it is certainly reasonable that you take full consideration of the extent to which Omar Khadr was surely exploited and his life misused by the criminal organization in which he was raised. But understand - Omar Khadr was not a child stolen from his family and forced into battle. He was raised at the outset to do exactly what he was engaged in doing when American troops encountered him and his comrades in arms on that fateful day in July 2002, one of the American soldiers giving his life in this confrontation (whatever direct or indirect role that Khadr played in his demise).

Omar Khadr's family were brazen enough to groom their son for his well-documented position in the international jihadist movement (in which he was
apparently already fully active at the time of his capture), while simultaneously taking advantage of the full benefits of their Canadian citizenship. These benefits were accorded to Omar Khadr and his family while they were fully occupied with a leadership role in a movement intended to subvert Canada and the nations of the West.

Call Omar Khadr a child, call him exploited, call him a victim - if this is what you believe - but please, don't refer to Omar Khadr as a child soldier. This is where I draw the line. That he was not. Neither in the contexts of historical precedent nor international law.

5 May 2008: The trial judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, has indeed just ruled that this young man is not a child soldier. While this ruling has aroused controversy, I believe the judge is quite right in reaching this finding on this particular question of law and procedure. Click here for the Reuters story on Yahoo!, or here for the National Post version of the story.

8 May 2008: Due to frequent views of this post, I have substantially edited the text (above) in order to clarify the specific ethical questions I am attempting to raise. I wish to distinguish the question of Omar Khadr's presumed mistreatment as a child by his family and by al Qaeda, the organization to which they adhere, from the narrower but also important question of Omar Khadr's right to be treated as a child soldier under international law.

In brief, I see no easy answers to the question of his status as a child accused of assault, murder and perhaps other crimes before the courts. Certainly, the applicable evidence as to what he did or did not do should be fully weighed in a court of justice. That he was actively engaged in both the practice and support of terrorism does not appear to be in question, though there are obvious nuances to be considered, due to the focus of his activity in the Afghan context. Perhaps Omar Khadr has been wrongfully accused of the particular offenses with which he is presently charged. In this case, it is the task of the court to determine if this is or is not so.

What troubles me is the notion that an active and committed member of a terrorist organization, whether a child or not, has the right under international law to be treated as a child soldier, with the implication that rehabilitation is the primary issue at stake.

That is, the indisputably optimistic presumption of international law is that child soldiers can be rehabilitated. I have no such certainty or confidence regarding children subject to the lifelong indoctrination and training of extralegal and particularly blatantly terrorist organizations whose agents and operatives do not belong to armies consistent with any kind of historical precedent, and who often reside in communities that fully condone or at least openly tolerate their activities.

Am I certain as to whether Omar Khadr, specifically, can or cannot be rehabilitated? I am not. Perhaps he can be and perhaps he cannot be. That will depend upon the particulars of the case and on the particulars of his individual makeup, which are not known to me.

However, I object to the simplistic presumption that rehabilitation is the primary issue in Omar Khadr's case because, within our own cultural context - not his - he is (or was) a child at the time of his alleged offenses.

Further, it troubles me, as is typical in our discourse on current events, that the media focus on the story of the offender - in this case - Omar Khadr - rather than on the stories of the four victims, about whom we are told little, if anything at all, and one of whom, due to the loss of his life, allegedly at this young man's hands, though possibly at the hands of one of Khadr's compatriots, no longer has a story that can be told.

The final chapter of the story of Sergeant First Class (SFC) Christopher James Speer's life - this chapter both heroic and tragic in its essence - has already been written. While the stories of the dead can be told and retold by those who remember them, they are embellishments of the past, and no portion remains for future events. The door to Sgt. Speer's hopes, dreams, plans and goals remains forever closed. It is the alleged actions of Omar Khadr (and/or the terrorist operatives with whom he stood) that have sealed the last chapter of Sgt. Speer's life, and it is the nature of Omar Khadr's responsibility for this act - including the question of his direct or indirect involvement - that is now in question.

As a rule, we discuss the rights of the perpetrators of crime more easily than we do the rights of its victims, and this continues to trouble me. This is a problem of our society, not that of the Khadr family. (Islamic societies typically make haste with the prosecution and punishment of offenders, adhering to standards of evidence - and considerations of age - much less circumspect than our own.) The fact that Omar Khadr was a child, and his four alleged victims adults, does not in any manner reassure me that he is entitled to the rights of a child soldier as presently defined under international law, whether his part in causing injury and death to the soldiers was direct or indirect.

Strikingly, not only is it difficult to learn about Omar Khadr's victims through regular media channels, a web search for "omar khadr victim" will return endless entries in which Khadr himself is portrayed as a victim. Information about his victims will not be uncovered by such a straightforward search. (Setting aside the incident presently before the courts, we do not know, for example, how many innocent persons - children included - may have been killed or injured while travelling across the mine fields that Khadr and his colleagues salted along local roads.)

Again, the portrayal of Khadr as a victim may not be entirely wrong, but it is certainly not wholly right, offering further evidence that the dead and injured that Khadr and his associates left behind have virtually no one to speak for them, even among their countrymen, whose rights and safety they fought, died and sustained injury to preserve.

In cases such as that of Omar Khadr, we face far more difficult questions than those pertaining to his status as a so-called child soldier.

In my view, the concept of the "child soldier," and particularly its reflexive misapplication by presumptive defenders of the rights of children in regard to Omar Khadr, is more a distraction than an aid in a case such as this one.

New links - 11 May 2008:

60 Minutes November 2007 video and story here.

Omar Khadr: A Most Peculiar Young Offender - March 22, 2008 Globe & Mail editorial, scribed by Sean Fine. An articulate example of what I would consider to be "old paradigm" logic. I do not pretend to be able to give voice to a new paradigm by which we will be able to formulate a coherent response to the fact that we are presently facing a rising tide of postnational terrorism which in all of its aspects is contrary to the principles of law, justice and due process to which the nation states of our era presume to have advanced, or to the associated and unpalatable fact that terrorists have families within which they raise their own children to be adherents to an agenda of genocide, but I do wish to draw the reader's attention to the fact that the Globe & Mail's seductively passionate editorial in fact entirely skirts the most difficult issues at the cutting edge of the still inchoate post-September 11 paradigm.

The unavailability of an applicable paradigm for understanding our new era has forced the author of this editorial to depict Khadr not as a child soldier, but as a "young offender," likening his situation to that faced by youths who stand before the Canadian criminal justice system under the April 1, 2003 Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act.

(I have considered alternative scenarios in which concerned Canadians might have cast Omar Khadr's case. For example, with no greater irony than in Mr. Fine's analysis, Canadians could very sincerely cast the problem as a child protection issue. Within the Canadian context, this would be an entirely defensible presumption. Such a portrayal of young Khadr's dilemma obviously breaks down rapidly when one considers how Canadian social workers might attempt to assure Omar's presumed rights as a Canadian child in the tribal regions of Afghanistan. We would certainly have been reluctant to dispatch our social workers to an al Qaeda lair in the Afghan hinterland in order to secure this particular child's rights under Canadian family law. The obvious implication is that it is difficult if not impossible to conceive how the standards of Canadian law could apply in circumstances such as those of young Omar Khadr, and I believe the same difficulty bears on Mr. Fine's analogy, if that is what it is. To be honest, I have considered many times the potential of exploring this dilemma by writing a stage play - working title, "Protecting Omar" (c) - in which a team of idealistic Canadian social workers is dispatched to Afghanistan to confront Omar's parents about their neglect and mistreatment of him, then to attempt to apprehend Omar and to return him to a "culturally appropriate" Canadian foster home. It might be worth illustrating the maze of dilemmas that such a set of presumptions would create in the context of live theatre.)

As has so far most often been the case with our efforts to define Omar Khadr's status, formulating his story as a Canadian youth criminal justice issue lets slip loose more truth than it is able to capture. The presumptions of the author vaporize rapidly against the harsh backdrop of international jihad within which young Khadr's narrative unfolds.

What I do know is that in an earlier era (when the status, security and hegemony of nation states remained unquestioned), we would have responded differently than we do now to a family in our midst who were raising their children to subvert and disrupt the nation which has given them shelter and sustenance, with the concurrent intention of imposing by force of arms a genocidal religious dictatorship in a foreign land where agents allied with them were being trained at the same time to suppress and brutalize religious moderates in their own society (as well as all local non-adherents of their totalitarian ideology, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and others) and simultaneously - and quite expansively - declaring religious war (jihad) against the entire societies of the west.

How we can apply the full set of Canadian legal principles in the cases of persons whose lives are entirely devoted to wholly overthrowing exactly these same principles is a mystery to me, though I agree that there surely must exist some middle ground which must be held while seeking a resolution of this dilemma.

Please permit me, therefore, to state the problem face on.

Somewhere over the intervening half century or more, the concept of treason has evaporated, and with it, the allied notion of sedition. We have no updated set of ideas with which to replace these historic pillars of federal and international law. By as yet unidentified means, we will have to generate a new conceptual framework within which to recapture the sensibilities of an earlier age without altogether sacrificing a century or more of presumptive cultural evolution and psychological insight.

The current situation does not afford us the luxury of unlimited time in determining what this fresh accommodation will be. Whatever "new paradigm" comes to pass will be given its ultimate shape through our practices in such cases as that of Omar Khadr. My overarching concern is that we define the entire range of dilemmas we now face clear-headedly, including far-reaching questions bearing on public protection and safety. We must concomitantly call to mind that our present decisions are forming our future habits of responding, and therefore giving shape to our longer-term strategic response to the unreservedly terrorist and totalitarian tactics of the Islamic extremist movement.

12 May 2008 - Note on prisoner management practices at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp: In my view, the inmates at Guantanamo, as suspected terrorists, should be considered dangerous prisoners. I am supportive of the use of the death penalty for terrorists without major reservations. However, I oppose the use of torture or prisoner mistreatment for any purposes. Torture is illegal, it is ineffective, and it narrows the distinction between who we are and the people whose practices we oppose.

Regarding the alternative adjudication system at Guantanamo, this is a topic I have not researched, and it is beyond the scope of my knowledge to comment on this matter. It does seem reasonable to me that some sort of alternative adjudication method should be applied in cases of terrorism, given the sensitivity of the information obtained - and the associated life-and-death consequences - in investigations of terrorism.

By analogy, the investigation of terrorism has some parallels to investigations of organized crime, though obviously the stakes are dramatically higher in addressing the challenges posed by terrorism. There are far-reaching concerns bearing on witness protection, the consequences of failure to prosecute and convict, public protection and liability issues, etc.

Is it unreasonable to surmise that those who choose to involve themselves in terrorist activities have already decided to play outside the rules to which the remainder of us have submitted? Are we not discussing logical consequences of blatantly illegal and inarguably antisocial actions on a global scale?

New Link: Jerry Z. Muller: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism, Foreign Affairs. Suggested in comment by "Neo-Jackson." See comments section for this post. By the way, this particular comment is in my view brilliantly insightful, and greatly strengthens the case I have attempted to establish in the present post, albeit tentatively. (And no, Neo-Jackson is not I, posting to myself. This is a real person other than I whose thinking - though more strictly conservative than mine - is in accord with my own on this matter.)

13 May 2008 (New and additional links to this story): Today Senator Romeo Dallaire referred to Omar Khadr as clearly a child soldier, and called for his return to Canada for rehabilitation and reintegration into Canadian society. I cannot overstate the degree to which I admire and respect Senator Dallaire for his work in the area of human rights protection. However, in this case, I clearly differ with him. Nonetheless, this is a great man with important views to be expressed. You may read Senator Dallaire's comments here.
Child soldier's rehab offers lessons for Khadr: This optimistic story of the rehabilitation of a child soldier to my mind reveals more the contrasts of Omar Khadr's story with that of a "typical" child soldier who presently lives as a rehabilitated member of Canadian society. Michelle Sheppard composed this story for the Toronto Star.

The Case for Omar Khadr - Liveblogging the Subcommittee on International Human Rights: From my perspective, this story represents mainstream coverage of the Khadr case. The difficult questions are not broached.

Omar Khadr - Coming of Age in a Guantanamo Bay Jail Cell: This 2007 CBC story illuminates important background factors in Khadr's upbringing. The information provided is of great relevance to my core argument (a four-paragraph excerpt follows):

"The complexity of the Khadr case is heightened by his upbringing as the youngest in a family of al-Qaeda sympathizers who considered religious martyrdom, being a suicide-bomber, as a supreme calling. Omar's father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an associate of Osama bin Laden and a reputed financier of al-Qaeda operations. He was killed in October 2003 by Pakistani forces. One of Omar's older brothers, Abdullah Khadr, is in jail in Toronto and is fighting a U.S. extradition request for terrorism-related crimes.

"The Rolling Stone article says Omar's father used to tell his children, 'If you love me, pray that I will get martyred.' He urged his sons to be suicide-bombers, saying it would bring "honour" to the family. He actually warned his son Abdurahman, 'If you ever betray Islam, I will be the one to kill you.'

"The Khadr family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1988, when Omar was two. Four years later, in 1992, Omar's father Ahmed nearly was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan. Ahmed and his family returned to Toronto, but when Ahmed recovered the Khadr family returned to Pakistan and soon found themselves back in Afghanistan where they lived in a large compound with bin Laden.

"The U.S. government says this was about the time Omar and his older brothers Abdullah and Abdurahman attended a military camp that provided instruction on handguns, assault rifles, bomb-making and combat tactics. Omar was 14 on Sept. 11, 2001."

27 July 2008: Much new information is now surfacing as Omar Khadr's defenders mount a case built on the premise that Sgt. Speer was killed with an American-made hand grenade in a "friendly fire" incident.

The new information is summarized in a National Post feature, entitled, "Khadr victim killed by friendly fire: lawyers." Excerpts from this article follow:

"Although al-Qaeda suspects were still alive in the compound, U.S. soldiers entered. 'Based on our interviews,' Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said, 'it appears that at least two U.S. soldiers threw hand grenades.'

"Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said none of the interviewed soldiers 'suggested that Speer was hit by friendly fire,' and one, Sgt. Layne Morris, told the National Post this week that he had seen Mr. Khadr, then 15, 'crouched in the rubble waiting for U.S. troops to get close enough so he could take one of them out.'

"Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler, who counters Sgt. Morris had been injured and evacuated from the scene ahead of the final assault, argues that had four, instead of just two, 500-lb. bombs been dropped, and the Mark 19 worked, 'there is a very good chance that the last individuals in the compound, including Omar, would have been killed, and Sgt. Speer [would be] alive today.'

"Mr. Khadr's taped discussion of conditions in the compound ahead of the battle is among a number of scenes that did not make the ten minutes of 'highlights' released early Tuesday by the Canadian lawyers defending Mr. Khadr, who work closely with Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler.

"Although the lawyers later that day released all seven hours - they show Mr. Khadr being interrogated over four days in February, 2003 - there has been little to no publicity given to scenes Mr. Khadr's prosecutors are more likely to have focused on.

"In one he talks about his brothers receiving six months of training - with the interrogator asking if it was to learn about 'infantry' and 'rifles,' and Mr. Khadr himself citing 'grenades.' Mr. Khadr also says his father put them through it 'for self defence.'
"In another scene in which mines are mentioned, Mr. Khadr agrees with the interrogator's assessment that 'the whole purpose ... was to take them apart, to use them as an explosive.'"Mr. Khadr says his father dropped him off at the compound near Khost - and the interrogator notes the multilingual youth had said it was to serve as a translator."The interrogator draws out of Mr. Khadr that Afghans and at least two Arabs were present, and there was talk of attacking the Northern Alliance - the U.S.-allied Afghan group that had opposed Taliban rule in Afghanistan."

Khadr family members speak: Omar Khadr's mother reportedly continues to make aggressively anti-Canadian statements as Khadr's defenders attempt to portray him as a Canadian citizen. She has recently stated in a television interview (according to a comment posted at this site) that she "would never raise a son in Canada, because all Canadian boys are gay or on drugs." She reportedly added that she was "proud" to have her son "train in Bin Laden’s camp."

Omar Khadr himself has attributed his presence in the building where the conflict with allied forces occurred to his father's placing him there, allegedly as a translator. He has stated, "What was my mistake? Being in a house where my father put me?"

Omar Khadr's sister Zaynab Khadr has taken a high profile in the cases of Omar Khadr and his brother Abdullah Khadr, as well as in other Canadian terrorism cases, as she has attended the bail and preliminary hearings for the men and youths arrested for plotting far-reaching terrorist actions in Canada in 2006. She maintained that many of the accused were "family friends."

Zaynab Khadr's arranged wedding at an al Qaeda compound was attended by Osama bin Laden. Her husband is an Egyptian terrorist named Khalid Abdullah - a follower of Ayman al-Zawahiri who is now in hiding from authorities following his reported participation in the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan in 1995.

Additionally, many links to the present whereabouts of "multiple al Qaeda veterans" were obtained following the seizure of Zaynab Khadr's laptop computer in 2005 (upon her return to Canada at that time). Both Zaynab Khadr and her mother are prohibited from leaving Canada, not for security reasons, but because they can no longer be granted passports due to reporting the loss of their passports on an excessive number of occasions.

Other comments from Khadr's mother and sister, as well as further details about the release of his interrogation videos, can be obtained in this July 15, 2008 Global News Network story.

25 October 2010: Just to wrap things up, Mr.Khadr has pleaded guilty today on all counts

According to the Associated Press news story, "The now 24-year-old prisoner, who was seriously wounded when he was seized in a gunbattle in 2002, admitted to throwing a grenade that killed a special forces medic during a fierce raid on an al-Qaida compound. He also pleaded guilty to building and planting roadside bombs and receiving weapons training from al-Qaida. He is the last Western detainee at Guantanamo."
Due to many levels of controversy, this verdict will certainly not satisfy all critics. To sum up, Omar Khadr is one of probably hundreds of thousands of young people who have been raised in a family and community setting where extremist/terrorist views are condoned. 

While this might sound superficially like the description of a child soldier, it is in fact a description of the most typical of our present and future enemies. He has not been ripped out of a family or community context to practice terror, but raised in a terrorist family, in which the highest ideal is to violate the rights and safety of innocent civilians - that is, you and me - as we are branded as "infidels" by an extremist culture.

Though from our viewpoint Mr. Khadr's life story is tragic, his number is legion. The extremists we will meet on future battlefields - and who will practice terror in our cities and communities - are exactly the same. These are precisely the people whom we will send soldiers to battle in future wars. As a trained mine-builder, Mr. Khadr has already killed and injured those fighting on our behalf. 

It is perhaps a paradox of the nature of our own news media (it would be quite different in the Islamic world) that we hear more sympathetic voices raised for Mr. Khadr than for his victims - those who represented our interests and safety abroad, specifically Christopher Speer, whom he murdered, and Layne Morris, who lost his eye in the battle in which Mr. Khadr was ultimately apprehended. 

In future, let's hear more of Sgt. Speer and Sgt. Morris, though no less of Mr. Khadr. It is a sad fact of our world that there are legions from whence Mr. Khadr has come. Thus, understanding and treating him better might offer us greater insight into the thousands more arrayed against us who are so much like him. 

Fundamentally, there is nothing unique about Omar Khadr or his circumstances, apart from the twist of fate that led to his being raised in Canada. He is one of millions who have been raised in the culture of terror. Though his story is common, perhaps his Canadian citizenship may open doors to increased mutual understanding, whether or not for mutual reconciliation. 

I for one would far prefer that we lived in a world where children are not groomed for terrorism by their parents and their teachers, but alas, that is not the world we inhabit! It is tough for him, tough for the many who are like him, and tough for us. But that's the way it is.

(19 November 2012) As time has passed, it has become more important to me that if in some way Mr. Khadr's story can somehow be retold, perhaps that might still offer hope for a broader process of change and understanding across an unimaginably deep cultural abyss. If the fact that he spent many of his formative years in Canada could possibly make a difference, it might still be worthwhile to search for ways to build on that - while never forgetting that we are dealing with a "hard" story about determined and brutal adversaries who wish us no good. 

22 November 2010 - (from Wikipedia):

Guilty Plea

On October 25, 2010, Khadr pled guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, two counts of providing material support for terrorism and spying. [202] [203] Under the plea deal, Khadr would serve one more year in Guantanamo Bay, and be returned to Canada, but Canadian authorites denied Khadr would be repatriated as part of any agreement.[204]

This plea deal was negotiated between Lieutenant Colonel Jon S. Jackson, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the White House. It is reported the prosecutors objected to the deal but ultimately the Convening Authority agreed with Lieutenant Colonel Jackson's proposal and accepted the deal. The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs said in Parliament during Oral Question period that Canada was not involved in the agreement between Khadr and the US government, but when asked about an exchange of diplomatic notes indicating that Canada is inclined to favourably consider a request from Khadr for a transfer to Canada after one year, he said Canada would implement the agreement.[205] [206]

Reportedly, Khadr will spend the next year in near solitary confinement in the section of Guantanamo reserved for the two prisoners who have been convicted in the Military Commission system, a Taliban cook and an Al Qaeda propagandist.[207]

However, Khadr has also apologized for his actions. This is the behaviour of an adult, not a "child"
As reported by the Huffington Post, Khadr stated, "I'm really, really sorry for the pain I've caused you and your family," said Khadr, standing in the witness stand. "I wish I could do something that would take away your pain."

As he spoke, Speer gripped the armrests of her chair and shook her head. After he stepped down, and the jury had left the room, she cried and hugged a victim's representative who has accompanied her to the court sessions....

Khadr, now 24, admitted killing her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, as part of his plea deal. He also acknowledged placing 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan and spying on U.S. convoys to assess the best ways to attack them. Prosecutors said Khadr was a terrorist and war criminal – a claim challenged by critics of the tribunals – because he was not a legitimate soldier in the battle.

My take... possibly Khadr's apology was motivated by his (already noted) extensive Al Qaeda training. The Al Qaeda agent is instructed always to decieve the infidel. Then again, perhaps he is also responding as an adult to his present situation.

I remain convinced that Mr. Khadr was never a "child soldier." Note the following:
(Mrs Speer) reminded Khadr, and the military jury considering his sentence, that he had an opportunity to escape the compound with other children and women who were permitted by U.S troops to leave at the start of the battle.

"You had your choice and you stayed," she told him in an hour of often emotional testimony that left some audience members in tears as photos of her dead husband and his two young children were played on a screen in the front of the courtroom.

Khadr bowed his head at the defense table and did not look up as the widow spoke to him. Later, he apologized to her in an unsworn statement, a maneuver that allowed him to address the court without having to face questions from the prosecution yet still make his most extensive public comments since his capture (as described above).

Omar Khadr - not a child soldier.

Omar Khadr - now a responsible adult?

Possibly yes. His public statements inspire confidence that he has matured, despite the misleading "child soldier" rhetoric.

Everything we do will make more sense from here on out if we treat Mr. Khadr as a responsible individual - from start to finish.

From my ethical perspective, Mr. Khadr may yet prove himself to be a better man than his apologists and defenders. More credit to him for his ongoing adult behaviour!


  1. A good friend (I shall now dub him "Neo-Jackson") has a offered these comments by e-mail. He has given me permission to post them on his behalf:

    Thank you for providing this acute analysis. I think the array of trans-national human rights is much flimsier and more fictitious than we wish to believe. In what might be a "Susanesque" way, I see the universal law paradigm as a western construct that we impose -- imagine we impose, mainly -- on non-western cultures and nations. China has self-exempted, with no adverse consequence. Various terrorist groups exploit the universal law model as a daily tactical asset. They violate its norms, while receiving its benefits when captured. Russia is a member of the Due Process Club in only a nominal way. Africa -- pretty much a loss. South America -- patchwork, no clear vector. India -- coming along, maybe. I'm afraid we're talking mostly to ourselves, in other words. The Globe & Mail editorial had no significant operative purpose other than to make its readers feel good about being humane Canadians. This is expensive self-flattery. It is a new thing to embrace organized sedition as a welcome expansion of diversity. It also weakens the claim made by the first duty of Canada's government: to protect Canadians from being murdered, in this case, by people whose purpose is to destroy Canada. Do you wonder that we appear suicidally insane, or flamboyantly incompetent, to Omar Khadr and his family?

    On a separate but related point, Foreign Affairs recently published a major article on postwar European political history that critiques the idea that ethnic nationalism is enjoying a "new" burst of vitality. The fact is, it didn't go anywhere. The piece points out that 50 years of political events in Europe have produced a map closer than ever to antecedent ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural boundaries. The EU structure, then, is a transnational umbrella over an ethnicized set of frontiers, relationships, and alliances. The author was Jerry Muller ( In the long view, it's quite interesting; in a real sense, we're still trying to figure out how to set things up, now that Rome is out of the empire business.

    In historical terms, the West has SO much money and SO much personal and external security that it may help explain the abnormality of our attitudes. The political classes, in truth, spend money like it exists in infinite supply. We give away due process rights, welfare, and legal status like Santa pushing out candy. On this last point, I'm no scholar, but it has to be highly unusual for any culture to admit to beneficial membership someone who not only forswears entry, and not only condemns the society, but is explicitly its violent enemy. It's so bizarre that I could imagine that pro-terror imams have a teaching that God makes us do these crazy things, as a showing of miracle power to assist jihad.

  2. Thank you for this analysis. It is difficult to think logically about these types of things, in fact, I think that it is almost impossible for an educated Westerner to work through this easily or perhaps at all in many cases.

    I look at the pictures and its just a little boy to me. I see in him two of my youngest friends, whom I have known since they were young teenagers, both of Pakistani descent -- and yet -- he is nothing like them. They grew up in secular homes in the states. They are kind, loving, unprejudiced (and believe me, as a gay man when I can say that, I know whereof I speak) and have no respect for radical Islam. In one case, I can honestly say that I think one friend is effectively a complete atheist, although he doesn't use the word to describe himself. They are both in college now, and they want to do well in life. Neither of them would ever hurt anyone. This poor young man shares their appearance to a degree, and he does smile -- but he has been twisted and destroyed by the evil of evil men who claim to act in the name of "god" -- but actually act only in the name of darkness and harm toward others.

    I look at him and so desperately want to help -- but I rationally doubt that I, or anyone else, can.

    And you do a good job of explaining exactly what is going on. Furthermore -- if he was salvageable (which I am less unsure of than you are) -- our treatment of him has removed the possibility and now he surely is not. Now we have left ourselves with no choice.

    Yet, I still look and see the sweet kind boy he could have been -- and it hurts.

    End all fundamentalist religion -- before it destroys the human race.

  3. Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments.

    It is no child's fault what his parents raise him to be.

    Omar is rare in being born in Canada, but apart from that, I acknowledge that there are tens if not hundreds of thousands like him being taught in the Madrassas of the Islamic world by extremists.

    Many if not most of these young men will go on the become instruments of oppression, and some will engage in terrorism, because that is what their parents are teaching them.

    The notion that what we do about Omar Khadr is going to affect the larger problem is naive in the utmost. He is literally one of a multitude, with the only difference being that he is in custody, and most of his compatriots are at large.

    Terrorist families have terrorist children, and our young men will fight with their young men (and/or women) in battles to the death, and there is little we can do about it until this particular brand of extremism runs its course and dies via normal historical processes.

  4. Whatever he's accused of, he deserves a fair trial, due process, and to be treated humanely. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have done everything possible to deny that -- that's the main problem people have.

  5. Because Omar Khadr happens to have been born in Canada, he is distinct from the thousands of compatriots exactly his age engaged more or less in the same types of activities in what is now the Afghan conflict.

    Obviously there are problems with the Guantanamo process, and this has caused me to have mixed feelings about it. Certainly were our people to have come into the hands of many of the individuals detained at Guantanamo, they would not have enjoyed the rights of prisoners of war, as our enemy in that conflict does not even recognize international law. Torture and summary beheadings could easily have been administered by many of these detainees to our citizens should the tables have been turned.

    That is, we are dealing with very dangerous individuals at Guantanamo (including in my opinion Omar Khadr!) who represent organizations that have no respect whatsoever for the international laws cited by advocates of humane treatment.

    I am not saying that we should not treat the Guantanamo detainees humanely. Torture is not effective, and humane treatment defines who we are and what we represent. But let us never forget that the (for the most part) terrorists detained at Guantanamo are not party to the international agreements cited by the human rights advocates who seek fair treatment for them.

    No matter how harsh an environment Guantanamo might seem, it is in every case fortunate for these individuals that they have fallen into our hands, rather the reverse. For were any of us to be detainees of their forces, the prospects of humane treatment and fair trials would not even be under discussion.

    Again, the Afghan-Pakistan border region is populated by tens of thousands of Omar Khadrs - boys raised in extremist Madrasahs whose first desire is to die while killing infidels - whether among their own people (their most likely victims), or among our people (whom they are taught to perceive as debauched and/or Satanic invaders).

    Whatever dignity and rights Omar Khadr is eventually accorded will almost certainly not be shared by the thousands more whom we shall face in battle in Afghanistan or in a possible wider war at some point. And certainly, the rights we accord him will never be extended by his allies to any of their captives, whether from among their own people, or from the Western nations.

    Despite any hardships Omar Khadr may have sustained, he is in context a very, very fortunate young man to have been born in Canada.

  6. the point that you have completely missed is that canada is a signatory to the convention of the rights of children. these laws protects children like omar. we in canada are fighting for his freedom we think the US is evil with guantanmo bay prison cause it goes against the geneva convention for the treatment of pow...just my honest opinion that is all

  7. A lot has happened since I posted this article. It now appears that Omar was not responsible for the death of an American soldier, for example. My core point remains the same however. Omar is one of probably hundreds of thousands of children being raised for Jihad. We tend to think of him differently because his father exploited Canada's generous citizenship policies to carry out activities that in any other age would have been considered treasonous. None of this is Omar's "fault." Perhaps we can even rehabilitate him (I don't know). Omar was certainly well on his way to being an agent of Jihad at the time he was captured. The larger problem is that there are hundreds of thousands more children like him being raised to practice terror in the Islamic world. My point remains that when we're in battle with these children - or later when they are adults - they will be shooting to kill, and so will we. So what do we do in this case? Perhaps we can find something honourable and effective. But in the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter very much. We are being forced into war due to the twisted ideology of Islamic terrorism, and we will encounter thousands more Omars on the battlefield over whose plight no voice will ever be lifted. It is one of the deep tragedies of the human situation. We are forced to confront the evil itself, and in so doing, thousands of children and adults will die. And that will continue until either Islamic extremism runs its course, or the Western liberal ascendancy runs its course. It is a great clash of historic movements, and the end is not yet knowable. It is certainly worth contemplating that we could lose. If that were the case, I would expect few humanitarian gestures on the part of the Islamic extremists.

  8. I hate this ongoing story and the sympathy Khadr gets. Omar is a liberal tear factory. The only reason he got any attention was because so many newspaper readers fell in love with his cutesy, baby-faced picture that's at the top of this post. To me, he is a symbol of sensational reporting and failed liberalism. I don't think the Harper government should even hear about his legal proceedings. To the mobs of Khadr supporters: dry your eyes and focus on something more important, like Darfur. Now there's something worth your time and your sobs.

  9. Though you are using harsh language, I am inclined to agree more than to disagree with you. Apart from the fact that he was born in Canada, Khadr is different in no respect from the hundreds of thousands of children now being raised in extremist families throughout the Muslim world. These children will grow up first to be "child" soldiers and then to be adult soldiers. We will be at war with them. I wish it were not so, but that is how things are.

    It would undoubtedly be a "nice" story if we could rescue Omar, but such an outcome would swim against the tide of history. You are absolutely correct that far more could be accomplished by effective action in Darfur. Perhaps we do have the resources to "re" or "un" convert the adult children of Islamic extremist families, but it is a task akin to deprogramming or "reverse" brainwashing. And are we disrespecting Khadr's family's values by deprogramming him??? It is a complex moral problem. Personally, I would try the family members for treason (I'm not assuming guilt, though there seems to be ample evidence of adherence to treasonous principles and practices). Perhaps we would learn valuable lessons by trying to save Omar. I don't think it is his "fault" that his parents are/were militants or even that he was steered in this direction by at least his father. But that still leaves unanswered the question of how we are to respond to the child militants of Peshawar, for example. It's not their fault either, but they are still deadly dangerous to us and to our way of life.

  10. Hello there!
    I think war is war and violence in any respect is not right. I've just watched the documentary on him titled "You Don't Like the Truth - Four Days In Guantanamo". It was very moving indeed and it made me think.
    I don't know the full story....yet I suppose few do actually know what happened or what the truth of the matter is. I know that any loss of life on either side is sad and we live in a world that is far from perfect.
    So I'm pretty sure that in my lifetime war of any sort isn't going to stop at all. Just look at history to prove the point.
    History 'does' repeat itself in more ways than one...

  11. Thank you "anonymous."

    As time passes, I have been getting more "mellow" on this story. I certainly share your distaste for war, and feel we would be far better off by acting wisely to prevent conflict, rather than being forced to respond to acts of aggression by those who are perhaps responding in anger to our history of international transgression through colonialism, etc.

    I am now thinking we have done all we can do in Afghanistan, for example, that our continued involvement may be creating more negative than positive consequences - and certainly aiding those who wish to recruit more child soldiers to totalitarian and terrorist causes, by overstaying our welcome.

    I look forward to a world with far fewer child soldiers and adult extremists, and far more ambassadors of peace and compassion.

    Having read more about the successful interrogation of extremists, it is certainly clear that kindness is a better weapon for peace than cruelty. To the extent that it is productive, I would advocate the use of kindness where it will still combat terrorism and extremism!

  12. Don't ever judge the religion or race or culture for a persons action, i come from a multicultural family< and i know that its all about politics and media>>>feel sorry for this poor child>>>and the worlds ignorance about certain matters... none of us will last forever in this world, so stop racism, and live for peace...enough bloodshed from both sides...

  13. I'd have to say, this was one of my most difficult posts, along with a review of the movie, "Vera Drake."

    Of course, Omar was essentially a partially "innocent" and mostly dependent kid when this happened. If I'm trying to make a point here, it's that we are daily doing battle with thousands of Omar Khadrs, many conscripted into terrorism as children (and if they are involved in attacks on civilians, it is terrorism).

    So, in brief, we see children killing children. Which side are we on? When forced to choose (I don't want to, but I have to), I will side with the children being killed against the children who are killing them.

    My main point is that life hands us ethical dilemmas that have no right answers, yet answer them we must.

    Better, let's deal with the root causes of conflict. In brief, the West has meddled excessively in the affairs of the East and the South, and that has produced much of the blowback we are seeing today.

    However, to use the most pressing example, the Taliban daily attack children, both boys and girls, but especially girls. Among their conscripts are children who have been brainwashed in Madrassas, as Omar Khadr was, and now children are trained to kill children, and they do so willingly and with zeal.

    I for one will defend first those who live in peace and who have not been indoctrinated. It is difficult to reverse.

    But I will also advocate for non-intervention where possible, and for my country to avoid interfering in the affairs of other countries, where critical human rights questions are not overwhelmingly at stake.

    No matter how we choose, innocents will die. What course of action will thus result in the least long-term harm? Combatting child terrorism is among the most horrible of choices, which is why I chose to write about it. The question cannot be glossed over.

    My other point is that we are killing many Omars on the battlefield each day, and no one ever speaks for even one of them. They have no advocates, and, like him, they are killers themselves.

    With rehabilitation and humane treatment (both of which he should have under our justice system, though no more than any other Canadian or American), could Omar Khadr eventually become an ambassador of peace? I have no idea. Perhaps we do have the resources to aid him - I hope so. But there are tens of thousands no different than he whom we will never possibly be able to help, many already killers also, and many already killed....

    Our world is grossly unfair. Perhaps we can be fair to Omar, and it will prove to his luck to have been born a Canadian, despite also having been born into a "terrorist family."

    But had I been a family member of the man he killed (and who knows how many others he had a hand in killing?), due to his training, I would have a greater right to judge this one young man. Similarly, perhaps moreso, had I been a family member of the citizens he terrorized, many of them also children, I would have to make that hard decision in a very tough and dangerous world.

    My final word. I am forced ethically to side first with the victims of terrorism. If possible, I would direct compassion towards the perpetrators as well, but never at the expense of the safety of their victims.

  14. This MAN is now severely damaged, damaged beyond belief, and nothing and nobody can help that..He might have stood a chance if he was taken into a home of kind loving people and "reprogrammed" at 15 but even that I highly doubt. He was stuck in the system for 8 years and grew that funky beard for a reason..Don't bring this shit into our country we have enough extremist retards here as it is breeding by the second.

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  16. "Despite a smokescreen of intense ideological rhetoric, this organization is best understood by examining its actions rather than by attempting to grasp its ideology."

    Not true. They have a very definite and a very clear ideology and a very specific objective: The expansion of the ummah and the world wide dominance of islamic law - with a writ to kill anyone who obstructs that agenda once an invitation to convert to islam has been extended and rejected (that happened back in the '90's). This is simply offensive jihad of the sword - only marginally controversial according to islamic theology because it is premature and does not have a Caliph directing it. All islamic supremacists - the muslim brotherhood included - are fighting for the same goal, it's just that some jihadists are more impatient than others.

  17. "Despite a smokescreen of intense ideological rhetoric, this organization is best understood by examining its actions rather than by attempting to grasp its ideology."

    Not true. They have a very definite and a very clear ideology and a very specific objective: The expansion of the ummah and the world wide dominance of islamic law - with a writ to kill anyone who obstructs that agenda once an invitation to convert to islam has been extended and rejected (that happened back in the '90's). This is simply offensive jihad of the sword - only marginally controversial according to islamic theology because it is premature and does not have a Caliph directing it. All islamic supremacists - the muslim brotherhood included - are fighting for the same goal, it's just that some jihadists are more impatient than others.

  18. Epihpyte. I think you are technically in the right here. I just don't see al Qaeda as having a strategy to advance any positive agenda, even from within their own worldview. What I meant was that while their ideology involves the advancement of an idealized Islamic world, their behaviour tells us that for them, it is easier - and more engaging - to destroy than to build.

    I'd also like to add that as the years have passed, I've become more interested in the prospect of rehabilitation, though I hold no illusions about its prospects. That is, if we can't somehow rehabilitate or at least conduct a conversation with this individual, how much can we advance in regard to the legions raised within the same ideology, but without the exposure to our way of life which appears to have played an important part in his formation?

    But let us also never forget that the gap between us is immense. It will be a monumentally difficult, though possibly worthwhile, task.