Back in July, the Omar Khadr case became a national controversy. For those who’ve forgotten, Khadr, a Canadian, was taken as a boy by his father to Afghanistan, where he fought and was wounded. He was captured, delivered to Guantanamo Bay by the Americans and tortured. Then he confessed — his lawyers say under duress — to throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier.
He later said he doesn’t know if he threw the grenade, so we have no idea if that actually happened. What we do know is that the Canadian government did nothing to prevent his incarceration and mistreatment, and that our Supreme Court ruled his rights had been denied and he was owed an apology. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did apologize and also provided $10.5 million in compensation, most of which is likely to go to Khadr’s lawyers.
So much was written at the time about the case that I will not reiterate the arguments now. I believe the government acted properly, and that one can detest jihadist terrorism and still support Khadr.
What interests me now is the profoundly angry reaction from many Christians. From senior politicians to social media warriors, legions of people who describe themselves as orthodox Roman Catholics, Christian patriots, evangelicals and the like accused those who were sympathetic to Khadr as being supporters of terrorism, of not caring about the family of the deceased soldier, of being in favour of Islamic radicalism and of insulting our own military. (By contrast, The United Church of Canada released a statement that said it “respects” the federal government’s decision to apologize to Khadr.)
There was certainly room for civilized disagreement over what happened, but this was not the spirit of the debate at all. It was no longer right and wrong but good and bad. I certainly felt the sting of accusation from countless conservative Christians, and I couldn’t help but think of the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon,” and so on.
I realize that politics doesn’t always lead to easy and comfortable consensus, but I am convinced that the damage done to informed and respectful debate by social media and 24-hour news has inflicted colossal damage on the Christian conversation.
When we are astounded, upset or even hurt by something that is said, we too often reject the speaker rather than the argument. That’s bad enough in secular life. But if we are convinced that everybody is made in the image of God, how dare we act this way? Instead of trying to find the possible merits of an opposing opinion or understand the reasons why the argument was made in the first place, we reduce it to a caricature and then attribute base motives.
We must do better.
And no, that’s not me being Pollyanna. That’s me trying to listen to Jesus Christ.
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