You could hardly find two people as different as Omar Khadr and Jack Hallam. Most people will recognize the former as the young man who threw a grenade during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, killing an American soldier.
Khadr was a 15-year-old boy in 2002, a Canadian citizen who experienced much of his childhood in Pakistan, his youth in Afghanistan, with a father who supported Al Qaeda. After his capture the young man spent a decade in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Although he was a minor at the time of the incident, he was charged with war crimes.
On September 29, 2012 he was repatriated to Canada to serve the last of his sentence. How he will adjust to Canadian life is anyone’s guess. After all, if an American soldier had killed him, the incident would have been a routine act of war. As an “unlawful combatant”, Khadr was a criminal, and the country of his birth deemed him a terrorist.
Canadians are divided in their opinions about the young man, but an 84-year-old atheist wants to help him out. Jack Hallam of Salt Spring Island is a retired zoologist, a gay man who understands what it is like to be the object of stereotyping, suspicion and bullying, simply for being who he is.
So Hallam has written Khadr into his will, with a bequest of $700. He told the Canadian Press:
I think the young man has been treated abominably. His story just moved me. He was tortured, he was kept in solitary confinement, he had light deprivation.
Hallam is aware that a devout Muslim from an anti-West family may be surprised and perhaps even troubled by the gift. However, the young man I watched in the The U.S. vs. Omar Khadr (embedded below) deserves a chance to reintegrate into society.
His sentence ends in 2018. He is eligible for parole in mid-2013. The bequest from an unlikely stranger may offer him a ray of light as he contemplates his future in a homeland he barely knows.
Perhaps it will encourage others to give the young man a chance. Right now there is a lot of ugly sentiment against him. Some of that is compassion for the children of the soldier he killed, but much of it has a sharp edge of Islamaphobia.
Hallam’s gift gives me hope that tolerance, forgiveness and compassion will win out.