As more and more of the New York Times podcasts created by journalist Rukmini Callimachi and her team are released we are learning more and more of the adventures of a Canadian member of Islamic State (IS) codenamed Abu Huzayfah. The Pakistani-Canadian left of his own accord to join IS, admits to killing at least two people (one with a bullet to the head and a second with a knife to the heart), had a change of heart (!) and eventually made his way back to this land. To say that his story has led to a firestorm in Canada and internationally is putting it mildly.
There has been a lot written and spoken on this and one thing that is clear is the level of anger and frustration felt by Canadians. Why has he not been arrested? Why has he not been charged? Why is a terrorist (for that is what he is at a minimum even if we use the narrowest legal interpretation possible) roaming free on our streets? Why, why, why?
A few things still bother me about this case. First is the inconsistency in his accounts of what he did. Initially he admitted to killing, then he said he was lying. So, which version is correct? Is it not plausible that he did indeed kill, has realised how this looks, and now wants to distance himself from his acts? It will be hard to figure out eventually what to believe.
Secondly, it seems to me that even if it will be hard to pin murder on him it should be relatively straightforward to charge him with leaving Canada to join a listed terrorist entity. The evidence for that surely is beyond reproach. Hesitation on this front is less understandable in my eyes.
Thirdly is his cowardice in not turning himself in. He says in episode 5 of the NYT series that he knows he did wrong but would not surrender to police but rather to ‘religious authorities’. Does a truly remorseful man not want to have to face justice for his heinous acts of murder? Fear of retribution I get, but not willing to accept punishment I do not.
In the end I and many others have weighed in on how hard this case is going to be to move forward. All we have is a confession which the suspect conveniently changes constantly. To my knowledge there are no witnesses. There is next to no chance of launching an investigation in Syria where the alleged crimes took place. We cannot work with Syrian authorities on this for obvious reasons. The chances of amassing enough evidence to construct a successful court case are next to nil. As we saw yesterday in the acquittal of an alleged schizophrenic in a Toronto stabbing incident, securing a conviction in a case that unfolded entirely within Canada is difficult enough.
We are thus left with the very real possibility that Abu Huzayfah or whatever is name really is may never face justice in this world. I understand completely how angry this makes Canadians feel as I share that anger. In a perfect world where evidence is easy to collect – or where an ‘honourable’ murderer pleads guilty and accepts the judgment passed by the courts – we would feel more satisfied I wager.
Whether or not this man killed completely innocent people because at the time he believed the lies IS told him is beyond us to measure for the reasons cited above. Whether he is truly ‘deradicalised’ is another question mark. Whether he still poses a threat to our society, today or in five years’ time, is yet another mystery. It may well be that answers to these queries are not forthcoming.
Allow me to end on a harsh note. Mr. Abu whatever: if you do indeed regret what you did – leave your family, join a brutal terrorist group and carry out unspeakable crimes – then man up and turn yourself in. I may not be a Muslim but I would guess that is what your faith – the ‘true faith’ and not the bastardised abomination IS taught you (which you claim to have eventually caught on to) – demands of you. Your membership as a human demands it.
Are you mature enough to do this? Your fellow Canadians await your response. If not, you might want to prepare yourself for the slings and arrows to follow. I am not so sure we will be quick to forgive you as you seem to forgive yourself.