||[Dec. 8th, 2008|02:40 am]
I'm sure that some of you already know this, but one of my heroes is
A bit of background info: Born in Syria, Maher Arar moved to Canada in 1987, at the age of 17. But his story - the one we know - starts in 2002. After a vacation in Tunis, Arar was on his way home to Ottawa, when U-S officials detained him at JFK airport in New York. They suspected Arar had links to al-Qaida, so they held him in solitary confinement for two weeks, without access to a lawyer and then deported him to Syria - where he was thrown in prison and tortured for nearly a year. During that time, Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, held vigils and meetings, lobbied government officials and called the media - anything she could do to prove her husband's innocence. Finally, in October 2003, Arar was let go. Eventually, an official Canadian inquiry found that Arar had no ties to terrorism and that the RCMP provided false information to American authorities. It also concluded that Canadian officials suspected Arar was being tortured in Syria. Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Arar a formal apology and 10.5 million dollars. Now, Monia has written a book about the ordeal from her point of view. It's called: "Hope & Despair: The Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar".
When I was in high school back in Ottawa, I occasionally accompanied my boyfriend to one of his political science courses at Carleton. When I heard that Monia Mazigh would be there the following week, I went out of my way to be there (Phil wound up missing it). Her talk was moving (her husband had been incarcerated in Syria for about six months at that point), but what really touched me was what happened after. We bumped into each other in the hallway as I was leaving ("Hey, you're the girl who asked that question earlier.") and, not wanting me to wait alone for the O-Train at night, she offered to drive me to Bayview where my father was supposed to pick me up. I think she may also have wanted some company.
We talked some more about her family in the car. "How do you do it?" I asked her. "How do you manage to keep it together?". She looked at me, her eyes sad but strong. "How can I not? I have to. I'm lobbying non-stop to get him back. I have to comfort my daughter when she asks if she'll ever see her daddy again. I'm having a hard time trying to find a job to support my family (she has a PhD in finance from McGill, btw). We've had to move to a much smaller home. It's been very difficult, but I have to stay strong, there's no way I can crumble. Anyone in my position would do the same thing."
I thanked her profusely when she dropped me off - it was not on the way to her place - and she gave me a hug. The feeling of... I'm not sure how to describe it - awe and heartbreak? ...It stuck with me for a long time. I can't imagine what she went through (Or what he went through. Or their families, for that matter). I admire her not only for her kindness and strength, but also for making me realize that, in dire circumstances, we are all capable of finding the courage necessary to face our problems head-on.
And so I ask you: Who are your heroes? Who has left an indelible mark in your mind?
PS: Monia and Maher were recently interviewed on The Hour with George "I'm laid-back and easy to talk to" Stroumboulopoulos.