by Aislinn Rose
I asked for it…
On February 24th, I woke up to find an email from Section 98’s director Michael Wheeler, saying “have you been following my conversation with Omar Khadr?”. I’m sorry, what? Now, I think it says a lot about Mike that my first thought was, “if anyone’s going to find a way to have a conversation with Omar Khadr, it’s Mike”. Or maybe it says a lot about me. Then it dawned on me that a week earlier I had mentioned Omar Khadr in my Open Source entry “Checking for a Pulse“. I had dared to suggest that if one is going to support human rights and civil liberties, then one must do so in all cases, and, instead of quoting Margaret Chase this time, I’m going to quote Oscar winning actress Mo’nique: “sometimes you have to forego what’s popular in order to do what’s right”. I also said, based on this idea, that I’d like to know when we would be bringing Omar Khadr home. If I was going to find Mike’s conversation with “Omar Khadr” anywhere, I was betting it would be at the end of this post.
I headed to the comments section of the post, and there it was: ‘Everyone calm down! It’s me, Omar Khadr!‘… and it looked like Mike and Omar had stayed up “conversing” until the wee hours of the morning as well.
Don’t feed the trolls
If you spend a lot of time (angrily) reading reader comments on news sites like I do, you’ll often find the line, “don’t feed the trolls”. Can I go so far as to call this person a troll? Wikipedia defines an Internet Troll as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Well, the posts were reasonably on-topic, but cue the inflammatory on his end, and the emotional on my end. Ultimately, I don’t want to call this person a troll as I think he truly believes in his point of view (and isn’t just engaging in order to be a nuisance), but at the same time, he isn’t posting to debate or discuss. He’s posting to say “how it is”.
I was surprised at first that Mike had taken on a somewhat similarly comedic tone with his responses. Good on him for not taking the bait I guess, but I was also frustrated at the amount of misinformation sitting there that was going undisputed (in the beginning). It’s so very easy to spout inflammatory statements like, ‘“The Young Offenders Act?!” Even I know that was replaced in 2003!‘ as thought that actually means something. In this case, it means nothing. While the YOA was replaced in 2003 with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Omar was captured in 2002, and therefore still covered by the YOA. Regardless, the new Act still considers youth to be between the ages of 12 and 18, and Omar was 15 when captured. So what was his point, other than to say something in an authoritative manner, thereby casting doubt on Mike’s earlier assertions?
Same goes for such lines as ‘here’s the only law that DOES apply to me and my “situation”‘ (when in fact there ARE other international laws relating to child soldiers that apply to him and his situation), and ‘(unlike a lot of these bastards at Gitmo) I was actually charged WITH A CRIME‘… as were other Guantanamo Bay detainees who, regardless of their charges and/or convictions, were still released to the custody of their respective countries. I’ve always enjoyed people saying that Canada is unique, or special, but not when we’re unique because the only Western citizen remaining in Guantanamo Bay is Canadian.
Omar Khadr: Then & Now
… can we send it back?
The “debate” went on for a few days, with Mike and another valiant participant going head to head with this person… and I just sat back watching, wondering what to do, feeling a little bit useless, and a little bit overwhelmed. Oh, not by the level of debate, don’t get me wrong. In fact, when I first started reading his comments, I actually thought it might be satire. I thought, here is an ignorant, arrogant Colbert-like character playing up the ridiculousness of “the other side”… you know, that side that suggests the only reason anyone is interested in Omar’s rights in this case is ‘because they hate America, they hate what it stands for‘. It would almost be funny if he weren’t actually being utterly serious… in a quasi-funny, (mis)appropriated, and conveniently anonymous voice. So the level of debate wasn’t what was overwhelming me.
No, it was more about the fact that I knew engaging him further was useless. Consider, for a moment, his insistence that Omar is guilty (though he has yet to be tried), and his complete dismissal of the evidence to the contrary provided by Mike. In fact, any good point in the real Omar’s favour was simply met with something like ‘just which side are you on? Because it sounds like you’re on mine! This is fantastic, I need another “useful idiot”‘. So t. schwellnus gets called an idiot… not by the writer of course, but by “Omar”… so he gets away with it.
And then there’s the issue of my being a woman. Fake Omar’s first comment said (in reference to me), ‘what’s with the lady that hates “Borat” and why is she even allowed to view such Western filth?’. After that, I (wrongly or rightly) assumed that any comment I made would be met with a similar ‘joke’ about my place as a woman. He would be ‘in character’ of course, and I would be expected to be able to take a joke of course… otherwise I’m just another one of those humourless shrews we see portrayed on the television every day. I didn’t say any of this to anyone, yet I was asked by a female friend if this was one of the reasons I wasn’t responding to the discussion. And let me tell you now, I’m not proud of the fact that I stayed away.
Finally, it is overwhelming to know that there are so many people out there like this person. As Mike said in one of his responses, ‘it is valuable for the production to acknowledge that the reason Omar Khadr is in Guantanamo Bay is because there are many, many people, just like you out there.’. I don’t mind that people have differing opinions than my own, not at all. I just want to be able to have discussions with those people where we can share what we think and what we know, and actually drive the discussion forward. I love to learn, and I therefore love it when someone proves me wrong… but that can only happen if I actually listen to what the other person is saying.
t. schwellnus may have said it to fake Omar best: ‘I don’t know what your intentions are, ultimately, but this shit just kinda makes me crazy‘.
What the heck do we do now?
So, as the keeper of Section 98‘s Open Source Theatre project, here’s what I want to know: what the hell do you do in this scenario? Do you take the bait and engage in the name of accuracy and/or principle? Do you ignore the “troll”? Do you delete his posts (as he accused us of doing)? Or, like Mike, do you try to find a way to incorporate this “voice” into the show, without taking the voice “out of context” (which is what concerns fake Omar). Though, I don’t see how we can take a voice that doesn’t actually belong to this person out of context, but we’ll certainly do our best.
Now I want to leave you with a question… and feel free to tell answer in the comments section below: what were you doing when you were 15? What was I doing when I was 15? I was going to Catholic school, and campaigning for Perrin Beatty? Why? Well, I was raised by my parents as both a Catholic and a Conservative. And, while I hate to admit it, I was pretty much one of those kids that did as their parents told them. It wasn’t until a little later in life that I realised I wasn’t a believer, and I certainly wasn’t a Conservative (of the big or small c variety). Luckily, when I was 15, I didn’t have parents that sent me to Afghanistan to fight in a war, as I probably would have gone. You?
Come see Praxis Theatre’s Section 98 interactive work-in-progress presentation on Saturday, March 13th at the Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre. Click here for more information.