Like most Muslims in Ottawa, my attention this week was largely focused on the trial of Momin Khawaja. Momin was the first Canadian arrested under the post-9/11 Anti-Terrorism laws, back in March of 2004. His whole family was detained by police that day, with one of his brothers picked up from home, another from our university, and his mother from a grocery store. It was a calculated raid unlike any we had ever seen in this city, and the target was someone most of us knew personally. After four years, during which Momin has been locked up in an Ottawa prison, his trial finally began this Monday.
It was a confusing time, those first few weeks after the arrests. It shook the community to its core, forcing us out of our comfort zone and into a strange world of politics and conspiracy. Many questions were raised, none answered. We all thought it was a terrible mistake, and could not believe the accusations. The family was a respectable one, prominent within their community and active at the local mosque. But days after the arrests, their pictures were all over the newspapers alongside detailed diagrams of their neighbourhood showing the path that RCMP officers used to break into their home. Days after the raid, the media had already smeared their name and proclaimed their guilt. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult life has been for them since.
It still is a confusing time. The trial began with the testimony of star witness Junaid Babar garnering the most attention. Mr. Babar had already pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offences in the past, but has been testifying against others in an effort to lighten his sentence. Five British Muslims have already been sentenced to life in prison on his testimony, being accused of plotting an attack against a London nightclub. Momin is accused of having conspired with that group.
Reading the news has been rather surreal, seeing pictures of those parents that I had seen before at community events and mosque fundraisers, seeing our friends on television sharing their insight. The names being thrown around as unwilling participants in the alleged plot are names I see on my MSA mailing list. According to some of the testimony, “hockey” was used as a code-word for Paintball sessions in order to avoid suspicion; I’ve heard that corroborated by my own friends. Even some blogs I’ve read in the past have strange connections to the testimony being published throughout the world. It’s all very real and very local, and is equally as disturbing as it is frightening.
This is very different from the so-called “Toronto 18”, which is slowly being revealed as a complete sham of a case. No, the Ottawa arrest and the subsequent trial is far more calculated, far more drastic, with deeper ramifications for the future of national security policy and the place of Muslims in Canadian society.
Nothing is proven, of course, and the trial has only begun; it is expected to run for several more months. Undoubtedly, we will hear more testimony, more perspectives, and the overall picture will become clearer over time. In the meantime, I can only hope and pray that all is resolved in a just and fair manner.