What does it mean to welcome Omar Khadr? University students and the lesson of hospitality

Tyler J. Pollard interviews David L. Clark

lady_writing_a_letterEarlier this year, professor and public intellectual, Dr. David L. Clark, invited the President and Vice-Chancellor of McMaster University, Dr. Patrick Deane, to support offering Canadian citizen Omar Khadr a spot in the university’s first-year class. And he invited his fellow professors to join him in teaching Mr. Khadr remedial classes, should the young man be willing and able to attend McMaster. Dr. Clark’s initiative came directly on the heels of Mr. Khadr being granted bail from the Canadian prison to which he had been transferred after more than a decade of brutal incarceration in Guantanamo Bay at the hands of the now largely discredited U.S. Military Commission. Importantly, Dr. Clark’s challenge sparked a much-needed conversation about the responsibilities that public universities have to young people whose lives have been undone by Canada’s intensifying culture of fear and militarization. Expanding on his initial gesture of peace, Dr. Clark has now deepened his commitment to Mr. Khadr, young people, and the cultivation of what he describes in our previous interview as “a more just, democratic, and humane public sphere” by starting The Hospitality Project: Five Hundred Letters of Welcome to Omar Khadr:

As a way of affirming the irrepressible solidarities joining youth to youth, I am inviting undergraduate and graduate students at McMaster University and other Canadian public universities to write letters of encouragement to Mr. Omar Khadr—five hundred in all. These letters can be brief or long and about any topic, but written in the spirit of hospitality and in the name of peaceableness and humane reconciliation. It’s up to students to decide: a friendly greeting; a wish for good health and prosperity; an expression of solidarity; a reflection upon war; a desire for peace; a longing for understanding; an entreaty; a salut; an apology. As my colleague and friend, Dr. Susan Searls Giroux asks, “Can the university stand for peace?” My hope is that students will avidly take up this challenge, demonstrating by example the importance of fostering shared understandings rather than shared fears. Letters should be addressed to Mr. Khadr, care of 500goodwishes@gmail.com. Your return address will be removed. The letters will be posted for all to consider. When we reach five hundred letters, I will have them printed and delivered to Mr. Khadr.

clark.Q&A.imageIn the following interview, Dr. Clark discusses the social and conceptual contexts informing The Hospitality Project. Crucially, he considers how the project might encourage young people to think and act not with fear but with hope – a timely impetus, to be sure, given the degree to which “terror” has largely characterized the popular public and political discourse about Khadr. At the precise moment that Justice June Ross of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has lifted many of Khadr’s bail restrictions (one of which forced him to speak English with his family and to do so only in the presence of a chaperone – a most inhospitable constraint), Dr. Clark calls for students at McMaster and other Canadian public universities to stand for peace and justice in a time of seemingly permanent war.

Read the interview here

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