Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hope and Despair - Book Review

Hope and Despair
by Monia Mazigh
Translated from French by Patricia Claxton and Fred Reed
McClelland and Stewart 2008
Maher Arar Website
Kerry Pither

In November last year, I previewed a book written by Monia Mazigh, about her husband Maher Arar who was sent to (renditioned) Syria by the USA to be tortured, just because the USA thought he was a terrorist.

I have finally read this book - borrowed from the library - so I can now offer my opinion on this book. Once again, I read this straight through and could not put it down. It is not a large book - barely 260 pages. I read it in just 5 hours (6pm to 11pm) last night.

Maher Arar was born in Syria in 1970, the youngest of 6 children. In 1987 at the age of 17, he and his family immigrate to Canada, specifically so he would not have to do his compulsory militsayr sevice. Maher become a Canadian citizen in 1991 at the age of 21.

Maher attended McGill university in Montreal, where he was completing a degree in computer engineering. There he met Monia Mazigh. Monia is an arab fom Tunisia in North Africa. She had been raised speaking French and Arabic. Monia had immigrated to Quebec in 1990 at age 20 so she could continue her studies. Her brother was already in Canada, and he had sponsored her. Monia was also a student at McGill University where she was working on a PhD in finance and economics.

Maher and Monia were married in 1994. Their first child, a daughter Baraa, was born in 1997. Their second child, a son Houd, was born in early 2002. In the summer of 2002 the family took a 3 months vacation in Tunisia so Monia could see her family and her family could see theuir new grandchildren. Monia had not seen her family for 10 years.

Towards the end of the vacation, Maher was heading home to Canada early so that he would get back to work at his new start up company. A possible new contract had arrived and Maher needed to get home to make the sale. He promised to call his wife as soon as he got home to Montreal. Maher never arrived home.

When the family had gone on vacation, their baby son was just 4 months old, he did not have a full Canadian passport, only a Canadian travel permit valid for the three months the vacation was supposed to be. Maher had taken the permit back to canada with him in the hopes that he would get it renewed and then he would send the new one to Monia. The permit expired several days after Maher disappeared.

Monia was stuck in Tunisia alone with her two children. Two days after Maher disappeared, Monia called the Candian embassy in Tunis and she called Maher's lawyer in Ottawa. The embassy could not do anything apart from contacting the Consular services department in Ottawa and try and get some answers. Another 3 days passed before Monia got the call from Maher's mother that he had called, asked for a lawyer and said that he might be going to Syria. He had then hung up.

Monia called the laweyer back to tell them this information. The lawyer said that she needed to get an American lawyer. The consul from the Canadian consulate in New York City, went to the prison and visited Maher. Monia was told that Maher looked well,was asking after his wife and kids and that he was being charged with being an al-Qaeda terrorist. Monia was shocked. He was not an terrorist, and he had never participated in any terorist activities.

A month after Maher went missing, Monia was told that he was deported by the American govermnt to Syria. A coutry he had not lived in for over 15 years.

When Monia and her two children finally returned home to Canada, Maher was assumed to be a terrorist, jut because the Americans ha said he was.

This book details the struggles Monia had in Canada. In order to survive, to feed abd clothe and raise her two young children. Monia was forced to go on Welfare. Fortunately she did not have to work, because she still had a young baby. The money was not much, but it kept the family together and alive.

Monia also worked tirelessly telling the Canadian and American governments that her husband was NOT a terrorist and that USA had renditioned him purely because he was of the wrong race and because he was born in the wrong country. It took 13 months before Maher was finally released. It took another 2 years before the Canadfian giovernmenbt apologised to him for their part in his rendition.

The USA refuses to apologise. The USA still claims that Maher is a terrorist. And the USA still has Maher listed on their No-Fly lists. They refuse to remove his name.

I read this book for the Second Canadian Book Challenge.

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