Who is Maher Arar? We all know the basic contours of his story. In 2002,
U.S. officials detained the Canadian software engineer at New York City's
John F. Kennedy International Airport. They alleged that he was linked to
al-Qaeda and secretly deported him to Syria, where he says he was tortured.
When Arar was freed more than a year later and the public got a glimpse of
him, he seemed to be a likable, hard-working family man caught up in a
monstrous international screwup. Was there more? Simultaneously, officials,
most of them anonymous, were leaking information and dropping hints
suggesting that Arar was a security risk with something to hide.
Well, if Arar is a terrorist, he is unlike any other. In contrast to other
suspects dispatched to harsh justice, Arar did not vanish into oblivion in
his Middle East cell. Nor, after his release, did he recoil from public
view. Instead, Arar, who has a modest home in Ottawa, has stepped into the
spotlight as a vocal proponent of human rights in Canada, a symbol of how
fear and injustice have permeated life in the West since 9/11. To this day,
it has not been revealed why Arar was detained. And no one has pushed
harder to shed light on his case than Arar. "I have nothing to hide," he
said in late 2003. "I want a public inquiry…"
Canada's Muslims and Arabs, especially those who are from "problem
countries" with suspected links to terrorism, can easily identify with
them, says Riad Saloojee, head of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations-Canada. Among Arar's many supporters, the perception is that what
happened to him could happen to almost anyone else. Muslims "live in the
shadow of Arar," Saloojee says