So on my last post, I talked about how I was preparing for an interview with Sophie Harkat, the wife of Mohamed Harkat, a man under house arrest with alleged links to al-Qaeda. Most of his restrictions have been lifted, the biggest one being that “Mo”, as Sophie calls him, no longer needs to be under surveillance by his wife 24/7.
Sophie and Mo had expected to live normal, quiet lives, maybe start a family. She never expected to become a human rights activist, fighting for her life and her husband’s against big government and its nine judges in ridiculous Santa Clause outfits at the Supreme Court. She learned how to use the system, that is, the courts, the government and the media, all at one time fighting against her, to fight for her husband. All this while being the wife of a so-called “al-Qaeda sleeper cell”.
I sat down with the two of them to figure out what this experience meant to them as a couple. What is it like to be married to a man for less than a year and then one day find out that he may have been connected to arguably the most traumatic and paradigm-shifting experience of our generation, 9/11. What do you do, when you spend three years talking to your husband behind glass to overnight becoming practically attached to him at the hip? This is a fascinating story of a woman who, perhaps local to our standards, was thrust into matters of national and international importance.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview. It is not completely verbatim, as some words and phrases were cut out in this entry for clarity.
Yamina: So for the past three years your job has been to watch your husband. Do you intend to go back to work?
Sophie: My job has been full time, unpaid jailer. Unpaid. I don’t get paid to do this. We are forced to live on welfare, both of us cannot work in these conditions. Because he needed 24 hour supervision inside or outside the home. So basically we were forced to live on welfare... It’s dehumanizing. It’s degrading to be on that. yes, I had a career before that. I used to work for the government, I used to work for the national gallery. Now I’m looking at some positions I think that I would over qualify for I think. So I’m looking at a big position right now.
Yamina: What are the challenges you faced as a couple?
Sophie: Well when he first got released, was it ever hard. Because I’ve been living on my own. I mean we’ve been married, but living on my own for three years. And he’s under a regime in jail, and I’m free for three years. And then he gets released and now I’m stuck at home. And he puts his shampoo bottle there and I put my shampoo bottle there and he hates it and I hate it. And we were fighting every minute of the day. ...And then we have to learn to know each other again. For three years we don’t hug, we don’t do nothing because we have glass between us to living together. We’re not the same people we were. We’re two different individuals..But with time he’s become my best friends. And I know him in and out and I miss him when he’s gone...But this thing has actually made us strong.
Yamina: Have friends and family have always been really supportive?
Sophie: Family, some of them, at first, it was a little bit hard...of course everyone has doubts, I think it’s normal. After 9/11 everybody’s scared. My husband’s Muslim. I’m not. “Why did you marry a Muslim?” I got that question asked a lot...But no, with time, everything fell in place. I lost one friend in the whole process... And I realized he’s not that good of a friend first of all and I’m way better off without him. He was so depressive anyways. Depressing. We don’t like to be around depressing people. I’ve lost one friend and we’ve gained about a million. So it doesn’t matter. Here in Ottawa, on Monday, the court room was packed, packed, packed...
Yamina: Now what are the next steps for the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee?
Sophie: We will be putting public pressure, to make sure they know we’re out there. We’re on the verge of something big. What happened on Monday was huge. But we’re really pushing for the abolition of the process itself. Completely. They [security certificates] should not be under existence. People should be tried and charged and it should be under the Criminal Code. There is a law in place that already works, so it should be under the criminal code. All conditions abolished. The facility in Kingston to be demolished and the security certificate to be abolished. We’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to keep doing public events and lobbying and all that for the next couple of weeks until he gets his trial in January. Which we hope will not happen.
Yamina: So what does that mean for you to be labelled a “terrorist’s” wife?
Sophie: Oh I don’t give a damn. I really don’t care. I don’t care what people think. If that bothers you that’s not my problem. I never cared from day one. To me, it’s not an important label. To me, I’m his wife, period.
Well there you have it. Those were some highlights from the interview. I won’t add anymore, because I think the interview speaks for itself.
To find out how you can get involved visit: http://www.justiceforharkat.com/news.php
Also, check out this 2005 clip of Sophie speaking to the public when she found out her husband was arrested--on Human Rights Day, no less: http://citizenshift.org/node/801&dossier_nid=1116