Freed man was raised in Bres­lau

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Greg Mercer, Record staff

KITCH­ENER — Joshua Boyle was in the sec­ond week of his se­nior year at Rock­way Men­non­ite Col­le­giate in Kitch­ener when the Twin Tow­ers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadly ter­ror at­tack ap­peared to leave a pro­found im­pact on him.

Boyle, raised in Bres­lau in a de­voutly Chris­tian fam­ily, would be­come fas­ci­nated with ter­ror­ism, Is­lam and the Mid­dle East. The Septem­ber 11 at­tacks sent rip­ples through his small, pri­vate high school, and sparked a cu­rios­ity that would even­tu­ally lead him to the hills of Afghanistan — and into the hands of an Afghan guer­rilla in­sur­gent group.

He and his Amer­i­can wife would spend five years of their lives as hostages, hav­ing three chil­dren in cap­tiv­ity, be­fore be­ing freed this week.

So how did a self-de­scribed “paci­fist Men­non­ite hip­py­child” from Bres­lau end up a hostage to a vi­o­lent ter­ror­ist group? That’s some­thing only Boyle can fully ex­plain.

But his roots in Water­loo Re­gion may help shed some light on what led him to that car trunk he was found in when Pak­istani forces res­cued him, af­ter a fire­fight with his kid­nap­pers.

As a teenager, he had a cu­ri­ous, thought­ful mind. Staff at Rock­way re­mem­bered him as a quiet, some­what in­tro­verted stu­dent with good grades and a cre­ative streak. He wasn’t in­volved in many ex­tracur­ric­u­lar pro­grams, liked to thumb his nose at author­ity and once trans­ferred to an­other Chris­tian pri­vate school in Ottawa for a year.

He ul­ti­mately re­turned to his Kitch­ener school to grad­u­ate, around the same time he was be­com­ing heav­ily in­volved in on­line gam­ing.

“When I was young I dis­cov­ered I was nei­ther God nor Satan. I was so dis­ap­pointed in my­self, I never both­ered to nar­row it down any fur­ther,” he wrote in his Rock­way year­book in 2002.

As a teenager, Boyle was an as­pir­ing writer. His Rock­way class­mates picked him as most “likely to have their novel on the NY Times Best­sellers” af­ter he grad­u­ated, and his teach­ers said he was skilled with words.

Boyle was ac­cepted into the Lib­eral Stud­ies pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Water­loo, grad­uat-

ing in 2005, but by then his fo­cus was way beyond lit­er­a­ture. He spent count­less hours writ­ing Wikipedia ar­ti­cles on Is­lam, Nazism and ter­ror­ism — not ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy, but be­cause he thought it was im­por­tant for peo­ple to un­der­stand them, friends say.

As his ac­tivism grew, he be­came fa­mous for a brief mar­riage to Zaynab Khadr, the sis­ter of Omar Khadr, the Cana­dian who spent 10 years at Guan­tanamo Bay af­ter be­ing cap­tured in a fire­fight at an al-Qaida com­pound in Afghanistan. He learned how to speak Ara­bic, grew close to the Khadr fam­ily and acted as their spokesper­son.

“Josh ded­i­cated sev­eral years of his life to ad­vo­cat­ing for Omar, a com­plete stranger who was vil­i­fied by the Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional press. Read­ing between the lines, I’m pretty sure Josh sac­ri­ficed a lot in the process,” said Alex Ed­wards, an Ottawa Val­ley na­tive who was friends with Boyle.

“He was out­raged that a Cana­dian child was locked up in an il­le­gal prison, so he de­cided to do some­thing about it.”

Boyle, well-known in the on­line gam­ing com­mu­nity, was also a sci­ence fic­tion fan, and bonded with Khadr’s daugh­ter over the TV show “Fire­fly,” a space/western tele­vi­sion se­ries.

Ed­wards, who grew close to Boyle through an on­line Star Wars­themed video game, said the Rock­way grad was an in­tensely pri­vate per­son. And while he’s a com­pli­cated guy, Ed­wards said, he isn’t fool­ish.

“I take ex­cep­tion to the way Josh has been de­scribed as ‘naïve’ for vis­it­ing Afghanistan. Josh is many things, but he’s never been even a lit­tle naive. On the con­trary — he’s one of the most savvy peo­ple I’ve ever known,” he said, in an email.

He re­called Boyle as highly in­tel­li­gent, so­phis­ti­cated, prin­ci­pled, and ded­i­cated to the causes he em­braced.

“I can sort of un­der­stand why he went to Afghanistan — he knew quite a lot about it al­ready from his stud­ies, he thought it was im­por­tant to get first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence in a coun­try that has be­come cen­tral to mod­ern pol­i­tics,” Ed­wards said.

“And he thought that since the U.S. mil­i­tary was sup­posed to be leav­ing shortly there­after, it was his last chance to visit in rel­a­tive safety. He was wrong, but I can’t call him naive.”

Af­ter univer­sity, Boyle bounced between jobs. The last time Ed­wards saw him in per­son, he said he was work­ing as an air­port park­ing lot at­ten­dant. Later, he took a job as clerk at a small town hall in New Brunswick.

His faith has al­ways been a big part of his life, and friends say he was staunchly op­posed to war, vi­o­lence, and abor­tion. His peacelov­ing men­tal­ity was forged dur­ing his time at Bres­lau Men­non­ite Church.

“Chris­tian­ity was ab­so­lutely a mo­ti­vat­ing force for him. He was in­ter­ested in learn­ing about other re­li­gions, and in see­ing what life was like for their ad­her­ents, but al­ways from a Chris­tian per­spec­tive,” Ed­wards said.

His friend said he’s re­lieved to learn Boyle and his fam­ily have been freed. As for how they were able to sur­vive the past five years as hostages, Ed­wards said he could only guess.

“I have no idea how he was able to sur­vive. Josh has al­ways been very good at un­der­stand­ing other peo­ple, and he has a deep in­ter­est in Is­lam and Afghanistan, so maybe he was able to cul­ti­vate some good­will from his cap­tors in or­der to make life eas­ier,” he said.

Joshua Boyle

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