Freed man was raised in Breslau
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.