“Jihad” is a story/thought experiment about our legal system coming to grips with restorative life insurance. What happens to someone who is charged with a crime committed by his later self? It is also about the Canadian immigrant experience, a few years down the road.
It’s Canada Day. But he and Laila are not at any of the usual patriotic festivities—they wander the heat-softened asphalt of the Playland midway breathing vivid airs of onion rings, candy floss and puke. They don’t speak, except with clasped hands and their eyes—of lying entangled and sticky on sun-struck sheets, that long holiday morning. The Maple Leaf snaps overhead. Hucksters lean from booths offering three balls, knock down the jugs and win a bear for her—Javeed waves them off, knowing the game is fixed. Now she points to something she wants—a flailing horror of cartoon teacups. He laughs—“No, Laila! My stomach won’t stand it. Let’s try that one” —the ferris wheel, stately benches rising into the blue view in which lovers can lose themselves. But she has pulled away. A carny opens a door and she almost collapses into the arms of Canadian strangers. The machine starts up, leaving him, Javeed the engineer, inspecting the mechanism, greased rods and pistons blackly abused. A bolt is loose. “Laila!” She spins up, and then he knows—but cannot watch her fly off the handle.
Javeed finds himself on his back under a light blanket, full of panic that begins to fade as he sorts out dream from reality. On his cot in the Detention Centre. Again. How many times has he woken, in just one night, to find himself here? The light is too bright. He understands why they keep a light on. But why so bright?
The first of how many nights?
The first and only! He did nothing wrong. This is Canada, not Tehran; not the hell-hole of Guantanamo either. Canada is a country of peace, as he learned in immigration class, and good government—and a third thing, order—gentle and tolerant, welcoming of newcomers. The lawyer will return and explain everything at tedious length. There will be apologies all round. They will let him go home. Let him go…where? He heard his address had changed. Home to what, exactly?
They said he was charged with…. “That’s insane! You’re talking about my wife and my friend!” But it’s useless to argue with the police.
It’s chilly in the cell. Stuffy, too. But chilly.
They also said it’s 2088. He knows that’s possible. Two and a half years could go by, and it would seem to him like no time at all, as though two and a half years could be sandwiched between two slices of yesterday. Yesterday, for Javeed, is the day after the agd, his wedding, at Laila’s parents’ home. The sofreh, mirror and candlesticks were heirlooms his father preserved for years in their old house in Isfahan where Javeed grew up. Naser’s family lived across the road. In the mirror, Javeed and Laila chased each other’s eyes. When they asked him whether he wanted to marry her, he said yes right away. Then they asked her whether she wanted to marry him. She smiled, and was silent. Her parents yelled, “She’s gathering flowers!” They asked again; only her eyes replied. Her parents shouted, “She’s fetching rose water!” They asked a third time, and she spoke softly, “Yes.” And laughed.
As a new husband he had new duties, one of which was to ensure that his bride was provided for in case of catastrophe. That is why, on the day after his agd, he visited the North Vancouver branch of Prudential Life Assurance. Naser, who went with him for company, wasn’t interested in taking out his own policy. “When I get married, I’ll buy insurance too. Not now.”
“When will you get married?” Javeed teased.
That happened yesterday in Javeed’s experience—two and a half years ago in objective reality.
And yesterday, in his experience and objective reality, he waited in the cubicle for the agent—a young woman with a shy smile and flashing tooth implant—to knock and tell him his scan was complete, he could go pick up Laila and take off on their honeymoon (kept short by work commitments, a planned trip to Nebraska to inspect experimental trackside applicators), instead of which a guy—head-shaved, emaciated—barged in and said the police were there to talk to him. Which they were—right behind the guy, but not, it seemed, to talk. When they hustled Javeed through the outer office in restraints, he looked for Naser, but his friend had left.
Outside, chilly rain and a sombre, failing light. It was a sweet April morning when he and Naser walked into the Prudential office from the pink tree-lined avenue, brushing blossoms from their shoulders. A young morning bursting with life and love.
At the station they took his belt and phone, so he couldn’t check the time. But the grim-faced cop who questioned Javeed told him the time: 5:15 PM. And the date. The cop asked him to repeat the date, did he understand? “No.” He asked why Javeed went to the Prudential office. “To take out life insurance.” Did he buy a policy? “Yes.” What were the terms of the policy, in the event of his death?
On the wall behind the cop’s chair, an impressive collection of gold-faced plaques—for marksmanship or something, Javeed assumed—was arranged in a pyramid. One of his feet bounced rhythmically; he forced it to stop. “Are you saying I died?”
“I’m the one asking the questions.” The cop waited, then gave an exaggerated shrug. “What do you think, Javeed?”
Why else would his policy have kicked in? “Okay, what did I die of?”
“We’ll get to that. Anyone go with you to the Prudential office?”
“My friend Naser,” Javeed blurted before realizing he should be more cautious. “I want to talk to my lawyer.” But he had to admit to not having one. The cop read him his rights: he could use a Detention Centre phone to find legal counsel, and consult with counsel. “Apart from that, you get one call a day. That’s a privilege that can be taken away. Don’t try to communicate with anyone involved in your case.”
“With…who do you mean?”
“You know who those people are.”
“No,” said Javeed. “I don’t.”
“Right. What was Naser’s last name?” Javeed kept quiet, and the cop told him Naser’s last name, Yavari. “Playing around won’t help you.”
Javeed felt unfairly manipulated. “Why did you ask Naser’s last name when you already knew it?”
“Pissing us off won’t help either, prick.”
Javeed’s face began to burn. No one in Canada had ever spoken to him like that. Policemen went out of their way to help him during his first, bewildering weeks in Vancouver. “Look,” he spoke up, “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
The cop searched his face. “How would you know, Javeed? You don’t have a clue what you’ve done in the last two-and-a-half years.”
“I’ve done nothing since—the day after I got married. Literally nothing at all.”
That’s when the cop told him what he was charged with.
“That’s not true!” Javeed spoke with conviction, which he felt—until he met the cop’s eyes and became confused. What he saw there made no more sense than the words he’d just heard, which he could not believe. He wanted to deny them again, more stridently, but felt that would only weaken his case, because he could not, after all, know what happened. He only knew what he himself was capable of—and incapable of. What the cop told him was unbearable and unimaginable. Therefore impossible. “Anyway—whatever happened,” he blundered on, “I had nothing to do with it. I was a file on one of Prudential’s servers.”
“The law doesn’t see it that way.” The cop turned to his notes, while Javeed read the plaques on the wall—for excellence in dog handling. After a while, the cop shook his head emphatically. “Why,” he said more to himself than Javeed, “do people like you come to this country?”
The cop was right about the law, according to the lawyer Javeed talked to later. Yesterday. He searched local listings for legal counsel, and answered the first ad that said, “Specializing in insurance cases.” A call came back right away. Impressed, Javeed accepted the rate quote without question. “I normally work for a percentage,” Darren told him, “but in your case I can’t. I mean, percentage of what?”
“Just help me, please,” said Javeed. “I’m a victim of injustice.”
“I hear you, bud. In my experience, if you think you have whiplash, you probably do.”
This baffled Javeed. “I don’t have whiplash.”
“Don’t ever say that! Working with me, that’s rule one.”
“How did I get into this trouble!” Javeed was ashamed to hear panic in his own voice. “I didn’t do anything!”
“I can’t be prosecuted for something I didn’t do!”
“Uh-huh,” said Darren.
“Uh-huh? What does uh-huh mean?”
Darren let him hang for a moment. “Javeed,” he said firmly, “I’m on your team.”
“Sure,” said Javeed. “Sorry.”
“The law wasn’t built in a day. In this country, the system is based on precedents.”
Javeed knew that; the point was covered by Information for Immigrants. “What are the precedents in my case?”
Darren had to duck out on another call. When he came back, he said he was out of time that day. Yesterday. There was only time to take Javeed’s credit information.
“The precedents are my side, aren’t they?” Javeed persisted. “A person can’t be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, that’s basic, isn’t it?”
“In principle,” said Darren. “These cases are pretty recent; the law is still working itself out. How long have we had life insurance, anyway, in its present form? Bet it’s not more than five years. Don’t it seem a lifetime ago? Those days when we had to worry about getting killed by some piss-ass accident or home invader or whatever? Javeed. A pleasure to do business. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Now, under his thin blanket and the bluish light, on what he understands is a dark November morning, Javeed wonders how long he should wait for that call.
By 4:45 PM he is desperate enough to take the initiative. “Javeed!” Darren answers brightly. “How are you, bud?”
“How do you think I am?”
“Stay positive, Javeed. I’m on your file as we speak!” Darren launches into precedents. Javeed gets the impression Darren is reading, but doesn’t waste time thinking about that; he has to concentrate on the words, as he concentrated in engineering class during the final lecture before exams, listening for hints disguised as points of emphasis, lifelines to the alert.
“Rex vs Phan, 2086. Accused built a distribution network for psychotropic pharmas to elementary schools in Etobicoke. Funneled the proceeds offshore. Investigator underwent a full-body transplant to pose as an eleven-year-old girl. At take-down, Phan came out waving a weapon. Police snipers nailed him. Phan’s piece was not armed. The case went to jury trial. The prosecutor succeeded in establishing intent. Phan hadn’t refreshed his insurance backup for two years. He figured he’d beat the law by dying, then enjoy his illgotten gains as an innocent man. What a sweetheart! The jury found he’d planned the whole thing, and convicted. When was your last backup, Javeed? Dumb question, you already answered it.
“More drug cases, property crime. All ended in convictions. Looks like intent was part of how they got it done. Jurors don’t let crooks scam the system that easily; righteous indignation nailed those guys. But…I don’t see intent cited as a reason to convict. Interesting. Here’s one, Rex vs Capicollo, 2087.”
“Who’s Rex?” Javeed gets in.
“The crown. Rex means the king.”
“Chuckie IV himself. A technicality, Javeed, forget it.”
Javeed shakes his head, trying to shed the weirdness of it all. “In Iran,” he says, “the Shah was deposed in 1979, over one hundred years ago. Some people call Iran a backward nation.”
“This was a murder case,” Darren rattles on, “like yours, although the guy had made his backups. Last one just ten days prior to the event. Gangland rivalry. Six heads stuck on palisades surrounding the rival family’s cemetery plot, quite a gruesome surprise when they went to pay their respects to their deceased don. The bodies were found in a farmer’s field. Real old-school. Of course those six all had insurance too, so when they were restored the charge was reduced to attempted murder. And that stuck—even though Capicollo said he didn’t do it, same as you. I think I remember him—wasn’t he carved up in jail? By a couple of guys from the other gang, ones he’d personally decapitated? Wanted on other charges, arrested when they were restored, just like you. They were smart enough not to kill him. They just cut him, for as long as they could. Used flame too. The prison hospital healed him up just fine, but before that came hours of excruciating pain he’d never forget.”
Javeed is bewildered by the barrage of words. “What has this got to do with me? You’re talking about a murderer!”
“That’s what I said. Though technically not.”
“They’re all criminals. I’m not like that!”
“You wouldn’t be my client if you were,” Darren says warmly. Javeed tries to find reassurance in that. “Bottom line, every precedent says you’re the same person. If Javeed killed your wife and friend, you killed your wife and friend. Makes sense, don’t it? If you weren’t the same person, would you bother getting insured? So those are the parameters we have to work with. Javeed. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Javeed decides to use his one personal call of the day to touch base with the office. Above all, he must protect his job. He is surprised when Laureen answers the call instead of the receptionist. “Javeed!” She sounds shocked to hear from him.
“Hey, Laureen, I’m glad I got you. I’m in a kind of jam. I doubt I can get in to work this week. Any idea what’s on my plate?”
“Javeed,” she says haltingly, “doesn’t work here any more.”
“Wake up, Laureen, this is Javeed.”
“Javeed Amiri hasn’t worked at Delmar since last March.”
Javeed almost drops the phone as another piece of his life comes crashing down. “What happened?”
“I can’t help you. I could put you through to his supervisor if you want.”
“Hey, Laureen, we’re buds, we went out together.” He hears a terrified gasp. Obviously she knows about this mess and is spooked. “I was just hoping you’d give me a heads up.” Javeed sighs. “Okay, let me talk to Colin.”
Colin is even more guarded. He confirms that Javeed was laid off in March. “It was a business slowdown, Javeed, nothing at all personal. You weren’t the only one affected.”
“Laid off? Does that mean you’ll hire me back when things pick up?”
“You are positively on the list, Javeed, if you’re available when the time comes. I’ve recorded it as a leave of absence. We’ll just have to wait and see—everyone’s entitled to their day in court.” Javeed gets a mental picture of Colin’s best team-leader smile as wraps up, “All of us at Delmar wish you the very best, Javeed.”
Sometime in midafternoon of Javeed’s third day in the DC, he has another conversation with Darren—this call initiated by the lawyer, who opens with good news. One less murder charge stands against him. Laila, it turns out, had life insurance too.
“She’s alive?” Javeed asks, his world flipping over once too often, like on a midway ride. “No way was she insured! She told me everything.”
“Probably didn’t occur to her. Her parents took out policies for the whole family the day it was offered to the public. Twenty-year-olds think they’re immortal; they don’t get excited about insurance, like the old farts. But she had her regular backups, the last one in October. She’s pretty up to date, only missing three weeks.”
Laila alive! It was only a bad dream. “When can I see her?”
Darren clears his throat. “Javeed, that’s problematic.”
“But Laila’s my wife!”
“She thinks you killed her, bud. Why would she want to see you?”
Javeed finds Darren’s illogicality unbearable. “You just said I didn’t.”
“Tried to kill her,” Darren concedes. “The charge is reduced—to attempted. And the other murder charge still stands.”
“Naser.” A wave of guilt and sorrow crashes over Javeed. He could have tried harder to persuade his friend to be cautious for once. To refuse a simple precaution against catastrophe is to tempt the devil. Naser would laugh at that superstition, but Javeed knows it’s true. Even if it weren’t true, life insurance is not expensive. Naser would have bought it if Javeed had asked him seriously, as a friend. He should have—driving ambulance is a hazardous occupation. But Javeed, risen from his wedding bed, was thinking only about his new life, not his old friend.
The same friend he now stands accused of murdering.
“And since we’re into the bad news,” says Darren, “there’s a new thing, a terrorism charge, laid on you this morning. The Crown has cooked up a theory that sometime in the last two years you morphed into an Islamic nutter. Which means your chances of bail have dropped past zero. Sorry, bud, but there’s sweet fuck-all I can do about it. Javeed? Bud! You there?”
Laila alive! Suddenly, this new world holds someone who belongs to Javeed. The person he loves the most. And that makes the rest of it much worse, because it’s real, he now knows, and the reality is crushing, insupportable. Laila alive, but Naser dead. He remembers Naser’s parents in Isfahan, how they loved him. Everybody loved Naser, even Laila. Why can’t he see her? Tried to kill her. Javeed feels no connection with that. If—his body—did that, then it must have been controlled by someone else. Or something. A software virus, a worm. An implant. A demon. It doesn’t matter; he’s free of it now. Whatever infected and possessed him during those two-and-a-half years, is no longer part of him. He caught a virus, and crashed. But now he’s been restored from an uninfected backup—healthy, whole, himself. “I am innocent,” he pleads. “Get me out of here.”
“Can’t do, bud,” Darren repeats in an uncharacteristically gentle voice. “You’ve to go through due process. Suck it up, Javeed. I’ll call you in a couple of days. Make that next week.”
Because Javeed’s tablet was seized as evidence, he puts in a request for one of the Centre’s. It comes heavily censored; most sites he tries to access are blocked. Even the engineering texts in his personal library are off-limits; he must apply for permission to read each title, and is not told how long that could take. Most of what he can access is old, mostly novels. Javeed considers fiction a waste of time for adults. Standard religious texts are available. He finds himself paging through the Qur’an—wondering why, since he doesn’t believe a word of it. But that’s not quite true. The major religions would not have had staying power if they did not answer human needs. Browsing the Qur’an—which his father used to read aloud at home—he realizes that a great deal of it is practical advice for getting by in a difficult and troubling world. Something he stands in need of right now, no longer having a close friend like Naser to whom he can unburden himself.
Did you suppose, he reads, that you would go to Paradise untouched by the suffering which was endured by those before you? Affliction and adversity befell them; and so shaken were they that each apostle, and those who shared his faith, cried out: ‘When will God’s help come?’
Javeed checks the tablet’s clock—nearly suppertime in the DC, the sullen lineup in the caf. Not today, I guess. He reads on. Surely God’s help is ever near. It would be nice to believe that.
But he knows he must look out for himself; no one else will.
How many days?
First thing Monday, he presses Darren for a schedule.
“No date’s been set, Javeed. The prosecutor’s barely touched the file. Wheels of justice, bud.”
“Justice?” Javeed explodes. “I’m sitting here while my life fall into ruins!”
“I’ll make a call,” Darren offers. “But don’t expect much. The crown won’t be hasty on this one—it’s too high profile. You know you’re famous, Javeed? The love-triangle terrorist.”
The phrase, smacking of an internet search term, nauseates Javeed. Will he ever be able to return to work? Colin will replace him, has probably already run the ad. It doesn’t matter how good he was, how many hours of unpaid overtime he gave the company, there won’t be an opening for him at Delmar. And since there won’t be, then where, in the whole field of Canadian engineering, will there ever be an opening?
“I can’t afford to wait.”
“On that,” says Darren, “your wife wants to sell the condo. Half the equity will go to you. You’ll get a letter soon. The market’s not too shabby now, I’d advise going for it.”
Javeed swallows hard. The condo, which he and Laila talked about endlessly, was a far off dream. Now shattered. To be sold, before he even got to see the place. He struggles to stay focussed. “Darren, how long before you would expect a case like mine to come to trial?”
“If it were just murder and terrorism,” says Darren, “…years.”
“But the rule of thumb doesn’t apply in your case, which is unique.”
Javeed groans. “My life is over.”
“No, bud! Because it’s an insurance case, and it’s a bit different, the Crown is motivated to set a precedent sooner rather than later. If they wait until more cases crop up, there will be a real headache for everyone. I’m going to stick my neck out and say you’ll get your day in court inside six months.”
Javeed feels a stab of panic. “No way, can’t we speed this up?”
“You’re in the HOV lane! Still not happy? Javeed, there’s one way to accelerate the process. The prosecution would be delighted.”
“Waive your right to a jury trial. Let the judge decide. If you offered that, you could be heard in…two months. Maybe. But forget I said it, you don’t want to do that.”
“No. Because the facts are clear. Which brings it all down to judicial precedent. And the judge will apply precedent, because he has no choice. Juries are different. They’re only supposed to decide on the facts, but there’s a wild card, which is the jurors’ sense of justice and fairness. Even if the facts are obvious, which they are, every detail recorded by security cameras—even then, the judge can’t order them to convict, and if the jury feels that a conviction would be wrong, they won’t convict. Maybe. A jury trial is your best and only chance, Javeed.”
Javeed wonders how Darren can be so sure. He sounds the way Javeed does when he talks about tribometers or viscosity, inertia and resistance. But Darren is discussing people’s feelings, a subject about which Javeed rarely feels confident. “I want to get this over with!” he pleads. “I want out of here!”
“Those are two different things. You need to keep costs down? Easy—just don’t call me.”
“But you’re my lawyer.”
“Javeed, you have the right to call me whenever you want. The clock’s running, that’s all. Your file’s on top of my stack, bud. As soon as something happens, you’ll hear about it.”
“I should sit in this stinking cell waiting for you to call?”
Darren sighs. “Javeed, I know it’s tough. No bail and all.”
“I have no one else to talk to.”
“No way, there must be somebody. In Iran, maybe?”
Javeed recalls his mother’s face—her war against the desert dust that invaded their square grey home—her anxiety about preparing his father’s tea on time every day. “My parents don’t know yet. They have no understanding of things like this. I have to figure out how to explain it to them, so as not to kill them.” How can he, when he can’t explain it to himself?
“I hear you, Javeed. Tell you what”—Darren sighs again, painfully—“you can call me, no charge. But not in office hours. Tuesday nights, 8 o’clock, I’ll take your call. I shouldn’t do this, it’s against the lawyers’ creed.”
“I appreciate this, Darren.”
But Javeed calls Darren early the next morning. Over the lawyer’s protest, he demands to waive his right to a jury trial.
“You know you’re tying my hands, don’t you bud?”
“I did nothing wrong,” Javeed insists. “The judge will be fair. He is Canadian.”
Javeed’s journal: Dec. 26th, 2088. Nothing happened again this week. The whole country’s shut down for the Big Eat. (Turkey and stuffing last night, mashed potatoes, gravy and non-alcoholic ‘champagne’. And a heavy pudding—still a lump in my gut this morning, although I only ate half.) Even Darren wouldn’t talk to me Tuesday night—panic shopping for his wife and kid.
Yesterday, I tried hard to make my mother understand what has happened to me, but she doesn’t get it. Mostly she just cried. And my father won’t stay in the room when I’m on the phone. His best friend is Naser’s dad. Was. Now he can’t face his friend. My mother said, “Your father is covered in shame.” So what am I covered in?
I told her I’d clear my name soon! But delay follows delay in this messed-up system. I did learn my judge’s name: Mr. Justice Zhengzhong Mackenzie. I looked up his record—he seems fair. All I need is someone to consider my case without prejudice. (Darren doesn’t agree.) I’m not a gangster or drug lord, trying to escape justice! And I’m sure as hell not a terrorist, although that’s what seems to spook everybody. I only want to work as an engineer, build a life for myself in this country. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. (Besides Laila, who still won’t talk to me.) Judge Mackenzie will see who I really am!
I think Laila’s parents have turned her against me. She remembers nothing, of course, and they have filled her mind with their own version of what happened. But why would she let them? Why wouldn’t she dig around for the truth?
I’ve been digging around, to the best of my ability, which isn’t much. They’ve stuck me in a little cell in net space too. At least it has a few narrow windows I can peek through and learn things. But most of what I know comes from Darren, who has his own bias. Sometimes I think I chose my lawyer too hastily. But I’ve invested so much, I can’t afford to start over with somebody else. And Darren does listen to me, although we don’t always agree. I didn’t think so at first, but he actually has a heart.
What do I really know? What the Cormorant Café’s security camera saw.
I just wish I knew what to say to my parents.
Continued in episode 2…