Seeing the man almost as a big brother, he revealed the truth – and received something quite unlike the response of his parents and the imam, which he says was “more like a fearful warning to me, rather than a sincere ‘I care about you.’ ” Instead, Mr. Qureshi recalls, “he’s like, ‘What are you doing? You’re smarter than this.’ He didn’t say it condescendingly or mockingly like other intelligence people did. He said it more like mano a mano – man to man. “When he said that, I looked at myself kind of shamefully. ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Again his luck held and, despite confessing, he was sent home. But this time, “I knew I was going to live my life differently.”
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The chemistry with his Jordanian “big brother” seems remarkable, but it might not be that uncommon, says former hostage negotiator George Kohlrieser. A psychologist and professor at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, he has written extensively about how compassion can override destructive behaviour. He has seen desperate people ready to kill themselves or their hostages suddenly give up knowing full well they are going to prison. “These conversions sound almost miraculous, but they are possible in the person who doesn’t have a strong identity in themselves.”
But reintegration into Canadian society hasn’t been easy. “I had to break the guilt of religion,” Mr. Qureshi says. “That took a very long time.”
He shaved off his beard despite fearing he would be “going to hell” as an apostate and battled low self-esteem and loneliness, which turned to depression and suicidal thoughts. He became addicted to marijuana and oxycontin, he says. But he also worked in his father’s medical office, as well as in customer service for an ATM company – both experiences that built confidence. In 2011, he came across the CD series Your Wish Is Your Command, by self-help guru Kevin Trudeau.
Mr. Qureshi says his advice helped him overcome depression and kick his addictions. He attended seminars conducted by the Global Information Network, a marketing organization Mr. Trudeau endorses.
His parents were not impressed. They had taken him in again upon his return from Jordan but wanted him to live what he saw as a “traditional” life. They thought he could put his computer-science degree to better use – and they had found him a wife. (He passed on the latter.)
Last April, he returned from a car trip to Toronto at 3 a.m. to learn his parents’ patience had run out. A sheet of paper on the door informed him that they had kicked him out and, on the advice of police, changed the locks. He had become, the note read, a “nuisance” – never settled, never focused – and the cross-country drive to attend a Global Information Network seminar was the last straw.
“It kind of crushed me. And then I thought: You know what, I want a change in my life and I think this is good. I’ve got to go on my own,” he says.
Mr. Qureshi left Calgary last May and moved to Ottawa. He briefly held jobs in telemarketing and door-to-door sales. Now he writes poetry and has self-published a book, The Inauguration of the Modern Mind, under the name Darius Piroozi. He lives off savings and credit.
Looking back, he says, he doesn’t know if he was ever really a terrorist by actions or intentions – at least by the Western definition.
“I looked at it as I was doing my duty to God, pretty much,” he says, “Later on, I realized that’s … not who I was.”