Filed under: War on Terror | Tags: Al-Jazeera, Guantánamo, Prisoner 345, Sami Al-Haj
The discussion on Guantánamo Bay has lost all importance to Americans. The candidates are not asked the serious questions and in the interim, hundreds of innocent captives continue to languish, without fair trails and without the ability to see their loved ones. How many people are outraged at the desecration of that sacred value we proudly claim our liberal democracy rests on?
Those few who are outraged blame the media and neglect to blame the real culprit: ourselves. Yes, we the people are not only complicit in this, we in fact perpetuate this. The media asks questions about lapel pins and Rev. Jeremiah Wright not because they want to brainwash us, it is because that is what we as a society deem important.
I always hear people lamenting about how more people watch American Idol than know what is occurring in Iraq. Yes, that is a problem, but it is not the media’s fault. We as a society would rather discuss Simon Cowell than David Petraeus. In fact, I would go so far as to say that more people know who Simon Cowell is than who David Petraeus is. Is that the media’s fault? No. The media is only a reflection of the culture which it serves. To be fair, the American people are slowing realizing this and perhaps, the latest debate opened peoples eyes to this chicanery. Poet’s Musings calls ABC All But Comatose and I think a lot of people were taken back by the questions asked of the candidates. He writes
Two wars, economic collapse, environmental collapse, the largest prison population in the industrial world, a chasm between rich and poor, no solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, a Vice President who wants to be a dictator and who got liquored up and shot his friend in the face, a circus clown as president, a Congress that seems to be on a permanent morphine-drip, a Supreme Court that looks like the Spanish Inquisition, a concentration camp in Guantanamo, a Justice Department that argued in favor of torture up to the brink of organ failure, the use of ethanol helping to worsen famine worldwide (feed cars, not people), the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and so on–and what do Fatuous Gibson and George Boretheshitoutofus ask about?:
Flag pins, the Bosnian tarmac 15 years ago, a retired pastor, and the word “bitter.” I’m now convinced that all journalists except Helen Thomas have been taken over by the pod-people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and are incapable of asking pertinent questions.
Unfortunately, most of us do not actually see a problem with making lapel pins an actual election issue. As unimportant as he and I may see that issue, the fact remains that many Americans actually do care a lot about lapel pins and the like and so, in that regard, the truly comatose are you and I.
Back to subject at hand. Guantánamo has lost its place in the dominant discourse because it has always remained on the periphery of what we as a culture see as important. For the most part, when the issue is raised by Democratic Congressman, it is only for the sake of tarnishing Republicans. It is all about political semantics and that is all that we as a culture are concerned with. Tackling the morality of the issue would make most of us realize that we are indeed complicit in this.
So in one of my classes, we discussed the status of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. In particular, we discussed a book edited by Professor Marc Falkoff of Northern Illinois University, who has put together a collection of poems written by detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak offers us a glimpse into the minds of those who we could not empathize with even if we tried.
Most of us say we care, but how can we feel what they feel? How can we sit behind a computer screen and attempt to understand what people dehumanized feel? I guess, the only way possible is to read their words and get into their minds and in this regard, these poems allow us to develop some frame of reference.
While I attempt to care, no amount of reading can actually open my eyes to the reality. As those who read my blog are well aware, I watch a lot of Al-Jazeera. So naturally, the story of Sami al-Haj strikes close to my heart. Sami was a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when, in 2001, he was taken into custody and stripped of his passport and press card. Tortured at both Bagram and Kandahar, he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in June 2002. He has been there ever since. As of this writing, that is 2139 days. 2139 days without seeing ones family. He has also been on a hunger strike for the past 465 days. According to Reporters Without Borders, “Aside from the fact that Guantanamo Bay is a legal and humanitarian scandal, the Americans seem to be holding Al-Haj simply because they have it in for Al-Jazeera. How else can you explain the fact that he has been held for four years without being charged while other journalists have been cleared and released in no time at all ?”
Many liberals here in the United States find it much easier to be outraged by what is happening in Venezuela. Millions were shocked that President Hugo Chavez had the audacity to not renew the license of RCTV (and force them to…hold your breath…move to cable). The fact that we have held an Al-Jazeera cameraman without trail for almost 7 years now seems to not matter much because we like enemies, we as a people want someone else to blame for what is going on. Defending press freedom is essential when supposedly unfriendly regimes are violating freedoms, not when we do it. Sure, many are angry at what is occurring at Guantánamo Bay, yet, very few see their role in perpetuating this madness.
This is more of a rant than it is a concrete entry, but these are the things that go through my mind. Why have we allowed this to go on? Frankly, because as much as we support PETA and donate to the ACLU, we still would rather blame the faults of the world on others than turning the mirror towards ourselves. Doing that would reveal a decrepit soul consumed by consumerism and interested only in sound clips.
So, here is Sami al-Haj’s poem.
HUMILIATED IN THE SHACKLES
When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely about the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize my attention
Like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an evil snake,
Carry hypocrisy in its mouth like venom.
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors’.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.
To find out more about Sami Al-Haj, visit Prisoner 345
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