Sunday, October 21, 2007

What I'm reading II

Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

From the intro by the book's editor, Marc Falkoff:
My colleagues and I--all volunteer lawyers--first visited Guantanamo in November, 2004. What we learned from our clients on that trip was shocking . . .
You've heard it all, ad nauseum and infinitum: stress positions, blaring music, threats of rendition, "sexual humiliation," "mishandling" of the "Holy" Qu'ran, etc., etc., etc. So enough of that.

The short essay, "Forms of Suffering in Muslim Prison Poetry" asks:
To what extent do their verses confirm their designations as global Islamic jihadists and "unlawful enemy combatants" as the U.S. administration and military tribunals have maintained?

Part of the challenge of answering such questions lies in the role of poetry as a figurative enterprise. If our aim is to study verbal artistry [sic, as you'll see] in a way that is maximally useful, we need to be prepared to consider answers not about the poets' intentions but about our own intentions as analysts responsible for distinguishing fact from fiction . . .
So we should ignore their intentions (killing people, blowing things up) in order to appreciate their "artistry."

From the short bios of the poets:

Moazzam Begg is a British citizen who was arrested in Pakistan and detained for hree years in Guantanamo. While there, Begg received a heavily-censored letter from his seven-year-old daughter; the only legible line was, "I love you, Dad." Upon his release, his daughter told him the censored lines were a poem she had copied for him: "One, two, three, four, five,/Once I caught a fish alive./Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,/then I let it go again."

We're so goddamn evil. Reminds me, though, of the letter Yossarian censored in Catch-22 so that everything except the closing was blacked out: "I yearn for you tragically. A.T. Tappman, Chaplain." Begg's bio continues:

Released in 2005, he was never charged with a crime.

True, true, but not, perhaps, the whole story.

Here's a good one:

Abdullah Thani Faris al Anazi is a double amputee, having lost both of his legs in a U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan while he was employed as a humanitarian aid worker. . . . At times, he has been forced to walk on prosthetic limbs held together by duct tape.

Amazing stuff, duct tape. Just a couple more:

Ibrahim al-Rubaish was teaching in Pakistan when he was arrested by mercenaries and sold to allied forces. A religious scholar who dislikes hostility [sic] and was once a candidate for a
judgeship . . .
What do you want to bet it was a judgeship on a sha'ria court?

Martin Mubanga is a citizen of both the United Kingdom and Zambia. He was arrested in Zambia . . . and then transferred to Guantanamo without any legal process. While imprisoned there, Mubanga managed to inform his family . . . by sending them letters . . . in the form of rap poetry.

I'll start the poetry quotin' with the opening stanza of one of Mubanga's raps:

America sucks, America chills,
While d'blood of d'Muslims is forever getting spilled,
In d'streets of Nablus, in d'streets of Jenin,
Yeahhhhhhh! You know what I mean . . .

The number of "h"s is correct. I counted. Another? This is by some gink going under the name Ustad Badruzzaman Badr:

The Chief of the White Palace,
Like other sinful chiefs,
Cannot see our patience.

The whirlpool of our tears
Is moving fast towards him.
No one can endure the power of this flood.
Eh. Mild case of BDS. One more. Yes, I insist. This one's by "fourteen-year-old Chadian" Mohammed El Charadi, "detained at Guantanamo in violation of international law":
We saw such insults from them [at Guantanamo]:
Not even the book of God was protected.

Along with their malice, they were foolish.
Tribulations, then hitting and imbecility.

For they are a people without reasonable minds,
Due to their supply of alcoholic drinks.

I'm no big fan of alcohol myself (any more), but this kid is a trifle censorious.

Poems from Guantanamo is only 72 pages long, Allah be praised (including the afterword by Ariel Dorfman, who makes his usual comparison between the U.S. and Chile under Pinochet), but reading the front-cover blurb is enough to warn away sensible people: "'At last Guantanamo has found its voice'--Gore Vidal."

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