poems-from-guantanamo.jpgEven if the pain of the wound increases,
There must be a remedy to treat it.

Even if the days in prison endure,
There must be a day when we will get out.

–“Even if the Pain” by Siddiq Turkestani

This short work is from Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Marc Falkoff, an assistant professor of law at Northern Illinois University and pro bono attorney for 17 prisoners in the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The book is a compilation of 22 poems written by prisoners in Guantanamo. All 22 were written by Muslim brothers, most of whom are held without charge, trial or promise of protection under Geneva Convention standards. The poems, many originally written in Arabic and Urdu, have been declassified by the government and translated into English for publication in this book.

The poems are chilling, saddening and heartbreaking. Some are angry, some are pensive, but they all express the prisoner's despair:

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.

Muhammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort…

First verses of “Humiliated in the Shackles” by Sami Al Haj

When I first read the book I was as angered and sad as I should have been. However, shortly after that I read the New York Times' review of the book by Dan Chiasson, who noted that in light of the fact that the poems were declassified and translated by US government officials, they may actually represent a twisted PR campaign by the government and military. Good point. The poets' voices were so real and so genuine, and the steadfastness in asking Allah for help so moving that I found the idea of not believing wholeheartedly that they were completely original distasteful at the least. But probably accurate.

That said, it's the bios that precede each poem that are truly telling. Written by the editors, they tell the real story, the details of how the prisoners ended up in Guantanamo. Among the saddest is the story of Muhammad El Gharani, a 14-year-old Chadian raised in Saudi Arabia, who was one of the first “enemy combatants” to arrive at Guantanamo Bay. He is still there. His bio notes that “as many as 29 juveniles have been detained at Guantanamo in violation of international law.” These short narratives, then, are the story, and the poems, written by amateur writers and scrutinized by their captors, are icing on the cake.

Please read this book and think of our brothers in Guantanamo, and pray for them.

8 Responses

  1. iMuslim

    Jazakallah khair for this review. Insha’Allah i will attain a copy soon… but in a way, i am put off, just because i know how heartbreaking it will be to read. But at least my dua will be sincere because of it, insha’Allah.

    May Allah protect the innocent and relieve the oppressed, wherever they are. Ameen.

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  2. ruth nasrullah

    You know, the sad/ironic thing is that some of them may in fact be guilty of crimes against the US, but we can’t know the facts as long as they’re held without charges and without access to a trial or military judicial proceeding of some sort. That’s the horror of Guantanamo – that even if there are terrorists held there, they have no hope of ever having their day in court, which is something we afford to even the most vile child molestor or serial killer.

    And of course for the innocent Guantanamo is an utter nightmare.

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  3. Aidan

    I am shocked that no one at Muslim Matters has picked up on this issue of Muslims in Los Angeles being mapped by the LAPD?

    Remember LA was the place where the Police Department set up the “Red Squad” to go hunt for liberals and union workers. Which was followed by a department for disorderly behavior and intelligence which spied on political figures and then that was followed by the racists LAPD tactics against the African American and Latino communities which lead to the 1992 riots. this same police department which used brutal force against immigrant rights marchers back in the spring of 2007 is now working on “mapping the Muslim community” in Los Angeles.

    Hmm, not sure why this hasn’t made the circuits on the blogs yet.

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