Guantánamo is a grave reminder of the consequences of assuming all “terrorists are Muslims”

In a week marked by tragedy, an important op-ed published in the NY Times reminds us that there are people still suffering from the US’s anti-terrorism efforts. Two Gitmo detainees on hunger strike tell their story through their lawyers for us to read.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.

This chilling account is not the only one. 45 detainees are on hunger strike in Gitmo until they are charged or released. Many are sitting in prison with no charges, merely held because of administrative backlogs, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or just being the wrong race and ethnicity at the wrong moment in history.

While we recover and make sense of the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this week, speculation about “who these terrorists might be” has, of course, spiraled out of control. It is natural to want to know why this happened and who is responsible  And it’s painful to watch people struggle with making sense of it, full of anger and sadness and not sure where to direct that energy. 

But it’s not as understandable why some want to claim they know who is responsible or outright want to “blame the Muslims.” For the same reason, it’s not acceptable that a plane was landed back at Logan because passengers complained that two men were speaking in Arabic (not to each other). And for the same reason it’s not acceptable that so many Muslim Americans feel the need to enthusiastically denounce the bombings with fear of backlash towards the Muslim community.

It’s not OK because even if the people responsible for this bombing fit into every shitty idea you may have about “what people” are responsible for this bombing, stereotypes, racism and these kinds of attitudes don’t actually bring peace or solve crimes. Decades of anti-Muslim sentiment hasn’t done much in terms of solving the disastrous number of innocent civilians regularly killed by explosives–in fact, it’s made it worse.

And those same shitty attitudes have justified some of the gravest human rights violations we have seen in our generation.

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