In “Shall I Compare Thee to an Evil Tyrant,” a news article from Slate.com, journalist Meghan O’Rourke describes a recently released volume of poetry called Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak containing verse written by several inmates in the facility.
Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these poems do not espouse zealous nationalism or extremist rhetoric; rather they are often evocations of missed homelands and the injustice of their incarceration.
Abdullah Thani Faris Al Anazi pens in “To My Father:” Two years my heart sending out messages / To the homes where my family dwells, / Where lavender cotton sprouts / For grazing herds that leave well fed.
The importance of these poems lie not in their literary merits but in their humanizing power.
Too often these men are vilified into one-dimensional caricatures; like World War II propaganda proliferating images of shifty, buck-toothed Japanese, today’s image of the cloaked, turban-wearing suicidal madman promotes the same dehumanization.
This systemic dehumanization also promotes ignorant ethnic profiling, even as more and more white Europeans and Americans are involved in terrorist attacks.
These poems illicit a paradoxical response within the American reader because they ring contrary to the us vs. them, America “versus” terrorist mentality to which we’ve been inculcated.
Once faceless deviants, the poems present these men as brothers, sons, and fathers. This transformation represents the tendency in the media to not reflect the complexities of an issue like the War on Terror. Too often Arabs are either fiends murdering our soldiers or victims rescued from the precipice of chaos and anarchy by our valiant men and women.
Rarely do feature stories depict the ordinary lives of Arabs struggling through life or striving to improve their standards of living.
Just as pop culture creates images of Islamic zealots wandering the shadowy streets of possibility readying another terrorist attack, so too does the cyclical regurgitation of news reports about helpless Iraqis or sinister Iranians do a disservice to their essential humanity.
Granted many inmates in Guantanamo are probably terrorists or affiliated with terrorist organizations; however, just as many could be innocent prisoners of a war gone horrifically awry.
Given America’s lengthy history of silencing oppositional voices from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the House Un-American Activities Committee, these poems challenge a reevaluation of both the war and its prisoners, but, more importantly, of the media’s flat depiction of those involved.
In reviling the amoral behavior of terrorists it is important to remember that they, and those they harm, are human–not causes, nor photos, nor five minutes on the evening news, but living beings with histories.
Terrorism has no face; this war is not as simple as a flag or peoples. This war is a conflict of ideologies–the most human type of conflict–and with this in mind it is important to remember that victims are people, and, yes, so too are terrorists–flawed as they may be.
After all, America is not the only nation affected by the War on Terror; September 11th was a global echo, and its ramifications deserve to represented on a global level.