Saturday, 15 September 2012
The young man featured above was a Yemeni prisoner named Adnan Latif. He was being held at Guantanamo Bay. He died four days ago after spending ten years imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
He was 35 years old. He had spend more than a quarter of his life in jail. He had been found innocent of collaboration with the Taliban in 2004 and cleared for release... but was never let go. His lawyer repeatedly petitioned for his relief and got legal clearance ... but because Yemen is considered an unstable country the Bush and Obama administrations kept him in prison illegally.
Wow... ten years in prison. 2002 to 2012.
I wonder what I did with that time?
Well, I backpacked across Scotland.
I graduated from college.
I served with the Peace Corps in Mongolia.
I backpacked across Asia.
I worked in South Korea.
I hiked in Alaska.
I rode the Trans-Siberian railroad.
I got married.
I had a baby.
A few blog entries ago I was whining about all the life experiences I had yet to experience. Now, after reading Mr. Latif's story, I am grateful for all the life experiences I have had in the past ten years... and before as well. I have had a very good life during these past ten years. 2012 has been a bad year for me, true, but not NEARLY as horrible as 2002-2012 had been for Latif.
Feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her memoir Infidel, describes an incident in 1990. She and her young university friends were living in Mogadishu at the time. Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Murders in Mogadishu are as commonplace as panhandling in New York. Ali describes how she and her friends were used to seeing bodies on the streets every day. One evening Ali decided to walk back to her parents' house after visiting a friend. It was extremely risky considering that night had already fallen. People just simply didn't go out after dark in Mogadishu but Ali and a few of her friends decided to go home anyway. After half a mile however a group of men accosted the young women, threatening them with guns and knives. Ali knew then that she would die. Nobody in Somalia at that time (and, I imagine, even more so now) survived a mugging. Ali described her thoughts at the moment as the men threatened her. "I thought:'Oh well, at least I made it to twenty.'" Where Ali came from even just making it to twenty years old was an accomplishment. Life was so disposable that even at her young age Ali had a very stoic view towards death. Twenty years on this earth is a gift. No need to be ungrateful.
Of course Ali was not killed that night. The men, unusually, merely relieved the women of their money and valuables before fleeing into the darkness. Still, I was struck by how Ali described her thoughts the moment she assumed she was about to die. She did not scream or weep or beg for her life. She did not think despairingly "Oh, but there's so much I haven't done yet!".... a justifiable regret for someone who is about to lose her life at such a young age. Ali thought: "Oh well, at least I made it to twenty. So many people I know weren't able to do so... living twenty years is something to be thankful for."
I am very thankful for the fact that I have lived extremely well during the past 31 years of my life. I am so saddened when I hear stories like Mr. Latif... who spent many precious years of his life wasting away at Guantanamo.
We need to be more aware of how rich we are.
And we need to fucking close Guantanamo Bay already. C'MON!!!