A man is born in the 1960s, but in the wrong place. His life is untouched by modernity, and in fact the people who live where he lives — mostly nomads or goatherds or subsistence farmers — carry on as they have for a thousand years. Compared even with the people in this arid Sudanese borderland west of the Red Sea, he is poor.
He is illiterate, can’t even tell you when he was born, and after his parents die when he is a child, he doesn’t think to ask why. It’s simple: People don’t live long, and then they die.
The movements of his life are dictated by elemental concerns — what to eat, where to sleep. He collects what he finds and trades what he can — sticks, cardboard, tattered robes, tires. And when your abiding interests are so basic, you likely don’t have time for something so luxurious as a personal history or self-regard. He makes no claims for himself, possesses nothing resembling the Western notion of ambition.
He has no conception of the outside world — knows little of Europe, has barely heard of America, doesn’t have the frame of reference even to conceive of a signal bouncing off a star and sending a picture or someone’s voice around the world.
By the standards of the late twentieth century, or of any century, really, he is one of the unlucky men. Maybe God will provide something a little better in heaven, inshallah. And then something most unexpected happens. Improbably, the unlucky man encounters the United States of America and becomes subject to the full might of the mightiest, most consequential power the world has ever known. His life will be changed forever, to be sure. But what one could never have imagined is that the man — not much more than a peasant in rags, after all — would become the very essence of what our mighty country fears the most. What one could never have imagined is that the peasant in rags would change the United States as much as the United States changed him.
Today, nine years after he arrived on the island, Noor Uthman Muhammed is a whiff of a man. His orange prison jumpsuit hangs on his slight body. His cell is new. After years of solitary and near-solitary confinement, Noor was transferred to Camp 4, where the prisoners lived communally. He was respected in the camp for his seriousness and deep faith. “You must be patient,” he would often tell other prisoners. “Being here is divine destiny. God tests humans in their lives to know their faith and patience.” Read the rest of this entry »