They locked me in this room, Alone, by myself, just me –
With no one to talk to except for the walls, or the face in the mirror I see.
So I sit, listen, and watch
the television in my head
Not a notion to move nor a second spared
I record everything that is said –
Absence of Kindness, Distinct Memories of Pain
Caused by the things that they took away
So I’m holding my breath,until they let me out
But I’m afraid of what might happen the next time I breathe.
I wrote that poem when I was 17. These days I am living it; all over again. Then it was a proverbial prison. I was a conscious youth inside one of the most dangerous institutions of America: the public high school. Today, 16 years later, I am in another – the U.S.prison system where I am but one of a growing number of Muslim Americans who dared to speak out. Today I am a pretrial federal inmate housed in solitary confinement and in conditions that best resemble those of Guantanamo Bay.
Trust me I am not alone. In 1994, my junior year of high school, the U.S. Justice Department announced that the prison population had reached one million. By 2009, that number had more than doubled to 2.3 million with 5 million more on probation or parole. U.S. citizens now represent only 5% of the global population but account for 25% of the world’s prisoners. Additionally,1 in15 Americans is in “extreme poverty” with 48% of Americans labeled “in poverty” or “working poor”, but a recent Gallup poll documented that the percentage of Americans that realize the levels of poverty are so high, has dramatically decreased. These two seemingly distinct sets of statistics suggest something more sinister is going on.
The civil rights era included prison protests like the Attica riots of 1971 and paved a way for productive reform, but today talk of human rights tends to cover a manipulative compromise with the power elite and diverts attention away from structural cause. Generally prisoners today have enhanced rights and services but like the starving people fed by NGO’s in Africa or refugee camps in Afghanistan, such rights and philanthropy are counterproductive where they allow society to ignore the root causes of such appalling levels of crime, punishment, hunger or war. These contradictions become apparent with regard to civil liberties in a time of confrontation, when the citizen is reduced to an object of propaganda about domestic enemies in order to maintain public support for wars abroad.
The authors of the American constitution unanimously resented any sacrifice of civil liberties in the name of national security, but the reaction to 9/11, the immediate passage of the Patriot Act and a new approach to law enforcement the Bush Administration called a “preventative paradigm” ushered in an order of sustained national liberty sacrifice. These changes disproportionately affected American Muslims, however while “terrorists” abroad were “disappeared”, water boarded and held without charges at Guantanamo Bay, the courts approved warrantless wiretapping, ethnic profiling, blacksite rendition and preventative detention targeting Muslims on America’s shores. Wartime propaganda alongside a wave of arrests utilizing entrapment, where undercover agents encourage fund, and coerce potential terrorist attacks, have helped to sustain support. Recent polling documents that two-thirds of Americans support sacrificing some privacy and freedoms in the fight against terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »