Poetry and knowledge are a threat

In that most dark of sunlit places, that hole in the heart of American democracy — the worm that we know as Guantanamo, that torture chamber…

In that most dark of sunlit places, that hole in the heart of American democracy — the worm that we know as Guantanamo, that torture chamber attempting to protect the American dream by destroying it, there burns a strange light.


That’s right. Its brutalized, unknown victims — some monstrous terrorists, some innocent shopkeepers — are writing poetry, according to a recent article in The Guardian.

Well, we all write poetry. Even tyrants and junior business executives have been known to write poetry. They just don’t tell anybody about it.

But they’re writing poetry with a fever in Guantanamo.

What else are you going to do in an open cell, blasted with hateful music, your head used to flush toilets, your alleged crimes a state secret withheld even from you?

What can you do when you are nothing? When you can’t even take the honourable route and starve yourself to death without tubes being roughly jammed down your nose?

What a breeding ground for poetry!

Most of their poems have been censored or burned, but a few individuals managed to pass their poems to their lawyers after they were cleared by security.

According to the Defence department poetry “presents a special risk” because of its “content and format.”

Worse yet, the jailors don’t maintain “the requisite subject-matter expertise.” This is choice news.

One prisoner, a writer before his incarceration, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, spent three years at Guantanamo until he was suddenly released without charge.

He claims that originally prisoners were not allowed pen and paper, but they figured out how to flatten paper cups and scratch on them with spoons so they could be read when held up to the light, and then the prisoners set up a pulley system, constructed from threads pulled out of their prayer caps, to pass the poems through the wire cells.

And they would all smile nostalgic at love poems or memories of their homeland, or laugh at satires that lampooned the benefits of American justice and democracy.

Human knowledge always has its way when facing oppression, whether in American concentration camps, Nazi prisoner of war camps or Russian gulags.

Later they were allowed two sheets of paper as the Red Cross showed up for 10 minutes to allow them to write a (strictly censored) letter to their families.

Prisoners would sometimes only write a short letter and use the scant minutes and the other sheet to write their poems, which were also passed around before being inevitably confiscated and destroyed when discovered.

Later, as the Americans realized how many of their prisoners were innocent, they were allowed to keep their poems.

A strict Islamist and scholar Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost calculates he wrote 25,000 lines of poetry while imprisoned.

On the day of his release they were confiscated, and now he can’t get them back. He believes he was imprisoned because he lampooned a pretentious Islamic cleric who fingered him as a terrorist supporter in revenge.

How timely that this article appeared during Canada’s Freedom-To-Read week.

For those of you who don’t know, our hate, pornography and anti-terrorism laws and homegrown library- and school-censorship campaigns are putting the squeeze on Canadian knowledge.

It’s embarrassing to live in a country where customs officials seize books by Salman Rushdie and Oscar Wilde, or manuals on safe sex.

Deborah Ellis, one of Canada’s most celebrated children’s writers, has only recently had her Silver Birch-nominated book, Three Wishes, pulled from Ontario libraries because it quoted Palestinian children alongside Israeli children.

Honesty is too dangerous for our kids!

But as John Berry said: “If your library is not unsafe, it probably isn’t doing its job.”

British writers are so alarmed by new laws against ‘glorifying terrorism’ that they have defiantly published an anthology cleverly titled Glorifying Terrorism.

The Forbidden Library website has a whole raft of great thoughts on censorship, the legendary pornographer Larry Flint included.

“If the human body’s obscene, complain to the manufacturer, not me.”

Maybe, as Freedom-To-Read week winds to its mournful end it should be everyone’s duty to Google up some great quotes about the madness of censorship, like Juvenal: “Who will watch the watchers?”

Pelham library has issued an inspired challenge to all its readers — start reading a banned book this week.

They’re easy to find. Just Google Freedom-To-Read week or The Forbidden Library. There you can discover 1984, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Arabian Nights (banned in a rare show of solidarity by both Israel and Egypt), Anne Frank’s diary, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, an English translation of the Holy Bible (William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake for having the nerve to translate it into English), Brave New World, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, etc.

And these are only some of the books listed alphabetically up to B!!!

Lately, my favourite censorship story occurred when The Chronicles of Narnia was challenged in a school system because of its ‘mysticism.’

The clueless Christian censor didn’t recognize the ‘mysticism’ was actually a retelling of Christ’s story. Whoops.

The real question we have to ask is why our media is quietly censoring the news about Freedom-To-Read week. And why isn’t the Big Brother regime of George Bush’s administration front-page news?

No, our media, owned by the friends of the administrations in Canada and the US, has decided that the sicko battle over the remains of a woman, Anna Nicole Smith, whose big breasts and bizarre marriage to a multi-millionaire made her into the celebrity of the month, is more newsworthy than the war in Iraq and the lost poems of Guantanamo.

They’re fiddling over the rotting body of a pathetic woman while the world burns.

That’s right; the real terrorists are already among us, attacking our freedom and democracy daily. They are on Fox News and CNN and CTV and in most of our newspapers, distracting us with false news even as poetry and knowledge are quietly being buried by bureaucrats.

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