I was only 4 yrs old when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, 1963. In that speech King dreamt of a day when people of all races would be able to sing with a ‘new meaning’, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
My father did indeed die in this country about 4 months ago, but he died deprived of his son who lost his freedom in the land of the free because he had provided life sustaining aid to the children of a nation that is still dreaming of the day when she too may become free.
I sang, and I’m still singing. Even from the tight emptiness of my cell I’m singing, but I’m yet to savor the new meaning King spoke of. I’m yet to feel the breeze of liberty against the stark landscape of incarceration. Perhaps my singing carries too strong of an Arabic accent, or a hint of Islamism, or a touch of Palestinianism. Perhaps the song, altogether, was not meant for me or my father or even my daughter, who too died in this country, deprived of her father who, while she ascended to the liberating heaven, lingered behind in his dismal razor-wired pit. But I have not given up singing. Nor will I quit praying.
Shurook, my youngest daughter, turned 8 less than two months after I was taken to prison. She shared with me for the first time what her birthday meant to her, “I feel so special that I was born on January 15, the same day as Martin Luther King” she told me in the visitation room, “I feel like the whole country celebrates my birthday because it is a holiday.” A few visits later she said to me, “Baba, now that Obama is the president of the whole country- not just Texas- I will write him a letter and I will ask him to please let my father come home because he is a good man and it makes me sad that he is not around me anymore.” I couldn’t hold my tears. Later, she wrote the letter, and my wife mailed it out for her.
Six years later, Shurook 14, is still waiting for a response from her beloved president who, she now realizes, came to the White House as a partial manifestation of King’s dream. Little did my little girl understand about the legal travesty my comrades were put through so the government would eventually secure an across the board conviction against her father and her four “uncles”. Little did she know about how the built-in prejudice at the core of the system has been utilized to undermine our constitutional rights, the most basic of which was to be able to confront our accusers. Simply because we are people of color; a different color of religion, language, ethnicity, and culture- we received a treatment tantamount to the treatment blacks received which prompted King to rise up, resist, march from Selma to Montgomery and march again, and declare an unconditional rejection of the status quo.
The ugly past has been revisited upon me and my comrades in the HLF case as though this country had never smelled the stench of the past. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, when “the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” In the course of two trials, the government viciously used our religion, ethnicity, culture, sense of humor, and even our choice of entertainment to present us to the jury in the most repulsive way. No one on that jury was an Arab, a Middle- Eastern, or a Muslim. None could relate to the five men who sat before them accused of making terrorists more terroristic solely by giving flue shots, bread and milk to sick and starved children. It is because we were different men, helping “different” people that we have received a different measure of constitutional protection; hardly a speck of it.
Nearly half a century after King’s death in 1968, police still kill unarmed black men with near absolute mutiny. Therefore, there is little room for me to whine about the injustice done to me. Or is there? Or, should I embrace King’s advice and “refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.. Refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation.”
Well, maybe I should keep on singing and invite you all to sing with me, “My country…. let freedom ring.” Better yet, let us pray to Allah that He protects this nation from the dark abyss of injustice. Let us pray that King’s dream comes to fruition, expeditiously, inclusively and universally. Otherwise, I might indeed die in prison as the judge had intended for me. He too sang the song but with a “new meaning.”