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Letter from a Texas Maximum Security Prison: A personal reflection on Martin Luther King Day

on 30 Comments

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.

Daughters of Holy Land 5 Political Prisoner Shurkri Abu Baker - Stand up for Justice

Daughters of Holy Land 5 Political Prisoner Shurkri Abu Baker – Stand up for Justice

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.”

Shukri Abu Baker

Shukri Abu Baker is one of The Holy Land Five, a political prisoner sentenced to 65 years in a maximum security federal prison because of his dedication and charitable contributions all around the world, including the Palestinians in Gaza.

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30 Responses

  1. Kris on January 23, 2015, 10:01 am

    Heart breaking. I’m so sorry, and so angry and so sad for all that you and your family are being made to suffer. After I read your essay, I immediately thought of these words from the Judy Collins song, “Anathea:”

    “Cursed be that judge, so cruel!
    Thirteen years may he lie bleeding.
    Thirteen doctors cannot cure him,
    Thirteen shelves of drugs cannot heal him”

    But your impulse towards goodness is much better than mine towards a curse, and I will join you in it:

    “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.”

  2. just on January 23, 2015, 10:26 am

    “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.”

    Amen, Shukri.

    I often feel that the energetic march toward full justice and equality for all in these United States died the day that Martin was assassinated. We erected a memorial and designated a federal holiday in his honor, but neglected his dream. We’ve moved ahead in some areas, and stayed stagnant or regressed in others. The sharp increase and tolerance in Islamophobia, racial profiling, surveillance of ‘others’, incarceration, and fears of immigration all bear a terrible hallmark of a nation of paranoids and privileged. And then there is Gitmo…

    The dangers to any nation can come from outside, but the biggest dangers comes from the irrational fears, hatred, ignorance and prejudice we harbor within ourselves.

  3. gamal on January 23, 2015, 10:41 am

    penultimate para line 2 mutiny=impunity, damn predictive text.

    Our Prophet (pbuh) said: “Verily, if Allah loves a people, He makes them go through trials. Whoever is satisfied, for him is contentment, and whoever is angry upon him is wrath.” [Tirmidhi]

    And the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said to ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas (radiyallahu ‘anhu): “..Be mindful of Allah, you will find Him before you. Get to know Allah in prosperity and He will know you in adversity… And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship.” [Tirmidhi]

    you will be vindicated.


    • annie on January 23, 2015, 10:56 am

      gamal, do you mean you don’t think the word is correct? unfortunately he is not available to ask although i can contact his daughter.

      • bintbiba on January 23, 2015, 1:16 pm

        I started the day with a smile,… and now `I’m in tears.
        Shukri…we send you and your beautiful family love , support and great respect.

      • annie on January 23, 2015, 3:27 pm

        i know what you mean bintbiba. when i first read this last night my whole heart just soared/went crazy. it’s just….indescribably .. my ideas about these powerful words and the idea this hero of mine is in jail, denied his family, and the world denied his service to humanity, along with those of his comrades. such injustice is … incomprehensible.

        we are so honored having his words here. so very honored.

      • gamal on January 23, 2015, 6:54 pm

        yes i guess so unless i dont understand “killing with near absolute mutiny” i dont get that.

        Not to say that the concept of near absolute mutiny is not deeply appealing to the likes of me, i’d be more mutinous if i knew how.

        anyway all the very best of wishes to all of those bearing the burden of savage American injustice, you are not alone, may its bloody well-spring run dry soon.

      • annie on January 24, 2015, 10:08 am

        thanks gamal. i will asked his daughter to send him a message. but i wouldn’t change his words myself because i believe these are crucial historical words. words that someday may be as scrutinized as martin’s. it is part of our nations history, and therefore until i hear from the family i am neither qualified or authorized to alter the text beyond clearly typographical errors.

        it could mean a mutiny from morals.

  4. jenin on January 23, 2015, 1:01 pm

    It is outrageous that this man and the other four were prosecuted, let alone convicted. Our system is sick. We give loads and loads of money to Israel, a terrorist nation that kills Palestinians and brutalizes them daily; and then we imprison someone for trying to help those under occupation by giving money to an organization that the US labels as terrorist. It’s disgusting. I find it hard to live we actually live in such a world

  5. just on January 23, 2015, 3:36 pm

    We need to work, and work hard, to get Hamas removed from that idiotic terrorist list… Hamas is resistance, and does so much more wrt social welfare, etc.

    The HL 5 not only need to be pardoned, but also given financial compensation and an enormous & sincere apology.

    That’s my opinion. These new events wrt Netanyahu, aipac, Boehner, ICC, UN, etc. may help… we can only work and hope.

    • Marnie on January 24, 2015, 3:06 am

      If the Holy Land Foundation was indeed guilty of being the largest terrorism financing operation in American history; how much more guilty then is the United States for providing billions of dollars annually for decades to the apartheid state of Israel?

      26 Billion Bucks: The Jewish Charity Industry Uncovered
      Part I — Donors Give More to Israel Than to Education
      Kurt Hoffman

      By Josh Nathan-Kazis

      Published March 24, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.

      The American Jewish community’s network of charity organizations is a font of Jewish power, a source of communal pride and a huge mystery.

      We know that the network exists. We know that its federations, social service groups and advocacy organizations influence America’s domestic and foreign policy, care for the old, educate the young and send more than a billion dollars a year to Israel.

      Yet until now we’ve had no idea what the network looks like.

      Individual organizations file tax returns. Some umbrella groups offer information on their members’ work. But no one has measured the network as a whole: how much it spends, how much it raises, how it prioritizes causes, how much it gets from the government.

      Now, the Forward has identified and reviewed tax documents filed by more than 3,600 Jewish organizations in the most comprehensive survey ever of the financial workings of this Jewish tax-exempt ecosystem. And the results are striking.

      The Forward’s investigation has uncovered a tax-exempt Jewish communal apparatus that operates on the scale of a Fortune 500 company and focuses the largest share of its donor dollars on Israel.

      This analysis doesn’t include synagogues and other groups that avoid revealing their financial information by claiming a religious exemption. But even without this substantial sector, the Jewish community’s federations, schools, health care and social service organizations, Israel aid groups, cultural and communal organizations, and advocacy groups report net assets of $26 billion.

      That’s more than the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns casinos all over the world. It’s about the same as the CBS Corp. which owns 29 TV stations, 126 radio stations, the CBS Television Network and Simon & Schuster. The Jewish communal network of tax-exempt groups employs as many people as the Ford Motor Co.

      And its $12 billion to $14 billion in annual revenue is more than the federal government’s 2014 appropriation to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages a fifth of all the land in the United States, runs the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the national parks, and administers Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

      “What exists out there is a lot of guessing,” said Eric Fleisch, a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University who recently completed a thesis on American Jewish giving to Israel. “Not very much has been written about this at all.”

      In the coming weeks, the Forward will publish a series of articles reporting the results of its investigation. The Forward can now describe a Jewish apparatus that, despite extensive rhetoric about the importance of Jewish education, still dedicates the largest share of its donor dollars to Israel-related causes. It’s an apparatus that benefits massively from the U.S. federal government and many state and local governments, in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants, billions in tax-deductible donations and billions more in program fees paid for with government funds. And it’s an apparatus that requires vast resources to support itself, spending $2.3 billion a year on management and fundraising — and $93 million on galas alone.

      The Forward’s database is based on files the IRS made available in 2013 that consist of figures from all the Form 990s and Form 990-EZs — the forms the IRS requires of all nonreligious charities — that were submitted in the 2012 calendar year. The findings in these stories reflect mostly tax periods ending in the 2011 calendar year. A more detailed explanation of the Forward’s methodology in constructing its database is included in an accompanying story.

      The Contours


      This daisy structure has existed for well over a century in the United States. The Boston Jewish community founded the first federation in the country in 1895; similar groups soon followed in other cities. In 1902, the American Jewish Year Book counted thousands of Jewish organizations across the United States, including schools, clubs and fraternal lodges.

      Since then, the network has grown enormously larger and more complex. “In many ways, we had a better sense of Jewish giving back then than we do today,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

      Jewish charity experts have warned in recent years that the old daisy structure is disintegrating — that major givers are abandoning the federation system in favor of giving directly to the functional organizations. Yet the Forward’s investigation shows that the communal grant-making groups in the center of the daisy still play a dominant financial role in the Jewish not-for-profit network.

      Taken together, these communal grant makers have $11.6 billion in net assets, 43% of the network’s total. They also control a huge portion of the flow of donated cash.

      They make $1.7 billion in grants to charities in the United States each year, while the functional agencies take in $3.6 billion in contributions. It’s fair to assume that the vast majority of the $1.7 billion is granted to other Jewish groups, and therefore that roughly half of the $3.6 billion raised by the functional agencies comes through the communal fundraisers.

      Cash for Israel…


      • Boomer on January 24, 2015, 9:52 am

        Marnie: fascinating, and important. Thanks for sharing.

    • Boomer on January 24, 2015, 9:53 am

      Just: it’s your opinion, but you are not alone. I won’t hold my breath, but it is a worthy goal.

  6. peterkhamashta on January 23, 2015, 10:45 pm

    With the strength of men like you fighting with his freedom and the sacrifices and the suffering of his family for his dreams and the dreams of all Palestinians for the freedom and liberation of our homeland will prevail.

  7. Boomer on January 24, 2015, 9:56 am

    As an American, I am dismayed. What a sad chapter in our history. Keep the hope for something better.

    • annie on January 24, 2015, 10:18 am

      Keep the hope for something better.

      a presidential pardon, oh please please please.

      • DoubleStandard on January 25, 2015, 12:07 pm

        Keep dreaming. Pardoning terrorists ain’t popular.

      • annie on January 25, 2015, 1:31 pm

        they are not terrorists nor were they even charged with being terrorists. you should read up on what you’re commenting on, see the embeds in the article. and keep your poisonous thoughts out of this thread or i’ll do it for you.

      • peterkhamashta on January 25, 2015, 2:45 pm

        DoubleStander: We will keep dreaming as Martin Luther King said once ” I Have a Dream ” even Dr. King was murdered, but his dream survived.

  8. Doubtom on January 24, 2015, 10:50 am

    Those who seek justice from the American system of justice, want what never was nor will ever be. This system was set up by the ‘landed’ privileged people and it is they who will be served. Revolution is the only solution!

  9. gamal on January 24, 2015, 2:24 pm

    Francis Fitzgibbons of the LRB reviews the HLF case

    Low-Hanging Fruit
    Francis FitzGibbon on the show trial of the Holy Land Foundation

    • annie on January 25, 2015, 12:06 pm

      thanks gamal. this is an excellent article. phil sent it to me last week and it’s in the plan to cover it.

      • gamal on January 25, 2015, 2:18 pm

        hi Annie,

        its all in the details, like the Megrahi conviction, once you examine the case and the associated judicial misbehavior etc, rather like the Stammheim RAF trial, the lawless arrogance of the powers is all to clearly apparent, in the cases of the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 their innocence was immediately obvious to most, it took years to set right, innocent men and women died in prison, the state eventually has to abandon its fit-ups and lies, but things move very slowly, and the unravelling of the Birm and Guildford cases was precipitated by ten IRA prisoners starving themselves to death compelling the UK state to demilitarize the conflict and seek terms with the “Catholic” community, its a long road, you have to maintain your resolve over vast stretches of time, people like the Author above are dazzling sources of inspiration.

      • seafoid on January 25, 2015, 4:06 pm


        Denning dismissed one of the Birmingham Six’s appeal on the basis that, if it were accepted, then it meant all the police involved had fitted them up. The prospect of this was “such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go any further.”

        Very like this unforgettable sketch by Peter Cook called the biased judge (based on the trial of Jeremy Thorpe)

      • just on January 25, 2015, 5:42 pm

        An amazing sketch, seafoid.

        (RIP, Jeremy Thorpe)

    • just on January 25, 2015, 12:38 pm

      It’s not too late to reverse this MASSIVE injustice~ Mr. Obama, can you hear us?

      Thanks to Shukri, his daughters, Francis FitzGibbon (” a QC at Doughty Street Chambers in London”), Annie, and MW for keeping this travesty in our collective conscience.

  10. Antidote on January 26, 2015, 8:58 am

    Imprisoning people for feeding the hungry? In a country that considers itself the apex of Western (Judeo-Christian) civilization?

    Will the (shaky) Charlie Hebdo defense do? Equal opportunity offender?

    90 yr old Christian arrested for feeding the homeless in Florida

  11. MHughes976 on January 26, 2015, 3:10 pm

    We have to remember that Martin Luther King was, or at least ended his days as, a Zionist: someone who believed that ‘the right of Israel to exist as a state of security’ is unquestionable. as he said in his letter to Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath of Sept.29 1967. He was not wildly keen to make his views known on the subject but when pressed he always, at least in that last phase, told the Zionists what they wanted to hear.
    His reason seems to be something about identifying the opposition to Israel with ‘feudal’ oil interests, which was perhaps a typical left-wing idea of the time, though how someone who had actually been to Palestine could have decided to treat Palestinian people thrown off their poor land as if they were Saudi princes rolling in gold is beyond me.
    However we do perhaps need to recall the great and continuing ability of Zionism to present itself as a progressive cause, more specifically as the progressive cause of giving all traditionally non-dominant groups in the West their various places of honour.

  12. W.Jones on June 9, 2015, 2:37 pm

    Are you aware about what MLK’s accused killer Early Ray claimed here:

    [In] his little-mentioned, self-written early appeal of his conviction Ray asserted that “the resident listed in New Orleans was, among other things, an agent of a Mideast organization distressed because of King’s reported, forthcoming, before his death, public support of the Palestinian Arab cause.” … Later, when Ray testified before the House Assassinations Committee he referred to this mystery number and commented, “I don’t want to get into this libel area again and say something that might be embarrassing to-disservice some group or organizations . . . he [King] intended, like Vietnam, to support the Arab cause . . . someone in his organization making contact with the Palestinians for an alliance.”

    (Source: Dirty Secrets,

    Ray is cited about this in The Tuscaloosa News – Dec 28, 1973,,5336582&hl=en

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