By Christian Hayden
Humanist Service Corps Volunteer
As a child, I was taught bravery had a gun next to it, at times decked out in army fatigue like GI Joe. An invitation to “Be all you can be” spoke to every man’s search for wholeness, belonging and meaning. We were all frequently reminded of the opportunity to realize our “whole” selves through serving our country. As an adult my conception of bravery is very different, it rests on the capacity to demonstrate grace in the face of fear and uncertainty. Grace is not perfection, but action offering the space, support, love to others and ourselves, in order that we may still realize our beauty after, or even as, we have fallen. A pillar of realizing this grace and demonstrating bravery, is the capacity to seek and offer redemption.
The United States is a “Christian” nation, which ostensibly means it should be obsessed with the concept of grace. For the president can invoke its gospel chords in mourning, but he fails to use his power to realize or demonstrate grace, in terms of action. For example this, this, and this. Granted, there are things that supersede all identities; inclinations and motivations which betray that which we wish to project about ourselves- ideas that are clung to deeply, even more than religion: and for the U.S. that is security. The tithe is in the taxes, and the pastor to guide the congregation is elected every four years.
9/11 happened very close to me, as a I attended school in Manhattan, and I came of age as the interplay between attention and resources abroad vs. at home shaped every election cycle. If I was on the same island as of the most consequential event in the 21st century, I was on a larger island isolated from the worst of its impact. Nearly 3,000 civilians died in the U.S as a result of 9/11 compared to estimates of 200,000 to 500,000 Iraqi citizens as a result of the Iraq war.
As a response to 9/11 we choose the path of destruction, occupation, and trauma. In the wake of our immediate actions immediately after and recently, we have contributed to the further destabilization of the Middle East. In addition, hundreds of men have been in captivity with no trial and some tortured, in Guantanamo Bay. For fourteen years, two Yemeni men were held in this black site of sorts. And at no point during these fourteen years were these men convicted of a crime. They were simply caught in the dragnet of the War on Terror occupying a legal and militaristic hinterland. Now the status of the these men has been upgraded to house arrest in Ghana. They are in close quarters with and constantly watched by Ghana’s military.
Ghanaian citizens, leaders, and clergy are not happy. It is an awkward conversation to have with locals. I am sympathetic to the injustice the “Gitmo 2” have suffered. Bearing witness to the dragnet of a different of war, the one waged domestically on drugs, I have seen what garnering security can look like for the vulnerable. So I feel a sense of relief that Gitmo (Guantanamo Bay) is that much smaller, but most Ghanaians do not share that feeling. Even in the Muslim north, I have not heard much along the lines of welcome to these men, or even calm indifference. There is a sense that Ghana’s sovereignty is at stake as well as its own sense of security. It is difficult for me to resist responding that even though these men either were found in an al-Qaeda or had a connection to the Taliban, they should be offered the same second chance we should offer a drug dealing member of the CRIPs. It is even more difficult to resist suggesting that in taking these men, Ghana is demonstrating more humaneness than the nation who absconded them in the first place. They are validated in their indignation that they are cleaning up someone else’s excrement. Ghanaians have a right to anger.
So if I were to offer repentances, there would be much to give. First, I would offer them to the men who very nearly lost half of their lives, and were offered something far short of the most basic concept of justice. They are still years away from true freedom, they most likely won’t be able to make their own pilgrimage to Tamale, capital of the Northern Region of Ghana. They might not ever have the feeling of dust adorning their forehead and nose, the earth kissing them back after a prayer in an outdoor mosque in the north. Their sleep will not be faithfully interrupted by the predawn wailing of a call to prayer, or become dampened among the community of men and women using water sachets to perform abolition, meticulously progressing body part to body part.
I would apologize to Ghana and its citizens for having inherited our burden and for this issue affecting its national politics and election, in a year crucial for determining its direction as a country. I would acknowledge the unfairness in suffering another blow to its esteem as an independent and functioning nation. I cannot offer Ghanaians a guarantee they are safe http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/5/who-are-the-guantanamo-recidivists.html but I can be explicit in expressing my gratefulness without being disrespectful as long as its self (nation) aware.
Lastly, I would apologize to the U.S. citizen whose government consistently fails to muster the courage to allow him to reckon with the human faces affected by, the living cost of, his never ending quest for security. I would implore that if his gaze could not reach overseas, then consider the domestic implications of a huge military industrial complex when it has less and less foreign targets. With fewer wars to fight abroad, where do the tanks, armored suits, alas all that high tech weaponry go? One need not look further than Ferguson. It is not hard to imagine the weapons unleashed upon the brown and the poor in other nations, one day utilized against the brown and the poor at home; it is already happening.
For if I were a braver American I would set off in a crowded lorry from Bimbilla to the Southern region, with a mission of sorts, nothing than can be accomplished or executed , nothing with tangible benefits except the faint possibility of redemption. I would carry small tokens, maybe prayer beads, or an artisan touched clothed with a Dua from the Qu’ran, “O Allah! Reconcile (with love and understanding) between our hearts. And resolve our broken affairs and guide us toward peace and paths of guidance.” But I would bow at the knee, customary of Dagbon greetings to elders or those worthy of respect, and greet these men. Men so intimately connected to my country, the home of the brave.