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Jubilee Year Faith in focus: "Turning Out Epiphanies and Releasing the Captive"

“That’s what we would say on the reservation” my mother said, “all my relations.” She’s reading The Water Protectors to one daughter as the other runs back and forth from the kitchen giving her bandaged arm a kiss. I’ve just rolled up her sweater to see the wound from a skin cancer surgery this week she hasn’t told me about. “They glued it shut” she said, but it’s opened and my spouse finds a large bandaid to dress it. “It may not stick. I’ve had it since 2012” Emily said.

"It's a Jubilee year," Emily tells me, referring to the act of biblical justice (Isaiah 61); every fifty years all the captives were released--I'm less intrigued about the custom in ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, than I am in the interpretation of God's time. Convinced that the lessons of Biblical truth about the time of Justice must inform our advocacy today.

If God made us to know the meaning of the times, to anticipate the coming of God’s Kingdom of Justice from the same sense by which we recognize the whether or not of God’s reign, Epiphanies come before the storm. Who gave Ceasar the right to send occupying forces into Palestine? Who dare invade the Temple disrupting the business of devotion with the liberative emotion of anger? Advocates run into a common lesser evil, making asses of ourselves to make a point. We stake our advocacy on the principle of truth, and slip into the practical concern for connection. The Gospel writer John places the body of the crucified in the arms of Mary. He wasn’t afraid to depart from history, a driving concern in Luke, who merely tells us Mary came to Jerusalem. The jurisdiction of Roman law was not clear when Jesus was held a captive betrayed by someone close to him, whose identity with the killer Barrabas is intentionally switched to justify his crucifixion.

It is in the gospel of John alone that Mary the mother of Jesus bears witness to the crucifixion. Elizabeth Johnson writes in Dangerous Memories of the Piéta, an artistic rendering Mary’s anguish and very real grief. The liberating effectiveness of showing Mary so that we rise up and say Enough killing, torturing, No more war, no more poverty. The inspired gospel of John promotes the faith that does justice, showing a moment of pathos as the impetus of the church’s response: “galvanizing nonviolent action to stop the violence as the only appropriate expression of faith” (157).

The Epiphany Season is a time to welcome the Spirit; we may pray “come to me Consoler of abandoned souls” asking for the grace to serve in consolation to others as an effective advocate.

I find a middle ground with my children by way of graphic novels curated by our local librarian including Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (Hill and Wang, 2012), George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy (Top Shelf, 2019).

I first met Mansoor last year reading what my daughter calls the iguana story in the graphic compilation edited by Sarah Mirk, Guantánamo Voices (2019). “Our first guest” the men called her, charmed as she walked uninhibited into camp from the Cuban rocky shore. While U.S. soldiers were threatened with a fine of $10,000 for touching or harming the protected animal, they let Mansoor alone when he befriended the iguana, “Princess” he called her, during his weekly release from solitary confinement, confiding the confused tears as an apprehended nineteen-year-old.

My two young girls, I expect, will one day ask how we expressed our faith during the war on terror. I will tell them about their mother’s service welcoming the Afghani family and I picture them saying, but during the war, what did you do about it? I prayed with my words and my actions; my tutors led me to see unexpected beauty in the people at odds with U.S. Empire, inviting me to explore the side of the oppressed in the history of El Salvador. Twenty years later, I found myself married and blessed with children, my father scheduled for surgery to remove prostate cancer.

My mother in town, she put them to bed as I attended calls for the Poor People’s Campaign. The blizzard arrives, and after shoveling, I lead the way to a hill by the old cardboard box factory that made ration boxes in world war II. They march up the hill after their first sledding, slipping and getting up again perfectly happily, but as I reach 40 this year, I’m feeling a dizzy spell when I realize it’s because of my annual fast marking the 20th anniversary of Guantánamo receiving the shepherds and potato farmers purchased by bounty in Afghanistan.

At today's "Guantanamo: 20 Years On" event hosted by CAGE, seven former prisoners spoke, reiterating demands made to President Joe Biden in an open letter published last year with New York Review of Books. Moazzam Begg highlighted what Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who recently died) said, "We need to be careful about this word 'terrorist'" because:
This is being used to deny people their humanity as was done under the apartheid regime..This label of terrorism you need to be very careful because Nelson Mandela was called this too.--
Like Nelson Mandela whose peers gave classes in Robin Island, like the Vietnam war protester Jim Forest who recalls from the Milwaukee 14 draft board raiders, Mansoor Adayfi and his fellows redefined Guantánamo camp VI as a classroom, at one point cutting Styrofoam cups into flowers to gift a guard’s mother. “Tell her it’s from 441,” Mansoor said. They took lessons from Moath, whose talent as artist was plain when he built a ship out of cardboard and used mop string, which the corporal requested to see and so admired he gave the dorm permission to continue. Using nail clippers, they built bookcases for their cells from cardboard—and seated at cardboard desks they made they stirred imaginary future dishes they would create following the culinary instruction of another—“Now imagine we’re in the market,” picking out the ingredients…”Now add a pinch…” narrating the pzz as it hits the sizzling pan.

At lunch with an apple, my spouse works on a Christmas puzzle which reminds me of the wedding gift we like to give—and how in Do Not Forget Us Here Mansoor Adayfi writes “Americans made us into a puzzle.”

Inspired, I decide it’s time to let the girls neatly show off their stirring ability. I make a King cake inspired by the time in my life, as a Jesuit novice, a group of us cleaned up after Hurricane Katrina, carting away maggoty fridges and filling a dumpster with walls that had bloomed black mold. Running the city’s first major event, a marathon, passing the motor boat in the downtown street. I think of Christopher Inn, painting the chapel and meeting the sacristan; my old friend Doug Tabary, born in the French Quarter, served as a platoon cook in Korea and survivor of multiple hurricane displacements, then kidney failure, before succumbing to Covid. When we got in touch through my mother after a few years having lost contact, he said he had always been praying for me.

Mansoor means “Victorious” in Arabic. He looks that way Sunday Jan. 9 during a live-streamed event discussing with James Yee, reminiscing when he and others wrote advocacy letters to the President and Congress, the UN and the Red Cross for the former Muslim Chaplain at Guantánamo, then serving solitary confinement in Charleston, South Carolina maximum security penitentiary. 

"This letter shows the men as human beings; it directly contradicts the narrative that the government puts out that people in Guantánamo are terrorists. Not one single individual in 2002-03 when I was there and there were nearly 600 men when I got there. Not one was connected in anyway to 9/11. This letter shows that these people like you and me."
Discovering that he was targeted by the US military, realizing the the significance if he had been classified as enemy combatant his constitutional rights to due process would be stripped:

At that time, the idea of the classification of an enemy combatant was that you had no rights to lawyer, no access to the courts. even as a US citizen if you are deemed an enemy combatant, all your rights were stripped. It was terrifying that I could be like the prisoners in Guantanamo I could be disappeared, and I was for the first three weeks in South Charleston, South Carolina.

The unheard, the dispossessed, reunited in solidarity. Yee’s record was officially cleared and his book was the pick for incoming freshman (class of ’10) at the University of Michigan, until the decision was reversed.

“That’s exactly the kind of launch that could propel a book like this to reach a national audience,” commiserated Antonio Aiello, former PEN America campaign director and co-author of Do Not Forget Us Here during a Witness Against Torture Book Club Jan. 4.

In a previous post "participatory emotion in activist writing"I highlighted a scene of dark humor, welcoming to the block with an enactment with the guard to strip away all the belongings, down to his shorts, and then finally laughing and singing welcome. Antonio comments:

"The humor in the book, and in particular that section, works on many levels and was intended to show how these men held on to parts of themselves even in the bleakest circumstances, and how they turned that bleakness into a kind of joy. They were mostly teens and young guys when they were sent there, so their humor reflects that stunted development. That group of guys had also been through a lot, sacrificed greatly for the good of others, and held onto their integrity. I think giving men who had lived in Camp IV, and maybe not sacrificed so much, was giving them a taste of what they had been through was a cheeky way of saying, "look how easy you had it."
To highlight another example, here from one of the final chapters, Mansoor has depicted how the men taught each other, arranging classes.
Kareem, an older married brother, decided to teach us about married life so that we would be prepared when we left this place. He called it “marriage class.” It was my favorite.

At first we started laughing, imagining each other as women.

“Look at Monsoor with hair all over his body,” one brother shouted at me. “You would scare all the men.”

I said that if I were going to choose someone to accompany me for the rest of my life, I would want a wife who was better than me.

One of the students tried to embarrass me by saying, “So will you let your wife be in charge? Should men just be like donkeys, serving women?” (313-14) 
Monsoor argues that men have “never given birth to a soul,” but “only harvested lives,” and reminds them that under female command the harsh treatment of guards was checked.
Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen made prisoner when just a young teen, said at today's "Guantanamo:20 Years On" event hosted by CAGE and Witness International, speaking about the influence of men from 45-50 other countries and their gift of culture and tradition, many of his fellow prisoners were helpful to him because they exposed him to roots of resilience in faith, strengthening his Muslim identity:
I won't name any names, one of them is on this right now, but there were a lot of the men who influenced me. Huge mark, most of all, sharing the culture. I was young, I wasn’t developed. I had a lot of inferiority complex, before I went to Guantanamo, towards the developed world. Thought everything cool was western. When I saw their empathy, their honesty, their care, I saw a lot of qualities I had never seen before. A strong sense of identity because I feel that this war of terror after 9/11 they say they want to hold people responsible. I see the targets were to steal their identity, to break them, to make them ashamed of who they are, not knowing that going in this place would give us a lot of times to learn about ourselves and take the best of what we had to offer.
Hearing treatment improved under the female commanders, my mother says she is relieved, that unfortunately women serving in the Nazi camps were often brutal enforcers of rules.

“Maybe because they hadn’t the arrogance to think of themselves as better than the rules," Emily says.

For her book club, my mother has taken her turn to choose the next book, The Water Defenders by Robin Broad and Cavanaugh, about the efforts of Salvadorans resisting the interests of a Canadian gold mining company and the World Bank, and a ten-year campaign that had involved my mother writing letters in solidarity, finally succeeding. But that's another story.


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