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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 33 EVERY FEW MONTHS, my mother rides in a tiny, decades-old government airplane to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where she meets with her pro bono client, Ab- dul Aziz Naji. Aziz is a thirty-four-year-old Algerian man who has been held at Guantánamo for eight years without being charged with a crime. Four years ago, my mother and her law partner Ellen volunteered to take on his case, in hopes of forcing the U.S. government to grant Aziz ha- beas corpus, the right to challenge his detention in a court of law. This basic human right has been intrinsic to all civilized societies since the proclamation of the Magna Carta in 1215. My mother describes Aziz, who has spent the last several years in solitary confinement, as a small man with a polite, gentle way about him. He lost a leg to a land mine some years ago, and uses a prosthesis that is a bit too short. During meetings with my mother and Ellen, his legs—both real and prosthetic—are shackled to the floor. Even as he describes how much he misses his family and asks again and again when he will be freed, Aziz smiles and laughs frequently; he constantly thanks his lawyers for their efforts on his behalf (though, so far, their work has yielded no concrete results) and asks after their families. He frequently tells my mother that he is able to accept his situation because he has absolute faith in God’s plan for his life. I HAVE LONG BEEN OPPOSED to strict, narrow interpreta- tions of any religion. I associate fundamentalism with young men taught that their only hope for happiness is “martyrdom,” opponents of gay marriage attempting to deny their fellow hu- man beings basic rights, and women covered from head to toe in heavy, black cloth in the heat of summer. So it’s been interesting for me to notice how fundamentalist Islam has allowed Aziz to maintain equanimity through eight years of being held, virtually incommunicado, in conditions that are now widely recognized as being physically and psychologically torturous. My disdain for subscribing to a narrow conception of God and morality is born in part from my relationship with my grandpar- ents, who are evangelical Christians. I have a wonderful time on my quarterly visits to their home in rural Georgia—gorging on biscuits and blueberry cobbler, shelling peas on the porch swing, laughing at Granddaddy’s silly jokes. But I am always acutely aware of the struggles my mother has gone through to overcome her guilt and sadness over the unacknowledged but ever-present emotional distance her family maintains from her because of her decision as a young adult to leave the church. Although my mother has tried to explain to her parents numerous times that she has a rich and fulfilling spiritual life, they have frequently begged her to take my sister and me to church, arguing that she is putting us at risk for eternal damnation. I am equally disturbed by my grandparents’ unquestioning support for any politician who is opposed to abortion and gay marriage, despite the fact that this often means they are voting against their own economic interests and supporting violence and corruption that is counter to their belief in Jesus’ teachings. In a backlash against the rigidity of my mother’s upbringing, my own childhood was marked by religious openness. My father taught me yoga and meditation, my mother read me Bible sto- ries and took me to Shambhala workshops, and I was raised in a predominantly Jewish community, which meant I attended bar PHOTO©RUETERS Fundamental Faith: Lessons From Guantánamo A kind and caring prisoner at Guantánamo makes HANNAH TENNANT-MOORE rethink her attitude toward fundamentalism. She remembers the people in her own life with extreme beliefs but loving hearts.