2 journalers for this copy...
I had heard a great deal about this book and I knew it was one of the titles included in the World Book Night give away a couple of years ago. When I saw it for sale in a thrift store, I picked it up. I'm doing an alphabet reading challenge and this was a natural choice for the letter Z.
Anyone in this country who saw any of the news coverage has at least an idea of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, of the inept handling of its aftermath by the federal government, and can imagine how unsettling it was to live through. I visited the city a year after the fact and saw the rotting cars and the debris that still remained, the scum line left by the water fifteen feet up the concrete supports of overpasses, the still empty streets, the vast fields of rampant weeds where entire blocks of houses had benn smashed and rotted away, and the chunks of buildings caught in tree branches dangling over state highways. I know that more than 10 years later much of the city is still waiting to be restored. And I have read the book about the death and surreal atmosphere at the city hospital. This book contains a story too few people know, but one that must be told.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a remarkable man wjo would seem to be the embodiment of the American dream. He immigratec to this country after years of hard work and set about making himself a successful businessman. His wife Kathy is amazing and has weathered many challenges after converting from Baptist to Islam and marrying a Middle Eastern man, mostly challenges resulting from the ethnic and religious prejudices of others, including her own family. When Katrina hit, Kathy took the children and left New Orleans but Zeitoun remained behind to watch over their businesses. Zeitoun's experiences during the storm are fascinating and inspiring and somehow serene, including for the first few days in the drowned city, using his canoe to help people and animals in need.
And then, in a truly Kafkaesque moment, the combined post-9/11 anti-Muslim paranoia, f***ed up government response to the storm, and unchecked power of men with too much firepower turned Zeitoun's life into hell. He was arrested on suspicion of looting (by a cop, it turns out! Who engaged in quite a bit of looting himself but feels it was justified) while inside a home he owned, and then was considered by the military and quasi-military people involved (did you know that while people were starving in squalor in the Superdome, Haliburton had a contract to help keep order in the streets of New Orleans!), based on his accent and admission of being born in Syria, to be an al Qaeda oprative. He was manhandled at gun point, shackled, and stuck in a cage for 3 days, with no phone call or idea of what he was accused of doing, (Again, while people were starving in the Superdome just blocks away, or stranded on rooftops, the government arranged for a massive outdoor dogrun-style prison of more than 20 large cells to be constructed, it was stafffed, and there was power, food and water galore.) He and a few friends were housed together, fed pork-based meals, denied medical care, made to sleep on filthy concrete, and then transferred to a maximum security prison where they were ignored for 10 says. And they had no conract with anyone; Kathy assumed her husband was dead after lising contact with him minutes before his arrest. At the end of thst time, Zeitoun was charged with possession of stolen property worth less than $500 (the exact stolen goods in question were unspecified, which is jot surprising, since there were none) and cash bail of $75!000 was set. In all Zeitoun was in custody for 23 days before posting bond and he served months less than the friends arrested with him. Charges against all of them were eventually dropped with no apology of any kind. And it is entirely possible that they might never have gotten out, or even been charged with a crime if a kind person distributing Bibles at the prison had not been willing to risk taking Zeitoun's name and his wife's cell phone number and calling her anonymously to let her know what had become of him.
As a lawyer, I am appalled by the legal atrocities visited upon this man l. The one that stands out for me, though, is that upon being processed into the prison, someone inquired about his dietary restrictions and wrote it down, but he was still provided with multiple pork-based meals he could not eat. I can inly pray that the outcome of the 2016 election does not further theis country's progress towards xenophobia, prejudice, and human rights abuses.
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