What You And Detainees Have In Common

by Tracy R. Walsh


Elias Groll considers why so many Americans are interested in the library at Guantánamo Bay:

[Books] have the ability to humanize and establish connections between people. Browsing through the GitmoBooks Tumblr, you might realize, suddenly, that you and a detainee have something in common – you both read and loved Harry Potter. Derek Attig, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois, has written about this phenomenon on his blog:

A main point of the Guantánamo system … has been to make it seem as though Americans have nothing in common with the men being held within it. But books connect. Not as strongly as some theorize – reading the same book as someone else doesn’t make you inexorably and totally connected-but shared experience of a cultural artifact is, indeed, a powerful thing. Scrolling through photos of Danielle Steel novels, of Narnia books, of Harry Potter and 300 Orchids: Species, Hybrids, and Varieties in Cultivation, I’m struck by the intense familiarity of these shelves that I’ve never seen, in a place I’ve never been, used by people that I do not know or, by design, know much about.

(Photo: An Arabic edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince held at Guantánamo Bay. By Michael Billings)