15 Jun 2009

Uighurs in Bermuda

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Uighurs in Paradise

Back in 1959, well before Vietnam, there was a very funny Peter Sellers comedy called The Mouse That Roared.

Impoverished by the collapse of its only industry, the tiny European Duchy of Grand Fenwick proposes to declare war on the United States, lose, and then achieve prosperity via US reconstruction assistance and aid to a defeated foe.

American charity to wartime enemies was sufficiently notorious in the post-WWII era to provide themes for comedy, but it never occurred to George Marshall or Harry Truman to dispatch captured members of Axis forces to tropical resorts in the manner described by yesterday’s New York Times.

Almost exactly seven years after arriving at Guantánamo in chains as accused enemy combatants, and four days after their surprise predawn flight to Bermuda, four Uighur Muslim men basked in their new-found freedom here, grateful for the handshakes many residents had offered and marveling at the serene beauty of this tidy, postcard island.

In newly purchased polo shirts and chinos, the four husky men, members of a restive ethnic minority from western China, might blend in except for their scruffy beards. Smelling hibiscus flowers, luxuriating in the freedom to drift through scenic streets and harbors, they expressed wonder at their good fortune in landing here after a captivity that included more than a year in solitary confinement. …

“Before we were asking, ‘Why are the Americans doing this to us?’ ” said Mr. Abdulahat. Now, he said, with others nodding in agreement, “We have ended up in such a beautiful place….

While some less affluent residents said they felt it was unfair to offer jobs and citizenship to men the United States itself would not take, many others shrugged and expressed pride at Bermudan hospitality. As the men venture from the seaside cottage where they temporarily live until they get jobs and figure out next steps, people often come up to shake their hands and wish them well, and the men said they were deeply touched.

Their homeland of Xinjiang, a largely Muslim region in western China where many residents chafe under Chinese rule, is landlocked, and many of the Uighur detainees saw an ocean — still a distant, mysterious presence — for the first time ever through fences at Guantánamo.

Now they can play in the waters. Khaleel Mamut, 31, said he went fishing on a boat on Saturday and caught his first fish ever. “I was so excited,” he said. “You just drop the hook in the water and you get a fish.” Hearing that fishing did not always bring such quick results, one of the other men quipped that perhaps the fish were joining in Bermuda’s welcome.

They have been promised work visas and, in perhaps a year or so, possible citizenship, their American lawyers said. That would give them passports and a right to travel.


Tired of living in hopeless poverty driving sheep across the Gobi’s trackless sands? Get yourself an AK-47 and start taking potshots at US troops. Maybe you, too, will be captured and awarded a new life in a tropical resort at US taxpayers’ expense. Allahu Akhbar!


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