Friday, April 16, 2010

Do you Hear When They Cry

by Fauziya Kassindja

Thumbs up.

This was a hard book to read. One of those narratives that grabs one, and drags him or her through horrible real life experiences, and doesn't let go until he or she has reached the end.

Ms Kassindja is a Muslim woman from Toga, Africa. In October of 1994, she ran away from home at 17 in order to escape a polygamous marriage to an older man and and the prospect of female circumcision (known legally in America as Female Genital Mutilation or FMG). Unlike the book I reviewed a few weeks ago, Cruel and Usual Punishment, this author has clung to her Muslim faith and the book reflects this adherence throughout. It gives a much more positive picture of the Muslim faith and those who follow it.

The book, however, is about so much more than that. During the first several chapters, Ms Kassindja teaches the reader all about what her life was life in Toga. This is very skillfully done and I learned many things, all the while enjoying the happy narrative of the author's younger life.

When Ms Kassindja eventually had to leave her homeland, she stayed briefly in Germany. From there, at the urging of a friend, she chose to come to America and request political asylum. Ms Kassindja spoke English and wanted to finish her education. With few options available to her, this seemed like a reasonable plan.

This latter part of the book, by far the longest part of the narrative, is much less joyful then the first. The ordeal that the author lived through while awaiting her various hearings is a travesty. And if an accurate depiction of how America treats her refugees it is a true blot on our national conscience.

It would be impossible for me to list everything Ms. Kassinja writes about. But eventually she was put in touch with several advocates who used her case to set precedence in ruling impending FMG as warranting asylum. She was released on parole after spending 16 months in a series of facilities, some of that time in maximum security prisons sharing a cell with women incarcerated for violent crime. Shews eventually granted asylum in June of 1996.

Hopefully all the publicity her case caused also has lead to better, more humane conditions for those who find themselves running to us in fear.

I realize there are many issues, political and social, to consider with regard to US immigration policy. There are no easy answers. But after reading Ms Kassindja's account, I certainly am more aware of some basic human conditions that can in our INS detention facilities. The book puts a human face on an otherwise impersonal definition of a detainee and elicits empathy toward those with nowhere to run.

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