Some may criticize his actions as a publicity stunt, others may question his sanity. Still others may question the moral rightness of voluntarily undergoing what others experience as torture. Either way, actor and musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) certainly made a bold move by teaming up with human rights group Reprieve to protest the use of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.
In a video released by the organization as part of a larger campaign for human rights at Guantanamo Bay, the musician is seen strapped to a chair and fed using the nose-to-stomach procedure employed at the detention center. Warning: This video is somewhat disturbing and may be difficult to watch.
Over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been engaged in a hunger strike for much of this year, protesting the lack of respect shown toward them and their Qurans. Despite their legitimate concerns – especially considering that 86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release – the Obama administration condones force feeding as a measure against the strike.
These are men who, for the most part, had zero involvement in Al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombings, have spent the last 11 years in a detention facility where they have been subjected to torture, at worst, and extreme alienation, at best, and even after being cleared for release see no end in sight to their misery.
Their situation may be extraordinary, but their engagement in hunger strike as a form of rebellion is not unprecedented. Most famous among hunger strikes in unquestionably Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the British rule of India. But a case that holds even greater relevance in regards to Guantanamo is that of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Protesting their lack of rights and voting privileges, many women were imprisoned, and many of these brave souls engaged in hunger strike to draw further attention and sympathy to their cause. The nose-to-stomach force feeding that ensued drew criticism across the board, and it seems we are witnessing a similar concern for human rights today.
The comparison may not be entirely fair or accurate, granted. But if public opinion responded negatively to a method of prisoner treatment back in the 1910s, then we in 2013 clearly haven’t learned our lesson. A hunger strike is a dramatic way for prisoners to protest conditions at Guantanamo Bay – and they wouldn’t take such bold action for nothing.
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