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On Friday, April 15th, Terry Holdbrooks, a US army veteran and ex-guard at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, spoke about his experiences before Islam and everything that led to his converting in December of 2003. This event took place at the Roswell Community Masjid on behalf of the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA). In an effort to illustrate the issues many Muslims and immigrants face in America, and the importance of supporting them through the legal organizations which assist them, Holdbrooks shed some light on his past experiences.
Coming from an untraditional past, Holdbrooks was raised in Arizona as the son of junkie parents, facing the reality of his parents’ split when he was only seven. Soon after, he was parented by his “ex-hippie” grandparents, causing Holdbrooks to grow up determined to find a life for himself that would not always involve a lack of financial support. His aspirations to see the world from a different set of his eyes pushed him to sign up for the military. Working in administration, a drinking, rock-music loving, tattooed Holdbrooks was then deployed to Guantanamo Bay.
Throughout his time as a guard in Guantanamo, Holdbrooks was quickly disliked by his fellow guards and colleagues. As drunk racists who did not see those imprisoned in Guantanamo as anything besides terrorists deserving of cruelty, Holdbrook’s colleagues did not like seeing friendliness and kind conversations between him and the detainees. This led to physical altercations as the other guards labeled him a “sympathizer” of the Guantanamo inmates.
Despite the misery the constant clashes and disputes bought him, the crude attitudes of the men he worked with pushed Holdbrooks towards learning about Islam and the politics, ethics, cultures, and morals of the men he was taught to fear and suspect. He learned about the religion through the internet and the detainees he guarded, using the free time he had watching over them and walking them to and from interview rooms to understand the complexity of who they were.
Soon enough, only six months into his time at Guantanamo, Holdbrooks took his Shahada. He stopped drinking, gave up music, and began praying behind the backs of his colleagues. As he became closer to Islam, Holdbrook was becoming increasingly disconsolate with the work he was forced into doing. Feeling a total lack of freedom of thought, as he labeled it, at times, he found the detainees much happier than he was, despite their literal lack of liberation.
In 2004, Holdbrooks was finally discharged from Guantanamo and the army, however, his removal was due to being cast as having “general personality disorder.” The nightmares of his time in Guantanamo haunted him and led him away from Islam. Despite this, he was soon driven back to the religion due to the structure and discipline it had given his unordered life. Since then, Terry Holdbrooks published his first book, the memoir “Traitor?”, which describes his journey as an American soldier who found Islam in one of the worst places in the world.
The MLFA is a charity which funds the legal work in defense of Muslims who are discriminated against and face injustice in court rooms. The work MLFA does varies from immigration issues to deeper Islamophobic attacks. Terry Holdbrooks works to assist the MLFA by allowing people to see what happens behind the scenes of our justice system through retelling stories and reminding our society of many of our twisted ideals, and how to correctly battle them. To donate to the Muslim Legal Fund of America, you can go here.
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