Je suis Ahmed*

Posted on 19. January 2015

by Ivan Lavrentjev

ivan-lavrentjev-modifiedThe tiny country of Estonia has got a new resident. Good news for Estonia, since its birth rate is declining and thousands of people work abroad. But hardly any media coverage was positive, not to mention people’s reactions on Facebook and other social media. The reason for this is the previous residence of the 31-year-old gentleman we are talking about; Guantanamo Bay.

Barack Obama said during his presidential campaign that, if elected, he would close the notorious prison, but thus far he has failed to deliver on this promise. He did manage to send a number of inmates to different countries across the globe, including mine. One of these is Ahmed Abdul Qader, originally from Yemen and accused of having ties with Al-Qaeda. However, the US courts never sentenced him, nor did they drop these accusations. Even so, the US authorities’ doubts regarding his guilt were big enough to detain him in Guantanamo for 12 years, as NYT published documents reveal.

When transferred here, former prisoners should be able to live the life of a normal resident. He is currently waiting to obtain a residence permit and is assisted by a social worker. The authorities will help him rent a small apartment and then he will probably learn the language and get a job – a typical procedure for all refugees (to which his legal status is close to). So, a couple of weeks later I could stand next to Ahmed in a department store.

From my own comfortable point of view, I can hardly imagine what it’s like to live Ahmed’s life. Islamophobic tensions have never been a key issue in my country, as the members of the local Muslim community are well-integrated and the number of so-called new immigrants is low. But while most people in Estonia don’t have any direct experience with Muslims, they always come with negative stereotypes on hand. Prejudice, ignorance and the inability to accept differences can lead to horrible situations, as recent events in Paris have shown.

I really hope to meet Ahmed in a supermarket queue someday. I will get some pork, and he will buy chicken or vegetables. It would be good to discuss our choices because mutual understanding is always the key. The opposite approach is not sustainable. I am confident that Ahmed will be a good Yemeni Estonian. And I hope that I, as well as my compatriots, will have enough patience and openness in order to say: je suis devenu un peu d’Ahmed**. Or, in short, je suis Ahmed.

*French I am Ahmed.

**French I became Ahmed, a little bit.