Walli Ullah Safi, 21 years of age, has been in Cloverhill prison for more than two weeks.
In very different circumstances, I was in prison at the same age for two weeks after protesting the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was one of hundreds of demonstrations I had been on after returning to the United States from Iraq. I had first travelled to Iraq, just barely 18 years of age, with a campaigning group who had highlighted the humanitarian crisis Iraqis faced under the sanctions. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the group had rallied in opposition to the Iraq war, mobilising thousands onto the streets.
Those years protesting the Iraq war were the most formative political experiences of my life, but being in prison had a haunting, and honestly chilling effect on my activism. I became all too aware of the complex matrix of issues that resulted in people engaging in ‘illegal’ action, and soon felt rather ashamed at the fact that I had consciously made the decision to go to prison when so many of the women who shared my experience were largely forced into the prison system due to their lack of privilege, knowledge of their rights or simply the absence of a way to make those rights actionable.
Walli Ullah Safi is a young man from Afghanistan and that is as much as I can confirm that I know about him. However, unlike those given the responsibility over his care, I do know more generally about the context and circumstances that may have affected his decision to leave Afghanistan. Though I have never travelled to the south of Afghanistan where the war between the international forces, including Ireland, and those of the opposition has never really ended, I have met many people who had to flee the south due to drone bombings, night raids, paramilitary incursions against ‘occupation friendly’ villages, military incarcerations, torture, rape—including that of children, and any myriad of brutalities that have resulted directly from decades upon decades of serial war. Walli, based on his language being Pashto, is very likely native to the south of Afghanistan where war has characterised most of his life—a prison of another form.
But war isn’t inherent to Afghan society, despite what the ‘graveyard of empires’ narrative would suggest. Rather, war has been visited upon Afghanistan time and again by the remorseless calculations of empire, beginning with the British occupations in the 1840s. At the start of the potato famine and mass emigration in Ireland, where the British deprived its starving colonial subjects the most basic necessities of human substance, they spent their fortune spilling the blood of Afghans in an attempt to constrain the growing dominance of another imperial state—Russia. Since that time, Afghanistan has been used by different colonial powers (the British, the Soviets, the Saudis and the Americans) to service ambitions I can only describe as frivolities.
The common experiences of colonial occupation and oppression should, for anyone with a sense of history, present a tangible and direct connection to the Afghans despite the myriad of differences of culture, language, religious background and colour between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This perceptible link should be the context in which those so-called representatives of the Irish people lead this island in moral and political courage, fortified by the sagacity, savage as it is, of our own past and renewed by the remarkable commitment to equality demonstrated earlier this year.
Walli Ullah Safi, if like the other young people I met across Afghanistan, has experienced more violence than most could imagine in a lifetime. In contrast with the chauvinistic rhetoric of the American government, the ongoing violence that condemns Afghans largely to a lottery of poverty or death will inevitably lead the determined to resist or to migrate. That migration is about survival, a defiance of the American attempt to ‘carve 9/11 into the history of loss in other places.’
In many ways, Walli Ullah Safi’s experiences acts as a mirror, the looking glass through which we can regain our sense of history. These bare facts and what can be extrapolated from them about Walli Ullah Safi and the circumstances of his life echo the conditions that circumscribe the lives of millions of people worldwide. In this, Walli Ullah Safi is representative of the punitive existence that faces those imprisoned in a myriad of realities in which their agency is deprived of its actionability.
His plight is also a reflection of the callousness of the Irish state and the European Union whose stance concerning the misery of the Greeks is incomparable in many ways to those whose hue, religious proclivities and circumstance render them as less than human ‘cockroaches’, a ‘swarm’ in Mr Cameron’s estimation, whose occupying troops only left Afghanistan this week after 14 years.
What troubles me most, however, is that Walli Ullah Safi is also an augur. His story typifies what the future will hold for these ‘undesirables’ we label ‘migrant’, ‘asylum seeker’, ‘refugee’, ‘illegal’…but no amount of legal terminology can cloak the flesh and blood young person suffering needlessly in Cloverhill prison.
He doesn’t need to be there, the law ironically is on his side—the section that holds him does not apply to refugees or to people who have made an application for asylum, as we are told Walli Ullah Safi has done. If Walli’s best interest were foremost, the demand for an immediate application for habeas corpus under article 40.4.2 of the Irish constitution would be called for by every migrant rights organisation following this case. The questions loom as to why these have not been done, and a traumatised young man seeking protection remains in a place where, after last week’s events, he is not safe.
Yet Walli Ullah Safi remains in prison due to a mix of incompetence and an aversion to accountability that so characterises the many institutions of the Irish state.The intrepid prophesier himself, James Baldwin, imparted that ‘the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one…because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.’ What is it that threatens so the imperium of the Irish state and its E.U. collaborators about cockroaches? One day, maybe soon, they may inherit the earth.
by Farah Mokhtareizadeh