April 26, 2012

Dear Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun,

I am sorry.

You have given so much to America and we have treated you so poorly in return. Abdulrahman, you arrived here with almost nothing but your desire to work hard and well, to treat people fairly, and to worship Allah in peace. Together with Kathy, you raised a family based on love, respect, and good deeds. Together, the two of you built a business that gave jobs to the unemployed and restored beauty to homes and buildings all over New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina came, you waited as long as you could before making a decision. Like trees, your deep roots in New Orleans, held you in place. You could not get up and run with the first wind.

When the time of decision was finally upon you, each of you took care of the lives that had been entrusted to you. Kathy, you took your children out onto the madness of the gridlocked highways, not knowing where you might end up, whether you would be welcomed, or what would become of your husband. Your challenge was to live without knowing. Abdulrahman, you stayed behind to protect your home, your office, your work sites, so that there would be something worthwhile for your family to come back to. As the storm intensified beyond your imagination, you saved the lives of neighbors and brought confidence to all you met.

Neither of you could have ever expected that, in a storm-ravaged city, Abdulrahman would be swept up by hired police, suspected of being part of a terrorist sleeper cell. Or that America’s fundamental rules of law and procedure would be swept aside while Abdulrahman was held in a wire cage like an animal, cut off from all contact with lawyer or family. Or that he would be subjected to that greatest insult of all, abuse by uncaring guards that was intended to serve only one purpose, to rob him of his dignity and humanity.

I have read your story [“Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers, Vintage, 2009] and I write these words so I will never forget your suffering. Although, like that ship captain from long ago, I question the existence of a divine presence, I hope that you will be able to accept my sincere wish that Allah be merciful towards you and grant you peace.

We are brothers.


[For more information about the Zeitouns and for a chance to support the charitable works of the Zeitoun family, go to www.zeitounfoundation.org]


3 Responses to “Zeitoun”

  1. Cassie said

    I love the way you wrote this and I love Dave Eggers so I can’t wait to read this book.

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