August 3, 2011 — Review
Written by Frances Webber
Haunting poetry written from prison by Talha Ahsan deserves to be widely read.
‘I wish I could trap your laughter in a jar – to unscrew and make me crumble’. This is a line from a love poem, a poem from an unrequited lover, entitled ‘Lines for f – the doted on’, in Talha Ahsan’s small collection of poems, This be the answer: poems from prison. The emotions expressed cover longing, nostalgia, love, courage, despair. But they are lent intensity by the author’s five-year incarceration awaiting extradition to the US to face charges of conspiracy to support terrorists and to kill or injure people abroad.
Talha Ahsan has been detained since 2006 awaiting extradition on unjust and absurd charges to which no challenge can be mounted in the UK. SOAS graduate Talha Ahsan is accused in the same case as Babar Ahmad. The charges relate to running an allegedly jihadist website in the UK; Talha has never been to the US. The campaign to free Talha calls for a trial in the UK, if at all.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has argued that extradition without the requesting state having to prove a prima facie case breaches fundamental human rights, and recommends changes in extradition law to protect rights. It also calls for the introduction of a ‘most appropriate forum’ safeguard, which would require the judge in an extradition case to consider whether it is in the interests of justice for the individual to be tried in the requesting country or in the UK.
Meanwhile, Talha writes. The grimmest poem is ‘Wish harder’, in which the author wishes for a time machine to allow him to ‘meet my young mother/ when pregnant with me/ to trip her up and miscarry me’. Perhaps the most uplifting is the last poem, from which the collection takes its name. Taking as his starting point the comment allegedly made to Babar Ahmad by officers as they beat him, ‘Where is your god now?’, Talha meditates on that question, and responds:
My God is with me now/ hearing and seeing/ whilst your superiors/ when they see you, do not look at you/ and when they hear you, do not listen to you.
My God is risen above the heavens/ and closer to me than my jugular vein/ whilst your superiors no different to you/ allow you no further than the desk.
My God wants me to call Him/ whilst your superiors demand you knock.
And when I go towards him a hand span/ He comes to me a yard/ and when I go to Him walking/ He comes to me running …’
You don’t have to share Talha’s (or any) religious belief to be moved by these lines, awed by Talha’s courage and by the beauty of the words.
The Free Talha Ahsan Campaign asks readers of the poems to contact their MP requesting the Attorney General to try Talha in the UK, to write to Talha at Long Lartin (Talha Ahsan A9438AG, HMP Long Lartin, South Littleton, Evesham, Worcs WR11 8TZ) or to contribute to the campaign by taking part or by making a donation.
This be the answer: poems from prison is available from the Free Talha Ahsan Campaign, PO Box 64590, London SW17 8HH, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Endnotes:  Joint Committee on Human Rights, 15th report 2011-12, 'The human rights implications of UK extradition policy', 7.6.11, available here.  Four police officers were acquitted of actual bodily harm on 3 June 2011. The jury were not told that in 2009 the Metropolitan police had paid Ahmad £60,000 in damages for what they described as a 'serious, gratuitous and prolonged' attack.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.
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