The Story Of Hamzah Al-Daeni & Righting Wrongs In The War On Terror

Hamzah Al Daeni And Righting Wrongs In The War On Terror

Hamzah Al-Daeni was only moments away from celebrating his fifth birthday when he was struck by a U.S. missile in front of his Baghdad home on May 1, 2008. The powerful force that spread from the missile launched Hamzah across the street and into a neighbor’s yard, where he was immediately knocked unconscious. Amidst the frenzied panic unleashed by an American warplane, Hamzah was carried home to his father, Imaad, by a neighbor whose young son Malik died upon impact. Imaad recalled in a solemn voice the terrifying sight of his blood-drenched and dirt-covered five-year-old son, whose exposed intestines dangled aimlessly from his severed abdomen.

Hamzah sustained several injuries throughout his brown-skinned five-year-old body. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors informed Imaad that in order to save his son they needed permission to amputate the unsalvageable appendages that hung like broken branches from Hamzah. Imaad consented on behalf of his son, but the doctors were initially unable to perform the life-saving operation.

Profuse amounts of shrapnel from the blast had severed nearly all of Hamzah’s veins that could have been tapped for an intravenous drip. Imaad and his family felt the hopeless weight of their son’s impending death as the gangrene rapidly crept through Hamzah’s right leg and into his pelvis. But in what could have been his passing moment, Iraqi physicians found a viable vein and were able to perform a massive amputation of Hamzah’s right leg, right testicle, right buttock, two meters of his small intestine, and a portion of his stomach.


I met Hamzah and his father three years later in 2011 at a dinner party hosted by a Palestinian Muslim family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the wake of September 11th and the War on Terror, all of our ummah’s gatherings and celebrations had been politically charged. This gathering – where the personal so viciously collided with the political – was no different. The father and son had been brought to the United States by Healing Children of Conflict, a regionally-based NGO that fits third-world amputees with first-world prosthetics. Hamzah and Imaad sat poolside in the Kanaan’s meticulously landscaped backyard, drenched in the humid heat of the early-summer Michigan sun, as local Muslim families and elderly white anti-war activists convened to both celebrate the strength and mourn the pain in Hamzah’s survival.

When I first met Hamzah, I struggled to choke back tears. But he proudly let his crutches fall to the ground as he extended his small hand to shake mine, as any well-mannered young man would have done. My desified “Slamlaikum” was met with his emphatically Iraqi “Wa’laikum as’salam.” I felt proud to be in the presence of a Muslim boy who sounded and looked like a Muslim boy. Hamzah was excited but confused to meet so many two-legged, whole-bodied Muslims in a land where he thought Muslims were impossible. I tried to resist staring at the empty space where his leg should have been, but Hamzah’s bright eight-year-old, gap-toothed smile captivated my attention, shifting it away from the colorful sock he wore on what remained of his left side.

With only the informal education in classical Quranic Arabic that most first-generation American Pakistanis receive, I relied on my native Arabic speaking sisters and brothers to help me converse with Hamzah and Imaad throughout the evening. The NGO that brought them to West Michigan also provided Hamzah and Imaad with an interpreter: Waffa was a proud Lebanese-Syrian Muslim woman who ran her own Arabic language school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A loosely draped metallic-blue silk hijab revealed a defiantly beautiful head of jet-black hair, and the terrain graced by her distinguished Arab nose imparted an essence of regality that not even the Queen of England could dream of (re-)colonizing.

Over Desi chai and the best Shatilla baklava, I wondered out loud with Waffa and others why this happened to Hamzah. The eight-year old amputee jokingly replied in his own broken English, “for the oil!” When his youthful laughter subsided, I shared with Hamzah how angry I was that this happened to him. In an unapologetically cold and matter-of-fact tone – too mature for a young child – that penetrated any and all language barriers, Hamzah expressed his own anger towards America. Waffa, who assured me that her translations were strictly objective, conveyed Hamzah’s chilling testimony about the Americans who “took something they did not need.”

I immediately thought of his leg, but Hamzah thought of his neighbor Malik and the thousands of others in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Jordan and Pakistan who had not survived, and of the thousands more who have not yet been killed. A sympathetic American peace activist, Kathy, hastily but with genuine compassion interrupted us and asked Waffa to assure Hamzah that “not all Americans are bad. Many of us want to help you.” Waffa, who only moments ago promised objectivity in her interpretation, refused to translate into Arabic Kathy’s sympathetic American plea. She deflected it instead, quietly reassuring Kathy “that we are working on this with Hamzah, but he is not ready to hear it.” Hamzah could not hear it: the blast that took his leg, his friend, and his homeland in defense of ‘freedom’ muted Kathy’s sympathy. We all – Muslims and non-Muslims, colored and white, immigrants and citizens, one-legged and two – sat in an uncomfortable silence.

During that silence, I felt in my wholly appendaged Muslim body a profound sense of alienation towards my American homeland. Hamzah felt it too: the young Iraqi boy was unable to comprehend how I could be both an American and a Muslim. I explained to him that I am an American by birth – and I have the papers to prove it. But even with my coveted blue and gold passport in hand, I have been restrained, detained, and pained for not being American enough. But my Muslim sisters and brothers who are not American like Hamzah, fared far worse than me. Spending time with Hamzah brought to bare life the violent political narrative with which American freedom has been defended. Hamzah’s young body barely escaped that sovereign narrative in its deadliest form: as the collateral damage of liberties defense.


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