TPMmuckraker Presents: No Direction Home — One Uighur’s Journey From East Turkistan To Palau, Via Gitmo


Here at TPMmuckraker, we’ve been thinking about pitching an idea for a screenplay. It’s sort of a Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay meets The Kite Runner meets Borat.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist:– When the movie opens, you’re an ordinary Uighur, minding your own business.

– But you’re tired of being a member of an oppressed Turkic Muslim minority living in northwest China — a region you call East Turkistan. So you flee to Kyrgyzstan, then to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where you get training in the use of small arms, which you maybe intend to use to fight for Uighur independence from China. Your feelings about America, to the extent that you have any, are generally pretty positive.

– But you have the bad luck to be in Afghanistan just as the US is invading the country in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks. After the invasion, you flee to Pakistan, where you’re picked up by bounty hunters, turned over to the Americans, and eventually taken across the world to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

– After almost seven years of often extremely harsh treatment, a judge orders that you be set free, because even the Bush administration can no longer viably argue that you’re a threat to the US.

– It seems for a while like you might be be resettled to northern Virginia, where there’s already a Uighur community, which sounds nice. But Republican politicians — and a few scared Democratsdecide to pretend, for political reasons, that this plan would represent some kind of grave terrorist threat to the people of northern Virginia, so that doesn’t work out.

– The American government contacts about 100 governments, looking for one that will take you. But no one wants the hassle, it seems. This is sort of hurtful, but even worse, you fear you might end up back in China, where you’ll probably be tortured.

– But eventually, your lawyers tell you they’ve found a country that’ll take you, at least temporarily: the island nation of Palau. You’re really glad to be leaving Gitmo after so long, but you’ve never heard of Palau and have no idea where it is.

– Still, you’re able to learn a few things about it from the internet. Your potential new home only has 20,000 people, you learn, making it one of the least populated countries in the world! And it’s divided into hundreds of islands: 8 main ones, and 250 smaller ones. A lot of people support themselves through fishing or farming.

– It hosts US military facilities, in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the US. In fact, the US government just gave Palau another $200 million. Now it’s making sense!

– In fact, it looks like Palau was even a member of the American-led coalition that started the war in Iraq. But it doesn’t seem like they’d have a very powerful army, so you look to see what else they did. And it turns out that all they did was write a letter to George Bush saying they thought the invasion was a good idea! They offered their harbors and airports, but Palau is nowhere near Iraq, so they weren’t used. Then some government official went on an American comedy TV show called The Colbert Report to brag about it. Some help they were! Still, this is weird.

– The most worrying thing though: it looks like most people on Palau are Christians, and it’s not even certain that there are any mosques there, which will make it difficult to continue to practice your religion. Still, some government official from Palau says it’s a “paradise.” So maybe it won’t be so bad.

– So it is that in the movie’s final scene, with a mix of relief and trepidation, and mostly complete confusion, you set off from Cuba, across the Pacific for your new home in Palau.

We’re thinking maybe Gael Garcia Bernal for the lead, if we could make him look a little more central Asian.

The hard part is gonna be convincing anyone that this is plausible enough for a movie.

Masthead Masthead
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