Major themes

Zeitoun was arrested and taken into custody on his own property. He was treated brutally and denied due process: No attempt was made to secure the alleged crime scene or gather evidence, and he was held in a maximum security prison for three weeks, denied medical treatment, a phone call and a lawyer, all without formal charges being brought against him. Throughout the ordeal, he was the victim of verbal and physical abuse and witnessed its regular infliction upon other detainees. When he was finally charged, it was for looting in the amount of $500, and bail was set at $75,000, ten times the normal amount for the crime. In a twist, three different officials of the judicial system refused to disclose to his wife the location of his public hearing on the grounds that the information was "private."

After finally being released on bail, Zeitoun found that his house, left unlocked by the arresting officials, had been looted. Officials refused to return his wallet with his drivers license and permanent resident card because it was being "held as evidence." When he did get it back, his cash and credit cards were missing. All things considered, he fared better than the three companions taken into custody with him. They were incarcerated for even longer periods, while one, who was trying to evacuate New Orleans carrying his life savings, $10,000 in cash, never saw his money again.

The author describes with irony the speed and efficiency with which the city of New Orleans was able to convert a Greyhound bus station into a Guantanamo-style prison, even as it proved incapable of handling the logistics of food and sanitation for the refugees at the Superdome. Through the story of Zeitoun, the author invites the reader to contemplate abuse of power, in particular the ease with which those with marshall authority can slip into police state mentality once the normal checks and balances are breached by disaster.

Anti-Islam sentiment is another issue addressed throughout the book. It is not only Abdulrahman who is discriminated against, but also his wife Kathy, a convert to Islam who wears a hijab. It is mentioned several times in the text that she is looked at differently for her Muslim attire everywhere, from the grocery store to the DMV. She shares her experience of being laughed at by her family, who did not raise her as a Muslim and do not respect her choice to convert. However, two of the men taken into custody with Abdulrahman, as well as others caught in the same net, were not Muslims and also had their rights to due process abrogated. For example, the author describes the case of Merlene Maten, a 73-year-old diabetic arrested for looting as she was retrieving food from a cooler in her car and incarcerated for 13 days despite the efforts of her family and the AARP to secure her release. The main function of anti-Islamic sentiment in the book was to show the prism through which Abdulrahman viewed his incarceration, that because of his nationality and religion in post-9/11 America, he could not feel confident of receiving justice, and so his ordeal was especially terrifying.

The importance of family and close relations is also stressed. Abdul's family, although resident across the world, are terribly worried about him when he goes missing. They are mentioned often as being interactive in the lives of Kathy and Abdul. Kathy depends not only on her own family but on Abdul's as well. Kathy and Abdul treat their friends as family, too, depending on them for food and shelter during the storm.

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