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War On Terror, Katrina Intersect In 'Zeitoun'

Jul 25, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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Abdulrahman Zeitoun was arrested just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The Syrian immigrant had lived in the city for more than 20 years. Author Dave Eggers says Zeitoun's story is "a perfect intersection between the war on terror and the worst disaster in American history."

Eggers' new book, Zeitoun, describes a post-catastrophic New Orleans where the rule of law gives way to suspicion and fear.

After mistaking Zeitoun and three other men for looters, members of the National Guard took Zeitoun, a muslim, to "Camp Greyhound" — a series of cages set up outside a Greyhound bus station. As a guest of Homeland Security, Zeitoun remained in detention for weeks.

Zeitoun had been traveling the flooded streets of New Orleans, checking on his business properties and helping victims when he was arrested.

Zeitoun's captors taunted him, calling him al-Qaida and Taliban. His wife Kathy and their children weren't notified of his location. When he was finally released, he was charged with possession of stolen property — a charge that was eventually dropped.

Zeitoun and his family have since returned to New Orleans to help rebuild the city, but the memories of his detention still haunt them.

Zeitoun sometimes finds his "head turns upside down," he says, when he thinks of what happened to him. Kathy is also prone to anxiety attacks. Telling their story to Eggers, she says, has been an essential part of the healing process.

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All proceeds from the sale of Zeitoun go to a foundation to rebuild New Orleans.

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