Ahmed Zaoui: Prepared Celebratory Gathering Speech
Sallam Mullaikum, Kia Ora,
Thank you for coming this evening. This is the first time I have been able to meet with all of you, my friends and supporters whom I have come to know since coming to New Zealand. It is hard to believe that it has been 100 days since I was in prison.
Ahmed Zaoui abandoned his speech notes (as published here) and gave a personal account of how his 100 days of bail have been in New Zealand.
First days The first days of coming out of prison will always remain in my memory. It is almost indescribable how I felt at this time. After so long, I could feel the air on my face and see your beautiful country. I have some very special memories of this time. I heard stories of people waiting by the radio to hear the result of the Supreme Court and sharing with me the joy of the good news. When I left the prison and came here, to my new home, my room was filled with roses from my supporters. We had so many flowers that the Fathers ran out of vases!
I spent the first nights unable to sleep walking in my room smelling the roses and looking out at the city. I think the first time that I felt truly free was when I first saw the horizon at Karekare beach on the West Coast. This was three weeks after I was granted bail.
In the first few weeks after I came to the Priory, I needed time to rest and renew myself. My ordeal has taken a great toll on me and even now I feel its effects. The support and care I have received from the Fathers and my supporters has been wonderful. I am very grateful to people who have supported me, especially the student volunteers. I have enjoyed getting to know them along with their families.
I have enjoyed great hospitality from the Fathers and the parish community. It has been a fulfilling and unique cross-cultural experience, and symbol of how religious and cultural barriers can be overcome with knowledge, respect, and understanding.
Of course, no matter where I am, I still continue to try and play my role as husband and father. I am able to have more contact with my family now, by phone and email, compared to the prison. However, in a way, since being released on bail, things have become a little more difficult, because my younger children cannot understand why, now that I am out of prison, we cannot be reunited.
My youngest son Youseff asked a few days ago if the yellow bird which came to him was from me – I replied that it was. He asked what it’s name was and I said saffron – which is the brightest yellow. He also asked where the little bird’s father was and then two days later he asked that a giant bird bring me to him on it’s wings. Youseff said to my wife that when I come he will stitch my clothes to his so I cannot leave again.
It is almost three years since I have seen my wife and children and I certainly long for the day that I see them again.
Daily life My daily life consists of several activities. I am trying in earnest to learn English and I am grateful for the time that English language teachers have given to me free of charge. I am continuing with my research and writing as an academic. I greatly enjoy the discussion evenings on Fridays, which have been attended by academics, students, and others interested in the topics which have included: Reconciliation in Algeria, Islam, women and human rights. In a foreign land: the migrant experience in New Zealand. Can Democracy be achieved by force? The US and Middle East democratisation drive.
Now that I am out of the confines of prison, I have been much better able to contribute to academic work – writing, reading, delivering lectures and seminars. I have been asked to speak at universities, inter-faith and religious groups. For example, I have been requested to write a paper into the roots of extremism in the Islamic world, and how this problem can be alleviated and solved. I also was invited to speak at the Quakers on Sunday and I was struck at the particular hospitality and concern of these people for human rights and peace.
As always, my thoughts are of my beloved country –ways for Algeria to move towards democracy and reconciliation. Being out of prison has led to many good things – more freedom, openness, being able to enjoy the New Zealand sunshine, breathe your fresh air. But at the same time, although I don’t want to be back in prison, I realise that in a strange way, prison had its benefits– it made me a poet and a philosopher; it helped me shift focus from my own pain to the pain of humanity. And through my trial I now know many wonderful people like you.
I am very moved by the concern that New Zealanders have for the welfare of people in need. I continue to receive gifts, letters and generous contributions towards my costs of living and family. I have also been given many olives – which I love and am not tired of yet.
As Deborah has said, the fight for my freedom is not over but I wish to thank you very much for your constant support until this time. Thank you for crying with me when I was in prison and laughing with me when I was granted bail.
You, as an island nation seem to understand well that “No man is an island,” and that we are all diminished by political injustice against our fellow human beings – whomever and wherever they are. And – by the same token – we are also all increased by acts of kindness, and acts of justice, tolerance and by standing together – as we are tonight – in peace and friendship. Thank you very much.
Ahmed Zaoui 22 March 2005