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Why Guantanamo Bay inmates are totally hot for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

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When not reading about boy wizards and bondage, some berserk jihadis like to relax by thinking about how they can improve on the work of James Dyson. Pic: Wikipedia.

Yesterday I learned an interesting fact: When it comes to books, the bearded inmates of Guantanamo Bay are totally hot for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first novel of a popular trilogy about the erotic adventures of a young female graduate named Anastasia Steele and an international businessman named Christian Grey. No, really – a US congressman said it, so it must be true.

Indeed, Representative Jim Moran of Virginia told The Huffington Post: “Rather than the Quran, the book that is requested most by the [detainees] is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ They’ve read the entire series.”

So there you go. Apparently Moran learned this while touring a part of the island where “high value” prisoners are kept, including five of the plotters behind 9/11. But when approached by the Reuters news agency, officials at Guantanamo would neither confirm nor deny his claim.

It smells a bit fishy, of course, but it could be true. After all, those guys have been at Guantanamo for a long time and they probably know the Quran pretty well by now. Thus it’s not unfeasible that they might be casting around for something new to read, and given the lack of female company in their lives, it makes perfect sense that they’d opt for something a bit spicy.

Or, as Moran put it: “I guess there’s not much going on, these guys are going nowhere, so what the hell.”

By the sounds of things, the Guantanamo library is pretty mediocre. In addition to religious books and stress-reduction manuals, it has “Star Trek” novelizations, Agatha Christie books, and “The Hunger Games,” plus a copy of “The Odyssey.” In short, it’s a bunch of potboilers plus the occasional classic – a bit like the English selection in Moscow bookshops, aimed at expats and language students.

Mind you, I’m not surprised that the fiction selection on Guantanamo is so pulpy. It is very difficult to concentrate when you are in a state of intense boredom and your sense of time is disrupted. I was once hospitalized for several days in Moscow; there was a copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” in my bag, but not once did I pick it up. My energy sapped by oppressive lethargy, I just couldn’t muster the will. The same thing happens to me on airplanes, where I can’t read anything more difficult than an Elmore Leonard thriller. Concentrating hard causes time to flow more slowly, which only makes the enforced stillness worse.

How much more difficult must it be to read something challenging in prison, where the days stretch ahead of you until death? I don’t blame the inhabitants of Guantanamo for seeking escape in poorly written porn or generic space adventure. I’d probably do the same. Boredom rots the mind rapidly. I mean, look at Osama bin Laden’s compound. It wasn’t technically a prison, but he never left the place and it was full of videos of Osama bin Laden himself and porn. A great pall of boredom hung over the house; its inhabitants had long since vanished into…

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Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, who currently resides in Texas after a ten year stint in the former USSR. Visit him online at
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