The Serial Podcast is one of the most popular podcasts ever made. Before Serial I had no idea what podcasts were, so Rabia Chaudry is right in saying, Serial opened the door for the podcast industry. If you don’t know about Serial or The Case of Adnan Syed (HBO docuseries), you might be wondering what this has to do with the book. Firstly, Serial is a podcast by investigative journalist Sarah Koenig, that started out as a one-time investigative podcast on the case against Adnan Syed for the murder of his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Adnan Syed was convicted of Hae Min Lee’s murder in February of 2000. Serial raised doubts about the grounds for conviction and as you might have guessed, the popularity of Serial led to a renewed interest in the case and increased support for Adnan’s wrongful conviction claims. The book, Adnan’s Story, written by Rabia Chaudry, who is a close family friend of Adnan Syed and the Syed Family, was published after the success of Serial. Chaudry, an accomplished immigration lawyer in her own right, has been assisting the Syed family since the beginning. While Sarah Koenig states that the existing evidence did not prove that Adnan had committed the murder beyond a reasonable doubt, in this book, Rabia Chaudry is not only arguing that Adnan should not have been convicted based on the insufficient evidence, but that he is in fact innocent.
I listened to all twelve episodes of Serial, at the end of it, I still wasn’t sure if Adnan had done it or not. After reading Adnan’s Story, I’m most definitely on Adnan’s side. Adnan’s Story goes into far greater detail than Serial. Unlike Koenig, Rabia Chaudry, as a family friend is not affected by accusations of bias and is not pressured to take the middle ground as a demonstration of journalistic integrity. In the book, Chaudry claims Koenig told her, she believed Adnan was innocent, but never publicly revealed this on her podcast Serial.
Chaudry and her team do an incredible job of highlighting the inconsistencies of the State’s Witnesses, particularly Jay Wilds. The book was written in a well-organized manner, that makes it easy to keep track of all the relevant information. The legal jargon can be difficult to understand and tedious, but it is a necessary evil in order to understand how the justice system works (or doesn’t in this case). It is also very evident that the egos of law enforcement and judicial officials can severely hinder the search for justice. Some of the detectives involved in the case were involved in witness coercion and evidence tampering in previous cases. Initially, I thought, if it’s not Adnan Syed, Jay Wilds certainly did it. Jay Wilds, a black man, confessed to helping Adnan Syed bury Hae Min Lee’s body. I had a difficult time understanding Wilds’ place in all of this. There are racialized and Islamophobic motivations behind Adnan’s conviction. The involvement of Jay Wilds muddies the waters a bit, until it doesn’t. For the first time, like Rabia, I considered the idea that Jay Wilds was also a victim in all of this. The kind of empathy Rabia Chaudry extends to Jay Wilds’ in putting forward this plausible theory is commendable and revealing. Wilds’ own criminal history and race put him at risk of being thrown into prison under false charges or evidence as is the case with many black men in the United States. I felt the same anger and sadness I felt when I watched When They See Us, a Netflix series on The Central Park Five now known as the Exonerated Five. Wrongful convictions are sore spot for me as a black woman. This book makes the truth seem so simple and clear to see. It is mind-boggling to me, how and why Adnan Syed is still doing time for this crime. As a lawyer and as a family friend, Rabia does an incredible job of explaining the legal side of this case, and human side. More than turning Adnan’s life upside down, this case has also negatively affected his family and his community. According to Rabia and Adnan’s own contributions, through prayer, Adnan has made peace with the injustices he has faced; I feel somewhat relieved knowing this, but it is the widespread human cost (current and potential) of Islamophobia, police incompetency and racism that I cannot get over.