Days of Listening
May 19, 2012
Overcoming Our Afghan Non-Existence
by the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Dear friends, we ordinary Afghans are practically non-existent to the rest of the world.
But then, 99% of the world’s people are also practically non-existent to one another.
The global system of concentrated wealth and power has successfully made us strangers to one another while it steals from all of us and kills some of us without notice. Until we get organized enough to reach critical and beautiful masses everywhere, many of the 99% would still buy the maxim of governments and mainstream media that ‘protesters are ignorant and cause unrest’. However, there is a visible global awakening eager to change this status quo of the 1% dominating every aspect of our lives, through actions like those you’re having in Chicago.
To overcome our ‘non-existence’ in Afghanistan, the U.S./NATO/Afghan Multi-National Corporation needs to be dismantled, along with the Taliban/Al Qaeda ‘jihad’ and regional power-games. None of these powers represent the interests of the people of Afghanistan. None of them genuinely respect our right to exist and live.
Since no power ever dismantles itself, especially when it is us who consent to their power, we require worldwide dissent. In this age of dying hearts and minds, dissent is love. It is in such dissent that we’ll find our way.
In 2003, Gen. Tommy Franks, then commander of the Afghan war, had declared, “You know we don’t do body counts.”
In Chicago this week, President Obama and the NATO Summit participants won’t be doing body counts either. But they will surely count their euros and dollars. They will do their usual business over us as their ‘commodities’ and ‘targets’. Even Afghan mothers and children are considered ‘necessary’ ‘collateral damage’.
We say to the U.S./NATO war summit :
Unfortunately, the U.S. Afghanistan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement was sealed in the pre-dawn darkness of May Day, when instead of addressing unemployment in America and Afghanistan, President Obama and President Karzai signed a military business agreement for continued counter-terrorism till 2024 and beyond. This agreement will establish what we lament as Afghan Okinawa military bases, unhelpful to Afghanistan’s status as the second most corrupt country in the world, and her tragic distinction as the second worst place on earth for mothers, our mothers.
Before the signing, President Karzai had demanded that the U.S. government clarify the amount of money that they would provide. Karzai said: “Give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less, but write it down.”
If they could, Afghan mothers would tell Obama and Karzai, “Keep the money. We are not commodities. We are not ‘targets’.”
In the next 12 months, the U.S. government and the Afghan partners will attempt to quietly establish legal immunity for the twenty to thirty thousand U.S. ‘war trainers’ and Special Ops troops that will be in Afghanistan for at least another 10 years beyond 2014, through what is called the Bilateral Security Agreement.
Fortunately, the Iraqi public and parliament were able to end the Iraq Status of Forces agreement last year because they refused to grant legal immunity to the U.S. military, setting an important precedent.
Those concerned about Afghanistan should also make the issue of legal immunity for the U.S./NATO forces a viral issue. Watch the usual opponents of public opinion. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker already projected victory, just like when he presided over disastrous Iraq, saying, “Without wanting to sound wildly optimistic, we do have a year to work our way through this issue.”
And Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Fazl said that ‘in private discussions, Karzai has made it clear that he might be willing to accept legal immunities for troops….’
But Afghans, being human beings, don’t want legal immunity for U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses, cutting off fingers as trophies, and going on killing sprees. All armies repeatedly mimic the detestable crimes of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Afghan warlords still in government.
We also appeal to U.S. Congress Representatives or UN officials to propose a Bill or Convention to Ban Collateral Damage. How can we endure any more killing? This December, we wish to find a friend for every one of the 2 million Afghan victims of war. We will campaign for ‘2 Million Friends’.
Friends we can stand with, just as you’re standing with us now. Love is an irrepressible spring that will outlast the U.S./NATO coalition, so love is how we’ll make our stand.
President Karzai had called for a special meeting with the elders from Panjwai village after Sergeant Bale’s killing spree. One of the elders questioned President Karzai and his team persistently. The elder was not at all violent. He was hurt, and grieving the loneliness of many deaths. Following the civil example of this Afghan elder, we wish for the chance to stand before every President, and to say without spite, “Mr President, I want an answer.” We wish to overcome our non-existence.
From Afghanistan, with a world of thanks,
The Afghan Peace Volunteers
Art Laffin's words : worth sharing widely
May 8, 2012 (5/1 updated)
Open letter to our Honorable US Senators and Representatives of Congress,
Please make use of the best tool we have in conducting a searching review into the situation facing the Afghan people. Both chambers of Congress now have unique opportunity to learn, and then let Americans know, what ordinary Afghans think should happen in their country. The United Nations 2011-12 Afghan Survey, conducted widely from 23 UNAMA offices, contains the most credible information we have voicing the breadth of the Afghan beliefs. Our congressional process must make full use of this UN Survey information.
Ordinary Americans ask this especially since the signing a Strategic Partnership Agreement. And congressional review in the Senate, now, will not necessarily follow.
All hearts are extended to the place on this earth where it hardest to raise a child*, where it is said to be the worst place to be a mother and by some to be a human being.
Isn’t it time that the world’s empathy for ordinary Afghans is allowed to replace military security with the far more pressing and achievable concerns of water security, food security and education security? Sometimes the voice of the ordinary people does not rise above the din of a powerful few. We need your voice to make sure that the UN Survey sources, techniques, and results are widely known. Will any decisions so powerfully affecting the future be just without this information?
The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) has, apparently, changed considerably of late. If US troop immunity to Afghan law has recently been modified toward a compromise, and night raids will be made by the US irrespective of the Agreement language – then, just what is in the agreement now? It is time to slow down and face what this Agreement would mean if all Afghans must live under an agreement they - most of them - specifically say is ‘not what they want,’ per the UN Survey.
Perpetual bases, US bases, through 2024? Even ‘just four’ US bases is shackling the Afghan future to the teetering links between regional and international politics, and to the militarism of 'yet another outsider' whose continued intervention will prolong hostilities. Who else can change the destiny of the SPA, if not you – on everyone’s behalf?
Kindly let us know what is really going on in Afghanistan so we as ordinary people may give as much support as we can to the other ordinary people, toward: sustainable water, food, education, and their peace.
With great respect for what you can do; sincerely,
Douglas Mackey, Co-coordinator GlobalDaysofListening.org, inspired by ordinary Afghans: the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
* See any information source about Afghanistan; CIA Fact Book, Wikipedia, or Google for instance.
29th April 2012
By the Afghan Peace Volunteers
The UN may have silenced the Afghan public
"Today, Afghanistan and the U.S. initialed and locked the text of the strategic partnership agreement," said Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi. "This means the text is closed…”
Why ‘lock’ or ‘close’ the future of Afghanistan to 30 million ordinary Afghan citizens?
While the world may accept that the U.S. and Afghan governments have some ’state’ or ‘noble’ considerations for not revealing the contents of the U.S. Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, how about the democratic consideration of involving Afghans in their own future?
Even the Afghan Parliament was in the dark and uninvolved until they were recently given a peek when Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta read ‘portions’ of the Agreement to assembled parliamentarians on 23rd April, saying that the U.S. will defend Afghanistan from any outside interference via "diplomatic means, political means, economic means and even military means.
What IS the Afghan public opinion regarding the U.S. Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement?
Does anyone know?
“Whereas the Afghan public has outrightly rejected the US plans as the results of a survey conducted by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) suggest. UNAMA with its 23 offices in Afghanistan conducted the survey across the country some two months back and hasn’t published it. Although, the survey’s findings are widely known. If published the stark survey results will undermine the US’ future strategic plans.”
Out of curiosity, the Afghan Peace Volunteers pursued the question of whether the UN had actually conducted such a survey.
We sent emails to friends with the Fellowship of Reconciliation U.S.A who have correspondence and contact with the UN. Below was the reply that was forwarded to us.
14th April 2012
I sent an email inquiry to the UN Coordinator in Afghanistan to ask about the survey. As I suspected, I did not receive any response. It seems they are not willing to talk about it. But I will keep watching for any future publications.
We also asked a staff member at McClatchy Newspapers in Kabul if he could ask some questions at the UN office in Kabul. We have not heard any news from the McClatchy staff.
So, we still don’t know if there was ever such a survey conducted by the UN office in Kabul.
We feel that even if there was no such survey, then a survey should be conducted under the auspices of the UN, and its results made known before the signing of the agreement, to rebuild trust in the UN, U.S. and Afghan governments’ democratic processes.
The contents of the U.S. Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement should be ‘unlocked’ to the American and Afghan public, and the survey conducted among Afghans in every province, particularly in the provinces where the joint military operations of the Strategic Partnership Agreement will continue to be launched beyond 2014.
Has the UN silenced the Afghan public?
But perhaps, participation in today’s democracy is designed to be ‘locked’ away.
We, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, respectfully ask for the key.
February 28, 2012
The Ghost and the Machine
by Kathy Kelly with research by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
Fazillah, age 25, lives in Maidan Shar, the central city of Afghanistan's Wardak province. She married about six years ago, and gave birth to a son, Aymal, who just turned five without a father. Fazillah tells her son, Aymal, that his father was killed by an American bomber plane, remote-controlled by computer.
That July, in 2007, Aymal's father was sitting in a garden with four other men. A weaponized drone, what we used to call an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV, was flying, unseen, overhead, and fired missiles into the garden, killing all five men.
Now Fazillah and Aymal share a small dwelling with the deceased man's mother. According to the tradition, a husband's relatives are responsible to look after a widow with no breadwinner remaining in her immediate family. She and her son have no regular source of bread or income, but Fazillah says that her small family is better off than it might have been: one of the men killed alongside her husband left behind a wife and child but no other living relatives that could provide them with any source of support, at all.
Aymal's grandmother becomes agitated and distraught speaking about her son's death, and that of his four friends. "All of us ask, 'Why?'" she says, raising her voice. "They kill people with computers and they can't tell us why. When we ask why this happened, they say they had doubts, they had suspicions. But they didn't take time to ask 'Who is this person?' or 'Who was that person?' There is no proof, no accountability. Now, there is no reliable person in the home to bring us bread. I am old, and I do not have a peaceful life."
Listening to them, I recall an earlier conversation I had with a Pakistani social worker and with Safdar Dawar, a journalist, both of whom had survived drone attacks in the area of Miran Shah, in Pakistan's Waziristan province. Exasperated at the increasingly common experience which they had survived and which too many others have not, they began firing questions at us.
"Who has given the license to kill and in what court? Who has declared that they can hit anyone they like?"
"How many 'high level targets' could there possibly be?"
"What kind of democracy is America," Safdar asks, "where people do not ask these questions?"
One question Fazillah cannot answer for her son is whether anyone asked the question at all of whether to kill his father. Forbes Magazine reports that the Air Force has sixty-five to seventy thousand analysts processing drone video surveillance; a Rand review states they actually need half again that number to properly handle the data. Asked to point to the human who actually made the decision to kill her husband, she can only point to another machine.
In June 2010, Philip G. Alston, then the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council and testified that "targeted killings pose a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law ... In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated."
Such an expanded and open-ended interpretation of the right to self defense comes close to destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the United Nations Charter. If invoked by other states in pursuit of those they deemed to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.
This past week, on February 23, the legal action charity Reprieve spoke up on behalf of more than a dozen Pakistani families who had lost loved ones in drone strikes, and asked the UN Human Rights Council to condemn the attacks as illegal human rights violations.
"In Pakistan, the CIA is creating desolation and calling it peace," said Reprieve's Director Clive Stafford Smith. "The illegal programme of drone strikes has murdered hundreds of civilians in Pakistan. The UN must put a stop to it before any more children are killed. Not only is it causing untold suffering to the people of North West Pakistan -- it is also the most effective recruiting sergeant yet for the very 'militants' the US claims to be targeting."
The lawyer representing the families, Shahzad Akbar of Pakistan's "Foundation for Fundamental Rights," said:
If President Obama really believes the drone strikes have 'pinpoint' accuracy, it has to be asked where the deaths of kids like Maezol Khan's eight-year-old son fit into the CIA's plan. If the US is not prepared to face up to the reality of the suffering the strikes are causing, then the UN must step in. The international community can no longer afford to ignore the human rights catastrophe which is taking place in North West Pakistan in the name of the 'War on Terror.'
Drone warfare, ever more widely used from month to month from the Bush through the Obama administrations, has seen very little meaningful public debate. We don't ask questions -- our minds straying no nearer these battlefields than in the coming decades the bodies of our young people will -- that is, if the chaos our war making engenders doesn't bring the battlefields to us. An expanding network of devastatingly lethal covert actions spreading throughout the developing world passes with minimal concern or comment.
So who does Fazillah blame? Who does one blame when confronted with the actions of a machine?
Our Pakistani friend asks, "What kind of a democracy is America where people do not ask these questions?" Becoming an actual democracy, with an actual choice at election-time between war and peace rather than between political machines vying for the chance to bring us war, seems to many Americans, if some of the less-reported polls are to be believed, a near-unachievable goal. The U.S. has become a process that churns out war -- today Afghanistan and (in any real sense) Iraq; tomorrow Iran and Pakistan, with China securely, however distantly, on the horizon -- and for those of us with any concern for peace, a principled opposition to war ultimately requires a determination to make the U.S. at long last into a democracy, striving as Dr. King enjoined us, in "molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood."
It must begin with compassion -- powerless compassion perhaps, perhaps only the ghost of dissent, but compassion for people like Fazillah and Aymal -- and with deciding to be human, maybe only the ghost of a human, but alive in some way and alive to what our assent, and perhaps especially our silence are accomplishing in the world. Humanity is the first thing to be won back -- and then, if we have the strength, relentlessly defended -- against indifference, complacency, and, above all, inaction. If enough of us refuse to be machines, if enough of us refuse enough, can democracy, and even peace, not be at last achieved? But first comes the refusal.
Fazillah wants a peaceful life. She doesn't want to see any more people killed, any more ghosts like that of her husband. Any more bodies, burned (as she recalls) so charred that they are almost unrecognizable one from another.
"I don't want this to happen to anyone," says Fazillah. I don't want any children to be left without parents."
And," she adds, "I want the U.S. troops to leave."
February 14, 2012
Cold, Cold Heart
by Kathy Kelly
It's Valentine's Day, and opening the little cartoon on the Google page brings up a sentimental animation with Tony Bennett singing "why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart."
Here in Dubai, where I’m awaiting a visa to visit Afghanistan, the weather is already warm and humid. But my bags are packed with sweaters because Kabul is still reeling from the coldest winter on record. Two weeks ago, eight children under age five froze to death there in one of the sprawling refugee camps inhabited by so many who have fled from the battles in other provinces. Since January 15, at least 23 children under 5 have frozen to death in the camps.
And just over a week ago, eight young shepherds, all but one under 14 years of age, lit a fire for warmth on the snowy Afghan mountainside in Kapisa Province where they were helping support their families by grazing sheep. French troops saw the fire, and acted on faulty information, and the boys were all killed in two successive NATO airstrikes. The usual denunciations from local authorities, and Western apologies, followed. (Trend News, February 10, 2012).
So I'm thinking about warmth, and who we share it with and who we don't.
This is an unexpected trip for me. I had first planned to spend this week at home in Chicago, and then, rather suddenly, agreed to join a group of informal human rights observers traveling to Bahrain for the one year anniversary of their brutally repressed "February 17th Revolution" (please follow events there, and demand that the U.S. cease arming Bahrain's dictatorship, at witnessbahrain.org). Bahraini authorities declined to issue me a visa, and so I asked the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers if I could change my plans and spend the coming week with them.
My friends tell me that the apartment where I’m headed has been without electricity for several days in a row. The pipes have frozen, so there will be no running water. But in spite of the cold, it’s an especially good time to visit them because twelve of them will be there, on winter vacation from school, including two 14 year old boys I couldn't meet during my last visit who spent much of the last year away from the others, back home in Bamiyan province, in their mountain villages, supporting their families.
One father left the family to find work elsewhere and is now living in Iran. My young friend doesn't hear from his father much, but I wonder what he must think as war threatens to move there. The mother launders clothes to help make ends meet, but with one weak arm due to a history of polio, she can't earn enough for the family's food. Her son is an excellent student, but she's had to ask him to give up school and start adult work full time. Older members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have worked hard finding him odd jobs in various shops, hoping to put off the day when he will have to start full time work as a shepherd.
I've just, by coincidence, read the story of another young man, training for work in the mountains: the article reaches me from friends I have just left in Colorado Springs, and begins: "Pfc. Josh Harris pulled the charging handle of a grenade launcher on Thursday, leaned back and peered through the sights. His orders were clear. “All right,” said Spc. Michael Breton, moments earlier. “There is an ice cream truck out there. So shoot it.” Pressing down with his thumbs, the MK-19 — a machine gun equipped with grenades instead of bullets — launched four training grenades 300 meters down a Fort Carson range." (www.gazette.com/articles/gis-133359-through-peered.html) This is last-minute training before shipping out with the Fort's 4th Brigade Combat Team. "By March," the reporter continues, "he’ll likely be watching grenades sail into the hillsides of eastern Afghanistan."
Everyone knows that these attacks will kill civilians - will kill children. If you fire enough bullets where there are children you're going to hit them. A few days back filmmaker John McHugh described his twelve day stint embedded in the U.S.' "Operation Mace" in Afghanistan's Nuristan province: “Over the course of my stay on Mace, I witnessed the truly awesome firepower that the U.S. military brings to a fight. Between their helicopters and jets they had dropped 19 bombs, fired two Hellfire missiles, 205 rockets, 500 rounds of 20 millimeter, and 210 rounds of 30-millimetre cannon. They also discharged 3,750 rounds of 50 caliber machine gun ammunition. And yet, only once, could they confirm that they had killed a single Taliban fighter.” McHugh wrote this for Mideast-based broadcaster Al Jazeera (“The Winter War,” February 9, 2012). Would a Western media outlet have bothered covering the story?
It’s hard to fathom the vast indifference of Western observers to what their militaries are doing in Afghanistan - to the lives lost, the futures broken, the families and friendships and loves torn apart - all of which will occur in the next country we collectively agree to demolish, and the next. Our apathy surely makes it easier for military and political elites to wage multiple wars. They count on us to look out at a world that we have been told is barbaric and feral, addled (unlike ours) with terrifying fundamentalism driving them (unlike us) to incessant violence.
We lull ourselves into a comforting delusion that we're waging humanitarian wars, and then wonder why people aren't more grateful. Thinking of ourselves as exceptionally noble, we're lost in denial masked as civilizing virtue as we hum along with Tony Bennett’s puzzled lyrics:
"I tried so hard my dear to show that you're my only dream
Yet you're afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme.
A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart.
Why can't I free your doubtful mind, and melt your cold, cold heart?"
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)
January 3, 2012
By Kathy Kelly and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
Kabul - Bibi Sadia and her husband Baba share a humble home with their son, his wife and their two little children. An Afghan human rights advocate suggested that we listen to Bibi’s stories and learn more about how a Pashto family has tried to survive successive tragedies in Kabul.
Holding her three year old granddaughter in her arms, Bibi adjusted her hijab and launched into a narrative that began during the Soviet occupation. The mujahideen had asked Baba to bring them medicines two or three times a week for those injured in the war. For each batch of medicines that Baba delivered, the mujahideen paid him a small sum of money. When the Russian occupiers discovered what he was doing, they beat him severely. After that, the mujahideen accused him of spying for the Russians and they also beat him badly.
The vicious beatings gave him perforated ear drums requiring six operations and left him permanently hard of hearing.
They also left him mentally unsound, so that Bibi became the sole breadwinner for the family. “During the time of the Taliban," Bibi tells us with a soft smile, "I used to make bread, wash clothes and reap other people’s wheat to earn a living," The
mujahideen, having ousted Russia's favored government and its army, were now in power and frowned on women working. "I used to work by the moonlight, sewing clothes from animal hide”.
Eventually, Bibi found work as a cleaner at the Aliabad Hospital in Kabul, but the Taliban who had gained power frowned on women working. One evening, the Taliban had come to the hospital and insisted on taking a particular male staff member away. Warned by the hospital manager, the man in question had managed to escape, but Bibi was not so lucky. When the Taliban spotted her working, they started slapping her. “I crouched in a corner and didn’t speak. When the hospital manager asked them why they were beating me, they said they had previously warned me against working at the hospital and that I hadn’t heeded their warnings.” This incident was actually Bibi's first warning, but not her last.
The Taliban came back, and spotted her. When they demanded to know why Bibi was still at the hospital, the manager told them that Bibi was poor, that her husband was too sick to work, and that the Taliban should not beat her but help her as they should help any fellow Afghan. The Taliban accused Bibi of lying and slapped her a few more times before Bibi left the room and started cleaning a corridor. When a Talib spotted Bibi cleaning the corridor, he ordered her to stop work and go with him. The manager, desperate, told the Talib Bibi could not voluntarily leave until her shift ended, and tried to find out where the Talib would take Bibi, but the Talib said it was nobody's business but theirs. “They argued for a long time,” said Bibi, “but finally the manager had to let the Talib take me. I put on my burqa and the Talib put me in a car." They were sending Bibi home where they could check her story. "The Talib got into another car, along with 4 other Talibs, and followed the car to my home. I had earlier told Baba that the Taliban who had been threatening me may one day take me away or kill me.”
When they reached her home, she hastily urged her husband not to speak rudely to the Taliban, as they were there to learn about her home situation and might then leave the family unmolested. Following protocols of hospitality, Bibi told her daughters to make and bring tea for the Talibs. The main Talib responded frighteningly, saying he would not drink the tea the girls had made him until he himself had brought ‘expenses’ to them as part of a dowry for marrying one of them.
Meanwhile, another Talib asked Bibi for forgiveness for hitting her - he had inspected the home and told the main Talib that Bibi had told the truth about her family situation. Bibi replied, “I am like your mother, and when you hit me, you had simply hit your own mother.” The main Talib responded by telling Bibi she must give him one of her daughters, any of them aged 1 to 15, in marriage. He declared that from the many resources he had access to, he would of course help support the family so Bibi would not have to work, but that it would have to be a “dowry” in order to prevent Bibi’s neighbours from accusing the Talibs of favoritism.
Baba told the Talib that he had a 12 year old daughter. He said that the Talib should return another day while he consulted other family members about giving that daughter to the Talib.
Baba’s and Bibi’s 12 year old daughter was eventually given in engagement and then marriage to the Talib, who took her to Zadaran, in the province of Paktia. When Bibi had gone to visit her daughter, she had seen that the Talib’s house had many cupboards filled with weapons hidden under sacks of hay. In another corner of the room was a rock on which the bread was made. There was only one bed. Bibi stayed there for several nights but eventually had to leave, and leave her daughter behind.
In the months following, Bibi’s daughter was brought to visit her several times. Each time, she begged not to go back to Paktia. “You could tear me to many pieces,” said the daughter, “and even then, I wouldn’t want to go.” But there was nothing to be done.
Bibi was working at the hospital one day when she received urgent news to go home. When she arrived, she found the corpse of her 12 year old daughter there, wrapped in a funeral cloth.
After eight months of marriage to the Talib, Bibi’s daughter had died.
Eventually, with the help of a medical doctor who loaned Bibi money for a dowry, she was able to arrange for her son to marry. Now, with her salary from working in the laundry at a hospital in Kabul, Bibi has managed to pay the doctor back and, with her son who works at odd jobs, to cover minimal housing and food costs. Bibi thinks the chemicals at the hospital laundry are ruining her health. She suffers from diabetes, gastric ailments and respiratory problems. But at least she is able to buy food. She remembers earlier years when circumstances forced her to line up at 1:00 a.m. to receive bread from an NGO because, with the family dependent on her to earn a living and take care of the small children, that was the only time she could spare.
After hearing Bibi’s story, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, several of whom have also lost family members during the decades of war and occupation, asked if Bibi had any advice for them. “May God save you from death, that you may help the poor,” said Bibi. “May God give you good health. May God improve security, that we may not see worse days.
Raz Mohammed, a Pashto youth volunteer, told her about how his brother-in-law was killed in a drone attack and expressed how much he hoped that peace would come.
“So many of our people, including the able and clever, have been killed by the commandants for their own benefit,” Bibi responded. “May God get rid of war, of suicide bombers and mines.”
“How can we unify the people?” asked Faiz, who, as a child, watched Hazara fighters murder his brother.
“Yes, people are divided,” Bibi told him. “Everyone is worried and perplexed. May God bring security and cause the people to be of ‘one hand’. May the Taliban or bad days not return. It will be difficult,” she added. “But, we are all Muslims and of one family. Everyone has seen bad days, not only me, everyone!
Mohammed Jan, a volunteer from Dai Kundi province, asked Bibi how Afghan youths could gain the trust of people and work toward unity.
“No one can work alone,” Bibi answered. “One hand cannot clap. We should come together, whether Pushtoon or Uzbek or Tajik. May God bring all of us together and place mercy in our hearts. How could people kill so many others, a few from every household?”
“Many people have been killed,” said Mohammed, “How do we solve this? Through taking revenge or through forgiveness?”
“Revenge!” Bibi exclaimed, laughing in jest.
“But if we take revenge, it will get worse,” said Mohammed.
Bibi quickly agreed. “Yes,” she said, nodding as she rocked her granddaughter in her arms. “If we can be reformed, it’s better to come together and build something together.”
“That is, to forgive?” asked Raz Mohammed.
“Yes,” Bibi replied, “to forgive.”
PHOTOS: Top: Bibi and grandaughter, Bottom: Baba and grandson
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) She and two companions from Voices have spent the past three weeks living in Kabul as guests of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)
The October Release:
By The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
The people aren’t free, yet
For a long time, the ordinary people of Afghanistan have felt fatefully robbed by its geography.
We aren’t a free people.
34 year old Afghan human rights activist Rangina Hamidi, who is returning to Virginia USA after 8 years of working in Kandahar, grieves the murder of her father, the late City Mayor of Kandahar, and while recognizing the humanity in President Karzai, blames Karzai and the international community for the Afghan ‘entropy’ swirling in ‘360 degrees of chaos’. “I will only come back when I know that I can help make my people a free people again,” she said. “Right now,I don’t think we’re free.” Rangina leaves having lost all hope.
For a long time, the ordinary people of Mexico have felt fatefully robbed by the ‘war on drugs’.
We aren’t a free people.
The militarized method was declared a failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, comprising the former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and others. The Commission’s first line of recommendation: “Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate…” This recommendation was simple yet apparently un-doable, even after ex-US President Jimmy Carter requested a ‘Call off the Global Drug War’. Meanwhile, the Caravan of Solace led by Javier Sicilia, Julian Lebaron and more than 300,000 Mexicans took to the streets, wearing white and walking in silence, holding up placards that read "Not a single more death," "Enough already" and "No more bloodshed".
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers were touched by their grieving, by their ‘Nonviolent Occupation of Ciudad Juárez’andwanted to share the Mexicans’ pain of losing 40,000 loved ones over 5 years. They earnestly connected with Julian Lebaron, saying, “We need you to know that walking together is not a weakness. It is our everything.”
For a long time, the ordinary people of the world have felt fatefully robbed by its elite 1%.
We aren’t a free people.
When the Spanish Indignados began their massive street protests in May this year, part of their manifesto read : "We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products.”Sociologist Miguel Martínez, who teaches at Madrid's Complutense University, said, “If you lose your dignity, then you are simply a wage slave."
We had also hoped to reach out to the Spanish Indignados, but couldn’t reach them.
‘1%’s wealth and force.’
The reason why the Occupy movement grips our hearts is because the Afghan strategy of the past 40 years implemented by Afghanistan’s lords and the other lords of the world has essentially been based on the ‘1%’s wealth and force.’
Hard wealth and force.
First, try to ‘buy’ the people at some kind of a minimum wage level. If that doesn’t work, fight them. Today, this is done as a ‘pacification’ technique, in the sacred names of stability, security and peace.
This international norm of ‘being richer and stronger than the next richest and strongest tribesman’ has not been publicly questioned ; we hope the time has come to break the taboo and pursue an open debate! This international norm is what Rangina Hamidi calls the ‘guns-and-graft ethos’ in Afghanistan, in which the 1% use bombs-and-bribes to compete for Kingship. Globally and historically, this norm is boringly replicated with transient Empires, the Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, Austrian-Hungarian, Russian, British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mughal and American Empires just to name a few, and the Chinese next?
It is a haughty, authoritarian mindset supported by the political, educational, moral, journalistic and military bodies of the world, and naturally strengthened by Man’s craving for money and power. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had said that another global financial crisis is inevitable because human nature always reverts to "speculative excesses" during a period of sustained prosperity, ‘unless somebody can find a way to change human nature.’ We can’t change human nature, but we can surely find a way.
And that’s what humanity has felt stuck with for so long, a seemingly inherent inability to guide and govern ourselves towards less greed and violence. We have established human systems which have increasingly concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a very few, to the delight of the very few. Human beings do have a deep sense for fairness, and search for justice in various ways including through religion, but incongruently, systems of escalating inequality have been institutionalized across all aspects of life, and quietly accepted.
Prof Noam Chomsky laments Thucydides’ maxim that ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’But he also tirelessly challenges ‘power structures’ with his heart and mind, saying to young people : ‘This world is full of suffering, distress, violence and catastrophes. Students must decide: does something concern you or not? I say: look around, analyze the problems, ask yourself what you can do and set out on the work!’
We bear hope that the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, the Mexican Caravan of Solace and Occupy Wall Street are all tides of a global awakening, a healthy non-acceptance of Thucydides’ status quo and a non-violent civil disobeying of the ‘1% wealth and force’. Our Human Spring!
About 35 percent of the Afghan population is unemployed. Afghans who are employed with embassies, international NGOs or foreign contractors can earn $US1500 a month while public-sector worker wages remain between $US50 and $US250 a month.
Probably a third of the country’s GDP comes from the opium and hashish trade ,, and the Afghan government’s budget is unsustainably dependent on foreign aid money.
The 1% Afghan rich are naturally well travelled, have luxury ‘palaces’ in Kabul and enjoy the ‘high life’ in foreign countries like Dubai. The corrupt business conglomerates, including some construction, gas and oil companies, are run by this 1%, often the ex-warlord-current-political elite and their allies.
This foreign-dependent and nepotistic form of capitalism, mixed with the tenacity of corrupt tribalism, marks thelogistics and private security firms, the lucrative mines and mineral industry and the banking sector.
Even in aid work, a young, educated Afghan friend had joked with me years ago that ‘Al Qaeda’ in Afghanistan had transformed into ‘Al Faida/ Al Profit’, with hundreds of NGOs seeking profit from the millions of dollars available through aid. Linda Polman, in her book ‘The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? , devotes a chapter to ‘Afghaniscam’, in which she describes her belief that international aid is ‘only helping gangsters and fighters, while innocent victims suffer on’.
A March 2010 UN Human Rights Report described entrenched corruption worsening Afghan poverty, stating that ‘ despite $35 billion injected into the economy since 2002, one in three Afghans, or 9 million people, live in absolute poverty while another third survive just above the poverty line…. A key driver of poverty in Afghanistan is the abuse of power. Many Afghan power-holders use their influence to drive the public agenda for their own personal or vested interests.’
The stark gulf between the wealthy few and the poor in Kabul has grown so desperate that the number of beggars has increased, including women and child beggars. Begging has become such a ‘problem’ that the Karzai government formed an anti-begging commission and passed a law in November 2008 which made begging a crime, after which hundreds of beggars were arrested.
The very poor get harassed and arrested!
Just last evening, I saw policemen chasing away street vendors in Kabul with their batons, in particular, a young teenage boy who was selling me tomatoes from his wooden cart, reminding me of how Bouazizi sparked the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire, unable to tolerate such ironies anymore.
We do not want any more such tragedies to be heaped on the 99% by the 1%, but considering the oppressive local and international quagmire Afghanistan is in, we think that for change to begin in Afghanistan, change needs to happen in Wall Street, Washington D.C., and the global centers of financial power who are calling the fatal Afghan shots from far-away.
Even if such change doesn’t come in our lifetimes, we want it!
In calling for ‘a farewell to nuclear arms’, Gorbachev correctly named our global problem, stating that ‘our world remains over militarized’. Who remembers his opinions on the Afghan War, here and here, except perhaps the NATO Chief ‘slamming Gorbachev’s negative view’?
Has anyone heard of any other local or international strategy for Afghanistan except the military strategy?
The ex-UN Envoy to Afghanistan, Norwegian Kai Eide, had written that he increasingly disagreed with Washington's strategy in Afghanistan, saying it put too much emphasis on military operations over civilian reconstruction efforts. "In my opinion it was a strategy being doomed to fail…. But none of us gained support for our views.”
Did anyone notice that the previous Kabul Governor, Dr Zebihullah Mojaddidy, had quit because ‘the government was ignoring his reconstruction programs for the province’? Reconstruction programs are ignored even in the capital! What’s the US 2 billion dollars a week being spent on?
For a long time, Afghans have unwillingly accepted the least bad of bad options for a conflict we are so tired of. The bad options are the Taliban, the Afghan war and druglords of whom many are in government, Pakistani or Iranian interference, and the US/NATO coalition. Because many Afghans are so emotionally traumatized by the Taliban and warlords, the US/NATO coalition may be the least bad of the bad options. We say,” What options do we have?” All are violent, military options, so let’s choose the least bad one.
The US/NATO’s proclaimed aim is to militarily ensure that there are no safe havens for the ‘Taliban/Al Qaeda/insurgents’, as if an ideology of hate could be geographically removed naively by hate which is better-armed. But what can we say to such illogic? “What options do we have?”
Every power-monger, including the ‘Taliban’ or Afghan war and drug-lords and the myriad of business-suited internationals , is buying us, dividing us, demeaning us, insulting us, humoring us, and killing us.
Much as it is difficult to hear this, we are the game, exotic wild animals whose carcasses none wish to count too accurately.
We thought we had seen some light when Wikileaks released 91,731 Afghan War Logs exposing our bloody mayhem, but the world has been made to wonder if Julian Assange is a rapist-terrorist.
In 2009, Radio Free Europe named the Afghan Member of Parliament and ‘Afghan Gandhi’ , Dr Ramazon Bashardost, their Person of the Year, and while Afghans popularly voted him into 3rd place in the Presidential Elections and many appreciate his honest approach, the world has ignored him. Therefore, Afghans sigh that good people don’t get very far, and guess that Dr Bashardost may be ‘mad’. With such excessive violence, his ideas of non-violent solutions for Afghanistan are ‘mad’.
The military way over-rides all, including the United Nations, whose original charter is to ‘remove the scourge of war from future generations’.
When the United Nations recently reported that ‘security incidents’ had increased by 39% in 2011, ISAF retorted that the United Nations was comparing ‘apples and oranges’ and that violence had, in Godly-factual style, decreased by 27 %.
To denigrate the UN further, when the UN reported ‘systematic torture ‘ in detention facilities across Afghanistan, the Afghan Interior Ministry said that the UN’s compelling evidence of torture were ‘false’. Someone is lying, but after 10 years, the international community is too distant to care about who the liar is.
Then, ISAF refuted even a ‘Knock on the Door’ of their kill-capture program by Dari/Pushto speaking journalists who suggested the lack of sufficient information in the public domain to analyze claims like night operations being ‘one of the most effective methods for target key leaders and insurgents ’. Never mind that night operations are universally abhorred by all Afghans.
Our international military strategy is ‘too big to fail’. Their proponents imply, ‘Don’t question us or debate about what we choose to reveal or what we choose to do. Just accept that what goes on behind our doors is always right. All military options are all always right. And for your best interests.’
These civil disagreements over numbers in different war scenarios make a good, small chink in the military armour, but still leave out any debate of whether ‘hard force’ is at all effective in resolving human conflict. Military force in the hands of a few has become the modus-operandi-option to resolving human conflict, and worse, such militarism can now be called ‘humanitarian wars’.
And while the 1% defend the brute method of war, the killers are promoted.
Like how the US Embassy reported in 2006 that Abdul Raziq, now the Acting Police Commander of Kandahar, had been ‘removed from his post for allegedly attacking ( summarily executing ) 16 rivals under the pretext that they were Taliban militants’ and then how, with perfect impunity, the State ( Afghans joke that this country is ‘Amerikistan’ )crowned him as Brigadier General Abdul Raziq this year.
What human beings are doing to human beings in Afghanistan, and in other unfortunate countries is this ; systematically educating one another that force and money are pragmatic necessities for security, and control is gained when you are better at ‘targeting and killing others before they kill you.’
Any luck from the civilian leadership? We read with disbelief that the US Ambassador Ryan Crocker approved of what amounts to a civilian-supported torture method in saying to the Wall Street Journal, "The Taliban needs to feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to reconcile."
Afghans know by harsh experience that all foreign countries are in Afghanistan not for the interests of the people but for selfish state-interests, that ‘the cat doesn’t kill mice for the sake of God’, but in the face of militarism from all directions, we diffuse our anger, we get on, and we say, ‘What options do we have?’
Yes, you may think that Afghans are unreasonably angry because they are uneducated and don’t understand the big picture, and that they are rough, tribal people.
That somehow, the only way to manage Afghans is to allow the ‘good’ 1% to control the ‘bad’ 99% of Afghans with their Wealth and Force.
But come live and laugh with the 99% of ordinary Afghans. We are just like you.
Come watch ‘Shabkhand’ / ‘The Night of Laughter’ with us, a popular Afghan television show featuring a stand-up comedian interviewing well-known personalities. Come enjoy music with us. Come see our thirst for a good education. Come see our need for decent livelihoods. Come see how we silently persevere to retain human dignity.
Please, can the people of the world put thinking and caring people around a table over cups of tea, to propose a sensible and non-violent way out of this Great Game played by the 1%, or is human civilization now incapable of genuine conversations?
Suddenly, we began noticing people awakening as if from an enforced sleep, in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Mexico and now Occupy Wall Street, proving that even our enforced sleep cannot cheat reality. Suddenly, we caught a flicker of hope, of human solidarity, of a Human Spring breaking out of the integrated civil-military darkness.
We thank you. We wish to thank every human soul who has walked the main protest streets at any one time, alone or together.
Most people may not yet understand how freeing and humanizing it is to witness that perhaps, love and truth exist, and that there is more than one human option to our problems, and that not all options have to be bad.
We’re sorry that presently, we cannot take to the Afghan streets in such large numbers yet, because neither the Taliban nor the US/Afghan coalition will be very happy, because we are too divided to have a critical mass, because we haven’t been getting ready, and because we aren’t quite brave enough to lose our everything.But, we’ll do what we can.
The freeing sense is that perhaps, we no longer need to be slaves wandering on our own in an unequal wilderness.
We sense that the love of the people which has saved us from hopeless nights can possibly breakthrough into a wider public practice. “Y Not?”
We sense that one day, we will be free, and Rangina can return.
Shaking, we realize that all along, but also suddenly, we ARE the 99%.
From the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
~ ~ ~ ~
The following statement was released August 11, 2011 by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV). Global Days of Listening works with the AYPVs in support of their work for peace.
"The world doesn't have to choose between the Taliban and the US government. All the beauty of the world – literature, music, art – lies between these two fundamentalist poles." ("War Is Peace," by Arundhati Roy, October 18, 2001.)
We need clarity
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers reject the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration.
We reject such declarations made by politicians who do not know us, nor care for us.
We want the freedom to solve our own problems.
In case you haven’t heard of the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration, here is how it is being described in the international press.
We need to listen
"The United States should maintain a long-term military presence in Afghanistan as a “tenant” on bases jointly occupied with Afghan forces, rather than on permanent U.S. bases, after its combat mission ends, according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates … the administration is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with the Kabul government for the longer term." ("U.S. wants ‘joint bases’ in Afghanistan, Gates says," Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, June 8, 2011.)
"So this is a mutual document of interests," (President Karzai, Press Briefing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Kabul, June 5, 2011.)
"The Iranian interior minister made a rushed visit to Kabul, followed shortly by the national security advisers of India and Russia. The Russians, though generally supportive of NATO’s role in Afghanistan, were alarmed at the prospect of a long-term Western presence. 'The Russian side supports the development of Afghanistan by its own forces in all areas – security, economic, political – only by its own forces, especially after 2014,' said Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser at the Russian Embassy here. 'How is transition possible with these bases?'" ("Talks on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan after Pullout Unnerve Region," Rod Nordland, The New York Times, April 18, 2011.)
"Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani … bluntly told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both … Mr. Karzai should 'forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country…,' Mr. Gilani said. Pakistan is lobbying Afghanistan’s president against building a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him instead to look to Pakistan – and its Chinese ally." ("Karzai Told to Dump U.S.," Matthew Rosenberg, The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2011.)
"The US has been bankrolling the effort with up to $100bn (£61bn) a year and is negotiating a new strategic partnership with President Hamid Karzai. “December  is not a campaign end date but a waypoint – a point at which the coalition security posture changes from one that is in the lead to one that is mentoring and advising, but is still here.” ("General James Bucknall, Second in Command of International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF)." Nick Hopkins, The Guardian, May 10, 2011.)
"Because of deep concerns over militant groups in the region, (U.S. officials) want some kind of launching area ... to go after individuals and training camps. They see few other basing options in the region. So, the U.S. government will push hard for this." (Caroline Wadhams, a security expert at the Center for American Progress, June 3, 2011.)
"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit ( SCO, a mutual-security organisation which was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan ) adopted a statement calling for an “independent, neutral” Afghanistan (read: free of foreign occupation). Nurusultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who hosted Karzai, put it on record, 'It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.'” (Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, Asia Times Online, June 21. 2011.)
"In a statement, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Party of Hezb-e-Islami described establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan as an eternal occupation of the country. The statement said establishment of permanent US bases in Afghanistan would mean the war never ends." (Tolo News Afghanistan, July 19, 2011.)
What is described is the framework for Great Game 3.0, demonstrating the world’s militarized inability to resolve distrust and human conflict in a sensible manner, and the ineffectual silence of the international community and the United Nations.
We need to ask questions
Our leaders, the Afghan and American elite, don’t want us to be concerned about the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration. They want us to be appropriately upset by news of suicide bombings and I.E.D.s, and sufficiently curious about the Taliban, the 2014 drawdown, and peace.
What’s more, the ‘debt crisis doom’ will not allow us to look at the big picture, which is the consistent abuse of the people’s interests by global governments determined to maintain the status quo of Power-and-Wealth-dictated inequalities.
Yet, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are committed to recovering their values. This is difficult because such values have been de-humanized, as we ourselves have become disconnected from other human beings and distracted by material OBJECTS. This happens to us and it happens more so to ordinary Americans who face even greater distractions and may not want to bother with this ‘agreement.’ After all, Americans have enough troubles of their own.
Or can we expect her citizens to break out of their cold, lonely bubbles?
We need an urgent global debate about this.
The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration will perpetuate ‘terrorism’ and bring it to everyone’s doorsteps.
The ‘partnership’ will allow permanent joint U.S.-Afghanistan military bases to launch and project hard power. The ‘extreme’ Taliban would conveniently ‘use’ these bases as a stand-alone reason for their ‘holy jihad.’ We cannot forget that one of Osama Bin Laden’s reasons for attacking the US on September 11th was the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia.
This Strategic Partnership Declaration would kill any chance for our madness to slow down and our violence to calm down.
It will doom ordinary Americans and Afghans to permanent terrorism.
Why can’t we quiet our nerves, look deep inside humanity, and begin healing?
The reality is that Afghans are not only very angry but also tired, while U.S./NATO citizens are essentially unaware, so are neither concerned, nor angry.
We need options
As Arundhati Roy said, Afghans don’t have to choose between the Taliban and the U.S.-Afghan Government … these two fundamentalist poles.
Just like Americans don’t have to choose between ‘feeding’ the rich or ‘feeding’ the rich.
We can choose normal, decent lives, based on respect for life, on valuing life.
We can connect our aspirations with those of human beings elsewhere:
‘When people decide to live, destiny shall obey, and one day ... the slavery chains must be broken.’ Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasem Al-Shabi (Schebbi)
‘Hurriya! Hurriya! Hurriya! - Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!’ Egyptian Tahrir Square protesters
‘We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers! We are not slaves!’ Spanish Indignados, Real Democracy Now
‘The world is no longer dignified enough for words… This is my last poem, I cannot write more poetry. Poetry no longer exists inside me. No more blood!’ Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and the Caravan of Solace
‘The people demand social justice. This is Egypt.’ About 300,000 Israelis marching through the streets in central Tel Aviv
‘Tell the world not to send their money,’ says Abdulai, a 15-year-old Afghan boy. ‘I don’t need their money. I need to live without wars.’
At a press briefing in Kabul on the 5th of June 2011, President Karzai addressed Robert Gates as ‘His Excellency’ and gave him a medal, which Gates self-proclaimed as ‘an award’ presented to him ‘on behalf of the Afghan people.’
If the Afghan public knew that Karzai had given Gates an award on their behalf, they may have fumed. But then, most rural Afghans don’t even know who Gates is.
This proud and exceptional self-praise by the rich and powerful is ugly; the People of the world should expose and disempower this imposition of values.
There ARE other options, especially since there ARE other deeper values.
We need an equal conversation
No Power today represents the people. Today, ordinary Afghans are denied the basic human dignities, living in a country that Save the Children said was the most dangerous place on earth for mothers, and that UNICEF said was the worst place on earth to be born in, and to be a child.
Moreover, the country that is pushing to sign this Strategic Partnership Declaration with Afghanistan, namely the U.S., has neither ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women nor the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These indicate the ‘human regress’ which the Afghan government/Taliban/U.S./NATO have been responsible for.
We mustn’t ‘just watch and do nothing’ about our glaring socio-economic inequalities; 20% of the earth’s population is hoarding more than 70% of the total income.
It is an unsustainable inhumanity.
Why not listen, as human beings are capable of doing?
Why not grieve?
Why not have decent and equal conversations?
Have we all become incapable of perceiving the ‘beauty of the world – literature, music, art…?’
For the sake of Abdulai and billions of ordinary people like him, why not join the rising masses across the Middle East & Africa, Europe, South & Central America and more, under the same blue sky, to end our slavery to the status quo values?
We need to at least have conversations about the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration, before it is signed in betrayal of ordinary Americans, Afghans and global citizens.
We have little left to lose anyway.
The Powers have been laughing at us, right from the very beginning.
The U.S. coalition was dropping 26,000 bombs on an already destroyed Afghanistan from October 2001 to March 2002, when these words were recorded:
"By the second day of the air strikes, US pilots were returning to their bases without dropping their assigned payload of bombs. As one pilot put it, Afghanistan is "not a target-rich environment." At a press briefing at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, was asked if America had run out of targets. "First we're going to re-hit targets," he said, "and second, we're not running out of targets, Afghanistan is..." This was greeted with gales of laughter in the Briefing Room." ("Brutality Smeared in Peanut Butter," Arundhati Roy, The Guardian, October 23, 2001.)
Gandhi had said, ‘Our slavery is complete when we begin to hug it.’
When the Strategic Partnership is signed, peace groups will still be working hard to demand complete withdrawal. Unawares, the rest of the world will be repulsed by but still admiring how ‘intelligent’ politicians are ‘Mafia-ing’ the economic crisis. But, there will then be at least 5 permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, and ‘gales of laughter in the Briefing Room.’
"Next the statesman will invent cheap lies, putting the blame on the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception…" (Mark Twain)
Kathy Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She has traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq on dozens of occasions over the past 25 years.
Staying Human: Preparing to Sail to Gaza
by Kathy Kelly
June 27, 2011
Last week, newly-arrived in Athens as part of the US Boat to Gaza project, our team of activists gathered for nonviolence training. We are here to sail to Gaza, in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in our ship, "The Audacity of Hope." Our team, and nine other ships' crews from countries around the world, want Israel to end its lethal blockade of Gaza by letting our crews through to shore to meet with Gazans. The US ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support to a population suffering its fifth continuous decade of de facto occupation, now in the form of a military blockade controlling Gaza's sea and sky, punctuated by frequent deadly military incursions, that has starved Gaza's economy and people to the exact level of cruelty considered acceptable to the domestic population of our own United States, Israel's staunchest ally.
The international flotilla last year was brutally attacked and the Turkish ship fired on from the air, with a cherrypicked video clip of the resulting panic presented to the world to justify nine deaths, one of a United States citizen, most of them execution-style killings. So it’s essential, albeit a bit bizarre, to plan for how we will respond to military assaults. Israeli news reports say that their naval commandos are preparing to use attack dogs and snipers to board the boats. In the past, they have used water cannons, taser guns, stink bombs, sound bombs, stun guns, tear gas, and pepper spray against flotilla passengers. I’ve tried to make a mental list of plausible responses: remove glasses, don life jacket, affix clip line which might prevent sliding off the deck, carry a half onion to offset effect of tear gas, remember to breathe.
Israel Defense Forces are reportedly training for a fierce assault intended to “secure” each boat in the flotilla, the "Freedom Flotilla 2". As passengers specifically on the U.S. boat, we may be spared the most violent responses, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not ruled out such violent responses and has preemptively certified any response we may "provoke" (in sailing from international waters to a coastline that is not part of Israel) is an expression of Israel's "right to defend themselves" (http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/hillary-clinton-gives-green-light-israeli-attack-gaza-flotilla). Israel says it is prepared for a number of scenarios, ranging "from no violence" (which it knows full well to expect) to "extreme violence" (http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=226655). We are preparing ourselves not to panic, and to practice disciplined nonviolence whatever scenario Israel decides to enact.
If they overcome our boat swiftly, they will presumably handcuff us and possibly hood us, before commandeering our ship toward an Israeli port, removing us from the ship, jailing us and (judging from their past actions) deporting us. I don't know what country I would be deported to, but I would eventually return to the U.S. and to my home city of Chicago, and to a safety I cannot share with the desperate people of Gaza, or friends from throughout this region so troubled by war, much of it instigated by my own country.
The slogan of our flotilla is "Stay Human." It's advice that exposure to violence, real or imagined, always tempts us to forget. Young friends I have met in Afghanistan, faced with pervasive everyday precarity I cannot easily imagine, have expressed this idea in a YouTube video which utterly takes my breath away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkiMOPoU1qA They ask Gazan youth to hold on to hope and to the capacity for childlike joy: "To friends in Gaza: don't stay angry for too long, Stay together, and love from us in Afghanistan!"
My fellow passenger John Barber recently visited Gaza, and this morning he told me a harrowing story of a Gazan family, that of a farmer named Nasr, living near the Gazan-Israeli buffer zone. The first attack took place in June of 2010. To quote John's website: “…the Israeli army attacked the family home while the children were playing outside…Nasr’s wife, Naama, was in the front yard when a tank 500 meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr's wife, torn to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the narrow dirt road to his home.” Ambulance stoppages are a frequent punitive measure used against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza."
“After the second attack,” which occurred in April 2011, “Nasr’s family moved to a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night, around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found them at their mother’s grave." The next day he took them away from that village and back to their land, to try and put the past behind them, and await a future they can barely hope will be kind.
I hope that our ship will make it to Gaza. I hope Johnny Barber can again visit Nasr, and that I can visit the family and the trapped young men who sheltered me during the final days of the crushing December 2008 "Operation Cast Lead" bombardment. I hope that our ship will make it out of dock - acting on an "anonymous complaint," the government here has demanded an inspection of several days before they will allow our (entirely seaworthy) ship to sail. With its world-headline-producing economic troubles, Greece seems incredibly vulnerable to the intense pressure that the Israeli and U.S. governments seem openly prepared to exert: we hope that neither economic nor political blackmail will succeed at stopping our ship from leaving the spot near Athens where it is waiting to receive us.
“Please don’t lose the human capacity for happiness.” My Afghan friends in the video urge us to stay human. Ali, who speaks in the video, has been harassed by Afghan security forces since becoming active with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. So has his family. Others of his companions have faced death threats, interrogation, arson and theft. Their persistence encourages and guides me, and I struggle to let their persistence urge me on, because staying human is also about doing what is right.
I think of Nasr's children watching their mother die, and I think that if they're going to stay human then I and my countrymen and women ought to help. We have to become more human than we've so far managed to be: We have to make sacrifices to stop the crimes that are ultimately being committed in our names. In different ways, we have to risk the consequences of being where we need to be when we need to be there. We have to stand up to injustice and with the victims of injustice, and rely on our opponents to find their humanity in time, given enough examples of what it can look like. When we find ourselves, against all odds, staying human, that example surprises us and helps sustain us in hope for the power of humanity. We hope we will be allowed through to Gaza, we hope that the siege will be lifted, and that in this time when humankind can so little afford the nightmares of greed and ignorance that rend the Middle East and that render our leaders incapable of uniting to address ever-more desperate, ever-more-frightening global crises, we as a species, one with no assurance of its perpetual survival, will somehow find some way to stay human.