Tag Archives: Afghanistan

REFLECTION: My father was killed by a computer, says a 7 year-old child

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Imal, a 7 year old Afghan student in the 2nd grade, came to visit us in Kabul.

As Imal grew up, he kept asking his mother where his father was. His mother finally told Imal that his father had been killed by a drone when he was still a baby.

If you could see Imal in this video, you would want to hug Imal immediately.

If Imal were a white American kid, this tragedy would not have befallen his father. Which American would allow any U.S. citizen to be killed by a foreign drone?

Suppose the UK wanted to hunt ‘terrorists’ in the U.S., with their drones, and every Tuesday, David Cameron signed a ‘secret kill list’ like Obama does. Drones operated from Waddington Base in the UK fly over U.S. skies to drop bombs on their targets, and the bombs leave a 7 year old American kid, say, John, fatherless.

John’s father is killed, shattered to charred pieces by a bomb, dropped by a drone, operated by a human, under orders from the Prime Minister /Commander-in-Chief.

“John, we’re sorry that your father happened to be near our ‘terrorist’ target.’ He was collateral damage. It was ‘worth it’ for the sake of UK national security.”

Unfortunately, no U.S. official or military personnel had met with Imal’s widowed mother to apologize.

Raz, Imal’s uncle who brought him to visit us, asked his young nephew, “Will you bring me some marbles to play with?”

Imal was friendly, like any other 7 year old kid. “Yes!” His voice was a trusting one, eager to be a good friend and playmate.

Imal in front of a poster of Badshah Khan.

Imal in front of a poster of Badshah Khan.

“Do you also play with walnuts? Tell us how you play with walnuts,” Raz requests.

“We put them in a line, and flick a walnut to hit other walnuts, like playing with marbles,” Imal explains diligently, like he was telling a story we should all be interested in.

“Besides beans, what other food do you like?”

“I also like….potatoes…and meat……and….rice!” All of us were smiling with the familiar love of Afghan oiled ‘palao’ or ‘Qabuli’ rice.”

Imal knew what my laptop was. He said, “We can look at photos & watch films…”

But, then, it seemed that he took on the understanding of an older person when his voice became serious.

”My father was killed by a computer.”

I wanted to tell Imal that nowadays, it takes children and young people like Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai to tell us adults the plain facts.

When Malala was 16 years old and met with the Obamas at the White House, Malala had told Obama that drones were fuelling terrorism.

Do we get it? Drones are employed in the ‘war against terrorism’, but instead, drones fuel terrorism.

How many drone attacks are there in Afghanistan every month, and how many women, children and young men like Imal’s father are killed?

We don’t know. It’s not a transparent strategy.

We would all want to know everything about the possible effects of a drone strategy on our children, especially if our country was the most drone-bombed country in the world, like Afghanistan is.

A Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s ‘Naming the Dead’ report says that fewer than 4% of the people killed by drone attacks in Pakistan have been identified by available records as named members of Al Qaeda. If this is true for drone attack victims in Afghanistan too, then 96% of drone victims in Afghanistan have been innocent civilians like Imal’s father.

In another Bureau of Investigative Journalism report,  ‘Tracking drone strikes in Afghanistan’, (July, 2014),the Bureau states that “nobody systematically publishes insurgent and civilian deaths from drones on a strike-by-strike basis. Neither the US nor UK authorities publishes data on the casualties of their drone operations.”

So, we are unable to find out for Imal’s mother if it was a U.S./UK drone that killed her husband, and who the drone operator was.

If Imal were John, could he or his mother sue David Cameron? Stop the drone? Stop the human drone operator? Disable the computer?

We gave Imal a Borderfree blue scarf, and thanked him for coming.

His eyes were bright and cheerful, taking in the photos on the wall, including a poster of Gandhi and Badshah Khan. Badshah Khan was a Pashtun like Imal, and has been called the Frontier Gandhi for his lifelong struggle for nonviolence.

I have been thinking hard about Imal, about whether anyone would hear him, when few among the elites who declare wars and order drone strikes seem to have heard the now famous Malala, not even President Obama.

“I wish to tell the world, ‘We don’t want war. Don’t fight!’”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

AFGHANISTAN: International Day of Nonviolence in Afghanistan

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul–“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer (APV) from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.

The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning.  To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the Palace, which is a war ruin.  But the police, citing general security concerns, had denied us permission.

Imadullah and Rauff, another APV member, continued discussing the attack. Rauff believes that the latest string of suicide bombings in Kabul have been in response to actions of the newly formed government. “Three days ago, they signed the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA),” Rauff explained. “The Taliban condemned the new government, now led by former World Bank official President Ashraf Ghani and ex-warlord Vice President General Dostum, for signing the agreement.”

Listening to Imadullah’s and Rauff’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, I wondered if I myself had become inured to this sober Afghan reality of perpetual war.

We were soon joined by Zekerullah and Abdulhai who had gathered local street children at Borderfree Community Centre, so we could supervise their walk to a nearby park, the alternative place for our event.

“I’m taking music lessons and if I’m good enough, the teachers say I may be able to participate in Afghan Star (like the American Idol show) in the future!” said Nur Rahman, after belting out a sweet Afghan love song for me.

“We wish for a life without wars,” Mehdi, a boot polisher in our street kid program, said emphatically as we set off towards the park. “He’s telling the truth!” echoed another street kid walking just behind him.

Most people outside Afghanistan are too far away to preoccupy themselves over what the former British envoy to Afghanistan called an ‘eye wateringly expensive exercise in military futility’.

Whereas seemingly everyone understands that wars are futile, U.S./NATO and Afghan politicians have nevertheless wired their media and general public to believe that this war, in Afghanistan, is necessary. Through the BSA, they have agreed to keep long term U.S./NATO military bases in Afghanistan. The decision will assuredly prolong war and violence.

Governments involved in Afghanistan spend a vast bulk of their borrowed or tax-payer money not on food, water, shelter, education, health and other basic human needs, but on the machine of war.

Most of us assume that our leaders must know what to do, even if they have failed to bring genuine security after 13 years. I feel a deep frustration.

On our way to the park, street vendors and shopkeepers asked us, “What’s the occasion? Why the blue scarves?” Ordinary Afghans, trying to eke out a meagre living in a country with at least 36% unemployment, seem eager for some action, some change.

The blue scarves looked strikingly beautiful along the pot-holed road. “We’re a group of drug addicts!” Mirwais replied playfully. “No, we’re a group for nonviolence!” Mirwais is another street kid who has seen numerous people addicted to opium living under bridges in Kabul. Unable to find work in Afghanistan, many Afghan men go to Iran where they work illegally as labourers. There, they get addicted to drugs.

The APVs couldn’t help but feel weighed down by the serious irony of promoting nonviolence in a country where the world’s most powerful nations have gathered to wage war.

After Mohammad Qawa and Zebiullah had lifted our spirits with their guitar-accompanied singing, I took the loud-hailer to offer a word of encouragement.

“When I am abroad, I hear that you are the generation of war.” I sensed uneasiness in the air. Some of the youth responded in what I’ve noticed is a common Afghan way of coping with their harsh lives – they laughed.

“But well done to all of you for coming today to show that no, you are not a generation of war. You are a generation of love!” I didn’t expect the rapturous, supportive applause!

“On the International Day of Nonviolence,” I added, “we remember a quote from Gandhi, that ‘where there is love, there is life.’” I thought of how my Afghan friends among the Peace Volunteers have demonstrated love and affirmed life, and felt grateful.

The energetic little ones together with the sober youth and adults joined hands as they formed a circle, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and other Afghan ethnicities, each wearing the Borderfree blue scarf signifying our belief that we’re all human beings living under the same blue sky!

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“When I see this circle of children and youth,” Abdulhai told the group, “I feel excited about the possibility of change.”

We need this excitement to generate more and more circles of friendship, along with many more relationships that can help us understand that our governments have unfortunately disguised perpetual war as peace.

The Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and extremists like the Taliban will fight on and on, drop and lay bombs to kill mostly civilians, escalate hate, anger, hunger and thirst, rape our earth of its minerals, gases and oil, and warm our globe to extinction. They are increasing violence in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria, in the drug war in Mexico, on Wall Street against the 99%, through the tar sands in Canada, in student debt loans everywhere….

We need to work hard, cheerfully and patiently, to reach the human family with a simple message that we the people no longer like authoritarian, weapon-wielding profiteers. Too many of us are dying.

Our leaders inhabit an unequal system that is driven by the same corrupt power and egos that gripped ancient kings and queens. To hoard money and power for themselves, they are repeating the violent acts of history, and we can no longer satisfactorily explain to our children why they need to suffer for the elite.

We cannot wait. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” So, I readily join the APVs’ mission: to abolish war.

We understand that ‘we are the ones we’ve been waiting for’.

“Wake up! We are not the war generation. We are the generation of love!”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

REFLECTION: Ferguson – Reflections on race and racism in America

Scott WrightBy Scott Wright, Former PCUSA National Council member & member of Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

On August 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by six bullets fired at close range by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

His death sparked outrage in this black suburb of St. Louis, and led to weeks of nightly protests in the streets where black residents faced off with a militarized white police force ready to turn on U.S. citizens as though they were enemy combatants.

handsup

It was a familiar story, but something seemed different this time. The police response to the protests looked like they were prepared to invade a village in Iraq or Afghanistan. Black protesters, hands in the air, carried signs with the message: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” What happened?

I remembered last summer, when thousands of people – black and white – returned to the site of the 1963 March of Washington on the 50th anniversary to remember and recommit themselves to work for racial justice in our nation. Then, the mood was festive, though Martin Luther King III reminded the crowd: “Our task is still not done, the journey is not over,” and Congressman John Lewis issued a challenge: “We cannot go back. We cannot wait. We want jobs and freedom.”

This summer, on the eve of the anniversary of the March on Washington, we were reminded by the events in Ferguson of all that has not changed in our country these past fifty years.

Some Are Guilty, All Are Responsible

A few weeks ago, I participated in “A National Service of Mourning in remembrance of those who have died in Palestine and Israel.” Again, a familiar story, but something – the overwhelming use of violence and the media coverage of it – seemed different this time. The BBC reported that 2,104 Palestinians, of whom 1,451 were civilians, were killed in the Israeli airstrikes over Gaza; by contrast, 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 Israeli citizens were killed in the conflict.

The interfaith service began on a note of lamentation and confession, and included voices of Palestinians who had lost family members in Gaza, and an Israeli conscientious objector who refused to fight. I was intensely aware that it mattered whether we came to the service as Christians, Jews or Muslims, because in real life it matters, and we must acknowledge the violence for which each of us is responsible. It mattered and it didn’t matter, because we were joined by our common humanity and mourning for the loss of innocent life, as well as by a common dream for peace. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Some are guilty, all are responsible.”

Prior to and after the service, my thoughts returned to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I thought, too, that it matters whether we approach Ferguson as whites or as blacks, because, in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, “Racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.” It mattered and it didn’t matter, because, again in Dr. King’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Two Societies: One Black, One White – Separate and Unequal

I came of age in the 1960s, and still remember the vivid media images of riots in the streets of major cities across the United States. I remember the night in 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, and joined my first protest with blacks and whites on a southern university campus. My roommate was African American, from a poor family in Richmond, Virginia. We watched with horror the scenes on TV of U.S. soldiers with machine-guns on the steps of the U. S. Capitol, and then joined hundreds of fellow protesters, locking arms and singing together, “We Shall Overcome.” I was 18 years old, and became aware for the first time that I had a new identity. I was “white,” and I had just received notice to register for the draft.

These were turbulent times. Even “official” voices declared we were living in “a system of apartheid” in our major cities, and “Our nation was moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” That was the conclusion of the Kerner Report, which was commissioned by President Johnson in 1967 after three years and 24 racial riots in 23 cities between 1964 and 1967.

The commission asked: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?” And it put the blame squarely on white racism: “What white Americans have never fully understood – but what blacks can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

Why did it happen? The report concluded: “Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future. White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.” Specifically, “pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing have resulted in the continuing exclusion of great numbers of blacks from the benefits of economic progress.” And for many blacks, the police “have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression.”

Powerful words, and a powerful indictment from fifty years ago. How much has changed? The roots of white racism are deep, and go beyond laws that discriminate. White racism is still institutionalized in employment, education and health care, housing and criminal justice practices that exclude great numbers of blacks from the benefits and opportunities of a dignified life with hope for the future.

What Happened in Ferguson?

Two recent articles from The Washington Post, one optimistic and one pessimistic, both by African American professors, are instructive.

The first article (by Fredrick Harris, August 24) asks, “Will Michael Brown Become Emmett Till?” Emmett Till was the black teenager from Chicago who was viciously lynched in Mississippi in 1955 and whose family spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, standing next to the parents of Trayvon Martin, the black youth killed in 2012 by a white man “standing his ground” in Florida. The article’s optimistic conclusion is “no,” things are different now: The cumulative effect of police misconduct against black people has exposed the reality of police brutality; there has been a backlash against rhetoric that blames poor black youth; innovative protest tactics like the ones used in Ferguson have been effective in attracting media attention; and the support of allies demanding justice and reforms in policing is important.

The second article (by Carol Anderson, August 31) says: “Ferguson Isn’t about Black Rage,” it’s about white rage and fear, particularly in light of the changing demographics and predictions that whites will be a minority by the year 2050. Today, the picture is not as hopeful as that painted by the previous article: There is a rash of voter-suppression legislation, a rise in stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality, a foreclosure crisis that stripped blacks of half of their wealth, and the mass incarceration of black youth that is depriving an entire generation of hope.

The Problem Not Talked About

Recently, a friend of mine shared an observation she learned as a social worker: “The only problems that can’t be solved are those that aren’t talked about.” That’s seems to fit the current situation of white racism in America.

Why is it so difficult to engage with one another in a national conversation about racism, or to strategize together – black and white – about how to combat institutional racism? Especially when our friends and our children’s friends, our co-workers and fellow parishioners, are often of another race?

Rev. Bryan Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee diocese, moral theologian at Marquette University and convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, has addressed many of these concerns in his book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. His words, I believe, speak to the reality we face, as Americans, as people of faith, and as Catholics:

“Today the continuing resistance to racial equality, despite undeniable progress, can be largely explained by a fundamental ambivalence on the part of the majority of white Americans: their desire to denounce blatant racial injustices, and yet preserve a situation of white social dominance and privilege. To say it plainly, most Americans are committed to both interpersonal decency and systemic inequality.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said something similar in 1967, in words which still ring true: “White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap [of inequality] – essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it. . . . The great majority of Americans are suspended between . . . opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with [racial] injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.”

Only One Third of the Dream?

What would Dr. King say today to his white brothers and sisters regarding our response to the events in Ferguson, and beyond Ferguson to the plight of our African American sisters and brothers in America today? What the Kerner Commission characterized as “a system of apartheid” is still true if we look at the levels of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, access to education and health care along racial lines today.

Perhaps Dr. King would say what he did in his letter fifty years ago from Birmingham Jail:

“I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. . . I  came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.”

Yet he would, perhaps, also express his disappointment with love and with hope: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. . . . Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.”

The recent events in Ferguson challenge us – black and white – to a conversation about race and effective action to end the violence of institutionalized racism. Dr. Martin Luther King’s challenge to eliminate the “giant triplets” of poverty, racism and war inspires us to work for such a magnificent dream. With a little imagination and re-engagement we – and here I express a hope for all of us, black and white – can see the wisdom of Dr. King’s vision to include all three: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth and with righteous indignation say: ‘This is not just.’” . . . A true revolution of values will strive “to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. . . Racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.” . . . A true revolution of values “will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’”

It was the struggle of African Americans for racial justice and Dr. King’s Vietnam address at Riverside Church in 1967 that helped turn the tide against the war in Vietnam; and it was the Poor People’s March in 1968 that brought the national disgrace of poverty in the U.S. to the gates of the White House and demanded a reordering of our national priorities to promote justice at home, not war in some distant land. It will take all of us – black and white, immigrant and native-born, Muslim, Christian and Jew – to build an effective movement for justice and peace that can challenge the violence of racism, poverty, and war.

Today we are, in Dr. King’s words, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. . . .” “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

A Word of Caution from the Past

A few months ago – before Ferguson – I visited the American History museum in Washington D.C. and the exhibit on the March on Washington. In its film recollection, you can hear the voices of A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and many others, as well as the dramatic address of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years later, the words are inspiring – and challenging. The one speech that challenged me the most, however, was given by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who offered a word of caution to the nation on that day in 1963. He said:

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”

All life is precious, and the destruction of any life – black or white, Muslim, Christian, or Jew – is a grave violation of the common humanity and Abrahamic heritage we share. May we not be silent in the face of any violence – be that the institutional violence of poverty, racism or war – but instead work for that day when Dr. King’s Gospel dream of a beloved community may become a reality.

REFLECTION: A teacher in Kabul

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the 8th grade although he is an18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime.  In between these tasks the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan.

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan.

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten.  When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding ten more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit sixty times in one day.   Dreading the next day when the number would rise to seventy, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students.  But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Much to the surprise of his environmental studies teacher, Zekerullah has a strong grasp of issues related to the environment.  For the past two years, living with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he has occupied himself with presentations and conversations about global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.  He cares deeply about the issue.  Last winter, I was with him as he watched the entire BBC Blue Planet series of videos, and realized that he hungers for more information and deepened understanding about issues hitting far beyond his own beleaguered country.

When his new teacher, a teacher accustomed to beating pupils, asked the class elementary questions about the environment, Zekerullah had definitely done his homework.  But among his other recent studies were the history of nonviolent movements, led by people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, to resist oppressive forces.   So without calling any attention to his plans, Zekerullah decided to join the line of students singled out for punishment, in his environmental studies class, even though he wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve to be punished.  The teacher was befuddled.  Zekerullah so clearly knew the answers.

Zekerullah calmly explained to the teacher that he also knew, from experience, that beating students doesn’t help them learn, that he himself had lost four years of studies because he could no longer bear the beatings.  He respectfully asked the teacher to beat him instead of the next seven students in the row.

The teacher obliged, administering blows to Zekerullah while his fellow students began to wonder about and admire Zekerullah’s unusual stance.  Perhaps for the first time in a long while, everyone in that class was learning something.

For several weeks, the teacher was confronted with Zekerullah’s quiet insistence that he be allowed to take the blows in place of students who hadn’t studied.  The teacher tried to ignore him and belittle him. Once, the teacher punished him and a few others with the escalated punishment of using a rattan cane to inflict the blows.  Adding salt to the wound, the teacher even failed Zekerullah in the mid-year exams, though Zekerullah said he knew the answers and had no trouble finishing the exam.

I asked him what other students thought about his choices.  He said that some of them wanted to spare him from being punished, and so they began to study more and complete their homework. He isn’t sure what impact his actions have had. Zekerullah isn’t inclined to brag.  But he surely has affected me.

He is also affecting other vulnerable young Afghans.  Over the past two years, Zekerullah has worked hard to improve his studies, and with the literacy he has acquired, he now volunteers to teach a literacy class at the APVs Borderfree Center for about 20 street kids who have not had the opportunity to go to school regularly.  He and several companions have organized other aspects of the “Street Kids” program, visiting children in their homes and helping distribute oil and rice to each family so that the children can stop working on the streets.

Zekerullah tells me that the current education system in Afghanistan is not a good learning environment. His story alerts educators, officials and the international community to understand that the relatively small funds spent on badly-constructed new school buildings won’t suffice to provide a good education for the young Afghan population. Moreover, the predominantly militarized approach of aid and development, even in the field of education, reinforces the prevalent methods of teaching by force and punishment.

Zekerullah yearns for knowledge as well as justice, and he’s willing to sacrifice for both.  I want to learn from him.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence http://www.vcnv.org.

AFGHANISTAN: Borderfree

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, Sherri Maurin and I are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ recently formed live-in community for young women. Hollyhocks in the garden reach as high as the second floor of our living space.  Rose bushes, morning glories and four-o-clocks have bloomed, and each day we eat tomatoes, mint and green onions plucked from the well-cared for garden. The water source is a hose and tank outside, (there’s no indoor plumbing) so that’s where dishes and clothes are cleaned. The latrine is also outside, –and unfortunately we’re sharing it with playful neighbourhood cats, but otherwise  Zarghuna, Zahidi and Zahro complete almost every detail of housekeeping, each day, by 7:00 a.m.

Two additional rooms are filled with sewing machines and tables used by a group of local seamstresses.

The men’s community, separate now from the newly launched “Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence,” where projects and programs take place, also has a fine garden and similar room arrangements.  An added plus – their yard has four trees!

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence. (photo courtesy of Kathy Kelly)

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence. (photo courtesy of Kathy Kelly)

The Borderfree Center is named for Prof. Noam Chomsky’s call, in a 2013 American University of Beirut commencement speech, for participation in “a worldwide struggle to preserve the global commons” so as to secure “decent human survival in a world that has no borders.”  The symbol of their participation is the blue scarf they distribute to friends and supporters, symbolizing the blue expanse of sky upon which national boundary lines will never be drawn.

Going and coming from our communities to “the Center” is a 35-minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways.  The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked hard to shape it up.  Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space.  Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and carpets have all been carefully chosen.  Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been active in producing the Borderfree scarves, organized art students from local universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area.  Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful piece of graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters appearing where the bubbles pop spell out “We Love Peace,” although in a jumbled order that presents a challenge for linear thinkers.  Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall, visible to passers-by.  It shows a figure who has fired a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a small red heart symbol breaks the drone in half. 

Classes and programs keep the center lively.  Earlier this week,   ten people who had been invited to participate in a four-week orientation course on nonviolence attended the first session.  We also gathered for the weekly Global Awareness sessions which focus on a range of topics related to militarism, environmental concerns, and socioeconomic inequalities.  Hamidullah Natiq, a seasoned practitioner of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, meets with the group once a week. Local children, part of a “street kids” project, come once a week for Dari language and Math classes, guided by two capable young volunteer teachers, Hadisa and Farzana. And, once a month, the “street kids” receive, for their families, large sacks of rice and containers of cooking oil. These donations allow them to attend school rather than work as vendors on Kabul’s streets.

Rent for the center costs $500 per month. The APVs hope that by selling the borderfree sky blue scarves they can help cover this cost. Sherri, I and other internationals will encourage people in our home locales to assist with the center’s expenses. 

During a recent visit to Kabul’s Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, the staff shared with us their sense of what’s happening around the country, derived from the reports of staff working at several dozen clinics and at their main hospitals in two other provinces.  They described Kabul as “a bubble.”  They told us full-scale wars are being fought between quite heavily armed forces in both eastern and southern Afghanistan, although the news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan generally pertains to Kabul. The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. The Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable. 

The borders now vanishing in the Middle East – the most radical transformations of the map here since the post-WWI Sykes Picot agreement – are being redrawn in chaos and fear. The bubbles that burst here are the hopes for peace in a world avid for control of this region and its resources.  Unfortunately, durable structures of separation and domination make it difficult for many young Afghans to fulfill their longings to connect meaningfully, peacefully, and stably with a saner world united under one blue sky.

I asked Faiz what he most appreciates about the Borderfree Center.  He immediately spoke of the graffiti outside, saying that it gives him hope and suggests a sense of freedom and courage.  I believe that courage is the ability to control one’s fear. Faiz dares to hope that the courage and love of ordinary people can free them from artificial systems of surveillance, separation, and dominion. The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war. We have a lot of work to do, our tools are small, and the time is short. Yet over the past several years, as I’ve watched this inter-ethnic community grow, acts of kindness have been a reliable bulwark against war.  Before me, looking out on a flourishing garden, I’m grateful for their hope.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org)

AFGHANISTAN: Celebrate the Afghan New Year by connecting with the Afghan Peace Volunteers

from Voices for Creative Nonviolence & Afghan Peace Volunteers

apv

Salam from Afghanistan, where the Afghan New Year ( Nao Roz  / New Day ) is five days away on the 21st of March.  Alas, peace is much further away.

We ask for your friendship and time in making a Skype or telephone connection with my Afghan family, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, on Nao Roz or in the next few weeks, to talk about their wishes for the new year, their joy in flying kites, and their hope to build a world free of human borders.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers are so tired of war that they are determined to build relationships to abolish war.

We believe that an immediate way to be a strong 99% is to get to know one another through arranging Skype or telephone connections across all borders.

We wish to speak via Skype or telephone with ordinary folk, youth, students, farmers, labourers, teachers, musicians and artists, environmentalists, social workers, indigenous communities, friends and activists from every single country in the world, thus catalyzing the most powerful force in the world – love.

To converse with us on Nao Roz the 21st of March,  please email globaldaysoflistening@gmail.com, and for other dates, please email borderfree@mail2world.com

We wish to hear your ‘Borderfree’ voice!

Love from Afghanistan,

Torpekai, Khalida, Sadaf, Sonia, Zerghuna, Basir, Abdulhai, Ali, Ghulamai, Zekerullah, Faiz, Raz, Khamad, Barath, Feroz, Hikmat and Hakim, with the Afghan Peace Volunteers

AFGHANISTAN: “Who will hear our voice?” the plea of Afghan women

Rev. John Dear, S.J.

by Fr. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

This week, as our war president was inaugurated on the holiday of Martin Luther King Jr., I thought how King would be speaking out boldly against our war in Afghanistan, our use of drones, our use of torture, our use of execution and our use of bombs and call us once again to end the killings, become people of nonviolence and side with the victims of our war that we might create the “beloved community.”

So my thoughts turn again to the many impoverished women and children I met last month in Kabul. Reflecting on my journey to Afghanistan, I hear the question that was asked over and over again: “Who will hear our voice?”

“No one listens to our voices,” one woman told us. “We can’t imagine a better future for our children. There is little hope for them. Some countries say they send aid, but where is it? We have never seen it. It all goes into the hands of the government leaders who buy homes in Dubai. Who will hear the voice of the people? We have so much pain in our hearts because no one will listen to us.”…

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