Tag Archives: Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN: In Kabul on Sept. 21st, the International Day of Peace, #Enough!

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul, Afghanistan–Sixteen years ago, a Talib (literally translated, a student) shot and killed Zarghuna’s father.

Zarghuna and her family were frantically fleeing a desperate situation. The same holds true for  more than 60 million refugees in today’s ‘progressive’ world.

If you’re like me, you may think, “Oh, how messy is Zarghuna’s part of the world.”

“How terrible are the Taliban!”, and perhaps even, “We should imprison or eliminate them.”

But, Zarghuna thinks differently.

Zarghuna with the word #Enough! in Dari/Pashto on her hand, with her friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Borderfree Street Kids ( from left to right : Mursal, Barath, Inam, Muheb, Zarghuna, Kahar and Zahra)

Zarghuna with the word #Enough! in Dari/Pashto on her hand, with her friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Borderfree Street Kids (from left: Mursal, Barath, Inam, Muheb, Zarghuna, Kahar and Zahra)

In the noisy violence raging around her, Zarghuna quietly but resolutely says, “#Enough!”

Okay, I confess I’m not confident that, in our hurried lives, we’ll appreciate the relevance of Zarghuna’s distant struggle.

But I trust we can care for her when she cries.

Just sitting there. Crying.

“I don’t think my mother will manage if Arif leaves,” she said.

Arif, Zarghuna’s youngest brother, has already left home twice in the past three months, with the intention of smuggling himself to Iran and onwards to Europe.

Unlike the steady girl that she usually is, Zarghuna looked up from her downcast posture, and said, “There’s nothing really ‘fulfilling’ in Afghanistan to stay around for, is there?”

Zarghuna’s mother lost her husband and father-in-law to war.

“She can’t live through another loss,” Zarghuna stated plainly.

I believe we need to hear voices like Zarghuna’s. Our ‘smart’ devices, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, We Chat etc etc can’t do the listening. We are the ones who need to listen. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

On Zarghuna’s palm is written the word ‘Enough’ in Dari and Pashto ( the official languages of Afghanistan ), pronounced ‘bas’!

We may not have experienced war as Zarghuna has, but we’ve each had enough of different severe frustrations; of being treated as less than others, discriminated against, insulted, looked down upon, disrespected, exploited, and violated in various ways.

Or we’ve had enough of feeling lonely in life’s materialistic rush.

These challenges appear separate, though that’s not what Zarghuna has been learning.

These are interconnected crises.

The outcome? We can face the ugly crises we have on our hands today by questioning why there’s such a huge socio-economic difference between the elite and most of us ( the so called 99% ), and an even greater difference between them and the most vulnerable people, like street kids, labourers, and people who live in war zones.

Our greed has its toll.

#Enough! is #Enough! is the feeling we all share.

So, today, Zarghuna, 100 Borderfree Street Kids, some of whom she teaches, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, tried to set aside those unpleasant human ways by sharing a meal with 100 Afghan labourers.

Zarghuna stirring the frying pan of sliced carrots

Zarghuna stirring the frying pan of sliced carrots.

They divided the work of drawing up an invitation list of labourers, getting enough wood for the fire, sifting and washing the raisins and rice, cooking, and thinking about the meaning of it all.

They looked kindly at one another as they shared the food, each of them bearing a war story.

The Borderfree Street Kids sharing the food with the Afghan laborers, and saying to them, “Come again in happiness!”

The Borderfree Street Kids sharing the food with the Afghan laborers, and saying to them, “Come again in happiness!”

How can I reach within you who are so far away, to share with you how captivated I was by the transformation of war-generated pain, sorrow, fear, distrust and hate into the tiny but cumulative actions of determination and love?

Can you see it on Zarghuna’s palm, and on the faces of her peace volunteer and street kid friends?

For this story, I had asked Zarghuna to choose between the group picture and a solo picture of her alone.

How I wish you could see and hear her wish for the human family not to be alone, but to be together, to agree with one another, including with the Taliban who killed her father and the U.S./NATO forces whose strategy has increased ‘terrorism’, that we’ve had #Enough!

Perhaps, listening will be our revolution.

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 10 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: Afghan girl, Sakina, buries toy gun and says…

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Ten year old Sakina, an Afghan street kid, had this to say: “I don’t like to be in a world of war. I like to be in a world of peace.”

On 27th August 2015, Sakina and Inam, with fellow Afghan street kids and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, held a mock funeral for weapons and celebrated the establishment of a green space in Kabul.

Dressed in long black coats, they broke and buried toy guns in a small spot where, over the past two years, they have been planting trees.

Sakina breaks a toy gun before burying it. Inam and other street kids await their turn.

Sakina breaks a toy gun before burying it. Inam and other street kids await their turn.

Inam, a bright-eyed ten year old, caught the group’s energetic desire to build a world without war. “I kept toy guns till about three years ago,” he acknowledged with a smile.

On the same day, Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez, ex-President of Costa Rica, was in Mexico for the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference of States Parties.

In his statement at the Conference, he told the story of an indigenous Guatemalan woman who thanked him for negotiating a peace accord 28 years ago. The mother had said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

No mother, Guatemalan or Afghan, wants her children to be killed in war.

Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote: “I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. They were its (the peace treaty’s) true authors, its reason for being.”

I’m confident that the children of Afghanistan were also in his thoughts, especially since he had a brief personal connection with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in 2014, having been part of a Peace Jam video message of solidarity to the Volunteers, wearing their Borderfree Blue Scarves which symbolize that ‘all human beings live under the same blue sky’.

I thank Mr. Arias Sanchez for his important work on the Arms Trade Treaty, though I sense that an arms trade treaty isn’t going to be enough.

Afghan children are dying from the use of weapons.

To survive, they need a ban against weapons. Regulations about buying and selling weapons perpetuate a trade that is killing them.

I saw Inam and other child laborers who work in Kabul’s streets decisively swing hammers down on the plastic toy guns, breaking off triggers, scattering nozzles into useless pieces and symbolically breaking our adult addiction to weapons.

Children shouldn’t have to pay the price for our usual business, especially business from the U.S., the largest arms seller in the world. U.S. children suffer too, with more U.S. people having died as a result of gun violence since 1968 than have died in all U.S. wars combined. U.S. weapon sellers are killing their own people; by exporting their state-of-the-art weapons, they facilitate the killing of many others around the world.

After burying the toy guns, surrounded by the evergreen and poplar trees which they had planted, the youth shed their black coats and donned sky-blue scarves.

Another world was appearing as Sakina and Inam watched young friends plant one more evergreen sapling.

Inam was watching as another evergreen tree was planted

Inam was watching as another evergreen tree was planted.

Inam knew that it hasn’t been easy to create this green space in heavily fortified Kabul.

The City Municipality said they couldn’t water the trees (though it is just 200 metres away from their office). The Greenery Department weren’t helpful. Finally, the security guards of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just across from the garden, offered to help, after the Volunteers had provided them with a 100-metre water hose.

Rohullah, who coordinates the environment team at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, expressed his frustration. “Once, we had to hire a private water delivery service to water the tree saplings so they wouldn’t shrivel up. None of the government departments could assist.”

Sighing, he added ironically, “We can’t use the Kabul River tributary running just next to the Garden, as the trash-laden trickle of black, bracken water is smelly and filthy.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, according to figures from the National Priorities Project, a non-profit, non-partisan U.S. federal budget research group, the ongoing Afghan War is costing American taxpayers US $4 million an hour.

It is the youth and children who are making sense today, like when Nobel Laureate Malalai Yousafzai said recently that if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could provide 12 years of free, quality education for every child on the planet.

“I don’t like to work in the streets, but my family needs bread. Usually, I feel sad,” Inam said, looking away, “because I feel a sort of helplessness.”

Oscar Arias Sanchez said at the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference, “And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action.”

That morning, I heard the voices of Sakina, Inam and the Afghan youth ring through the street, “#Enough of war!”

Sakina speaks to a T.V. reporter. Rohullah is on her right, Inam on her left.

Sakina speaks to a T.V. reporter. Rohullah is on her right, Inam on her left.

It wasn’t a protest. It was the hands-on building of a green spot without weapons, and an encouraging call for others to do so everywhere.

Through their dramatic colours and clear action, they were inviting all of us, “Bury your weapons. Build your gardens.”

“We will stand watch for you!”

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 10 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: Let it shine

by Kathy Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Photo credit:  Maya Evans

Photo credit:  Maya Evans

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Imagine children lustily singing the above lines which eventually became a civil rights anthem. Their innocence and happy resolve enlightens us. Yes! In the face of wars, refugee crises, weapon proliferation and unaddressed climate change impacts, let us echo the common sense of children. Let goodness shine. Or, as our young friends in Afghanistan have put it, #Enough! They write the word, in Dari, on the palms of their hands and show it to cameras, wanting to shout out their desire to abolish all wars.

This past summer, collaborating with Wisconsin activists, we decided to feature this refrain on signs and announcements for a 90-mile walk campaigning to end targeted drone assassinations abroad, and the similarly racist impunity granted to an increasingly militarized police force when they kill brown and black people within the U.S.

Walking through small cities and towns in Wisconsin, participants distributed leaflets and held teach-ins encouraging people to demand accountability from local police, and an end to the “Shadow Drone” program operated by the U.S. Air National Guard out of Wisconsin’s own Volk Field. Our friend Maya Evans traveled the furthest to join the walk: she coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence in the UK. Alice Gerard, from Grand Isle, NY, is our most consistent long-distance traveler, on her sixth antiwar walk with VCNV.

Brian Terrell noted what mothers speaking to Code Pink, as part of the Mothers Against Police Brutality campaign, had also noted: that surprisingly many of the officers charged with killing their children were veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He recalled past national events, such as the NATO summit in Chicago, in 2012, whose organizers tried to recruit temporary security officers from amongst U.S. veterans. Former soldiers, already traumatized by war, need support, healthcare and vocational training but instead are offered temp jobs to aim weapons at other people in predictably tense settings.

The walk was instructive. Salek Khalid, a friend of Voices, shared “Creating a Hell on Earth: U.S. Drone Strikes Abroad,” his own in-depth presentation about the development of drone warfare. Tyler Sheafer, joining us from the Progressive Alliance near Independence, MO, stressed the independence of living simply, off the grid and consuming crops grown only within a 150 mile radius of one’s home, while hosts in Mauston, WI welcomed Joe Kruse to talk about fracking and our collective need to change patterns of energy consumption. The ability to withhold our money and our labor is an important way to compel governments to restrain their violent domestic and international power.

We weren’t alone. We walked in solidarity with villagers in Gangjeong, South Korea, who’d welcomed many of us to join in their campaign to stop militarization of their beautiful Jeju Island. Seeking inter-island solidarity and recognizing how closely they share the plight of Afghans burdened by the U.S. “Asia Pivot,” our friends in Okinawa, Japan will host a walk from the north to the south of the island, protesting construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko. Rather than provoke a new cold war, we want to shine light on our common cares and concerns, finding security in extended hands of friendship.

On August 26th, some of the walkers will commit nonviolent civil resistance at Volk Field, carrying the messages about drone warfare and racial profiling into courts of law and public opinion.

Too often we imagine that a life swaddled in everyday comforts and routines is the only life possible, while half a world away, to provide those comforts to us, helpless others are made to shiver with inescapable cold or fear. It’s been instructive on these walks to uncoddle ourselves a little, and see how our light shines, unhidden, on the road through neighboring towns, singing words we’ve heard from children learning to be as adult as they can be; attempting to learn that same lesson. The lyric goes “I’m not going to make it shine: I’m just going to _let_ it shine. We hope that by releasing the truth that’s already in us we can encourage others to live theirs, shining a more humane light on the violent abuses, both at home and abroad, of dark systems that perpetuate violence. On walks like this we’ve been fortunate to imagine a better life, sharing moments of purpose and sanity with the many we’ve met along the road.

This article first appeared on ZMag.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence  www.vcnv.orgKathy is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

REFLECTION: No warlords need apply – a call for credible peacemaking in Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace
and Buddy Bell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Afghan woman with childA second round of peace talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives, expected to begin before the end of July, 2015, suggests that some parties to the fighting want to declare a cease fire.  But even in the short time since the first round on July 7th, fighting has intensified.  The Taliban, the Afghan government forces, various militias and the U.S. have ramped up attacks, across Afghanistan.

Some analysts say the Taliban may be trying to gain territory and clout to give them leverage in ‘peace talks.’  Taliban forces, apparently beginning to splinter since the supposed death of Mullah Omar, are now competing with a new Islamic State presence in Afghanistan  as various armed groups try to recruit new fighters from among ultra-conservative sectors of the regional population. Spectacular and frightening suicide bombings, hostage taking and a demonstrated capacity to force Afghan government soldiers into retreat or surrender might bolster a group’s claim to be effectively ejecting foreigners from Afghanistan.

However, the U.S., with its history of waging aerial attacks, using helicopters and weaponized drones, and engaging in constant aerial surveillance, along with its continued night raids and detention of civilians, effectively carries itself as the most formidable warlord in the region.

Throughout June, according to the New York Times, “American drones and warplanes fired against militants in Afghanistan more than twice as much as they had in any previous month this year, according to military statistics.”  On July 19th, 2015, U.S. helicopters even fired on an Afghan army facility in the Logar province, killing seven troops and wounding five others.  The Afghan Ministry of Defense told CBS News that “coalition helicopters were flying through the area early Monday morning when they came under fire from insurgents. After the insurgents’ attack on the helicopters, the helicopters bombed the area, and as a result an Afghan army outpost was destroyed.”

Meanwhile, top U.S. military officials have met with president Ashraf Ghani to talk about extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, beyond 2016, in light of a possible threat from Islamic State fighters.  On July 19th, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.  Following the meeting, General  Dempsey said he agreed that the U.S. needed to have a transnational strategy against  the Islamic State. He said he would raise Ghani’s idea that Afghanistan “could serve as a hub from which the U.S., its allies and Afghanistan itself could work to prevent Islamic State from gaining followers in South Asia the way it has in the Middle East.”

U.S. military officials diminish the credibility of any proposed cease fire when they  suggest that the U.S. will, after all, consider maintaining bases and troops in Afghanistan far beyond the supposed 2016 evacuation of U.S. bases.  Confidence in a cease fire is further undermined when parties to negotiations know that the U.S. could assassinate them if they appear on a list of U.S. targets.  Consider a recent statement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.   He was answering a question about whether or not the U.S. would “take out” the purported leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, if the opportunity presented itself.  Carter said, “we would certainly take it.” Note, he didn’t say, “if there are no children in the way, we would certainly take it.” Not “if he wasn’t in a dense urban area, we would certainly take it.” Essentially, Ashton Carter assured people that the U.S. will kill civilians if this is a condition of being able to kill leaders of groups the U.S. designates as enemies.

Recanting such threats and removing drones from the skies of Afghanistan during peace talks would inspire respect for the idea of peace processes.  Rural populations — the “constituency” of the Taliban in Afghanistan– fear the drones and look for protection, making them vulnerable to recruitment by armed militias vowing to eject the foreign militaries.

The U.S. could  indicate that it doesn’t wish to keep military personnel in Afghanistan or maintain ongoing bases there

Yet, even were the U.S. to take these steps, a declared ceasefire between warlords who have, in the past, neglected the needs of Afghanistan’s poorest communities, whose war making has exacerbated suffering and poverty, may not be very meaningful to ordinary people living in rural areas.   Whose interests would the warlords aim to secure?

It seems that the most crucially needed ceasefire agreement, in Afghanistan, would be one that occurred among ordinary communities, agreeing to no longer cooperate with warring parties, to no longer allow warlords to use them as pawns. This kind of ceasefire might fill the need and longing for peace so often expressed by people who are weary of living through wave after wave of destruction.  But ordinary Afghans living in rural areas need to feed their children, plant crops, restore irrigation systems, replenish their flocks and rehabilitate their agricultural infrastructure in order to survive.  If they could have some realistic assurance of sustained  resolve to help them reach these goals, they’d have good reason to link up and rise up in opposition to continued war.

What source of funding and skill could possibly offer the assistance required for this kind of rebuilding?

The U.S. military doesn’t hesitate to demand sums for continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan which could instead be dedicated to rebuilding the country.  The U.S. should state that it wishes to pay reparations for suffering caused in the past.  This could be done in the form of setting up an escrow account to be administered by an NGO or agency that has not been accused of succumbing to corruption in Afghanistan.

By doing so, the U.S. could credibly begin to withdraw from warlord status in Afghanistan, and apply itself to being part of reconstruction, setting a model desperately needed throughout the world.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) and Buddy Bell co-coordinate Voices for Creative Nonviolence  www.vcnv.orgKathy is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

REFLECTION: Before the dawn

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Each year, throughout the Muslim world, believers participate in the month-long Ramadan fast. Here in Kabul, where I’m a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, our household awakens at 2:15 a.m. to prepare a simple meal before the fast begins at about 3:00 a.m.  I like the easy companionship we feel, seated on the floor, sharing our food.  Friday, the day off, is household clean-up day, and it seemed a bit odd, to be sweeping and washing floors in the pre-dawn hours, but we tended to various tasks and then caught a nap before heading over to meet the early bird students at the Street Kids School, a project my hosts are running for child laborers who otherwise couldn’t go to school.

I didn’t nap – I was fitful and couldn’t, my mind filled with images from a memoir, Guantanamo Diary, which I’ve been reading since arriving here.  Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s  story of being imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002 rightly disturbs me. In all his years of captivity, he has never been charged with a crime. He has suffered grotesque torture, humiliation and mistreatment, and yet his memoir includes many humane, tender accounts, including remembrances of past Ramadan fasts spent with his family.


Describing his early time in a Jordanian prison, he writes:

“It was Ramadan, and so we got two meals served, one at sunset and the second before the first light. The cook woke me up and served me my early meal. Suhoor is what we call this meal; it marks the beginning of our fasting, which lasts until sunset. At home, it’s more than just a meal. The atmosphere matters. My older sister wakes everybody and we sit together eating and sipping the warm tea and enjoying each other’s company.”

I’ve never heard Muslims complain about being hungry and thirsty as they await the fast-breaking meal.   Nor have I heard people brag about contributions they’ve made to alleviate the sufferings of others, although I know Islam urges such sharing during Ramadan and aims to build empathy for those afflicted by ongoing hunger and thirst.   Mohamedou relied on empathy to help him through some of his most intense anguish and fear.

“I was thinking about all my innocent brothers who were and still are being rendered to strange places and countries,” he writes, describing a rendition trip from Senegal to Mauritania, “and I felt solaced and not alone anymore.   I felt the spirits of unjustly mistreated people with me. I had heard so many stories about brothers being passed back and forth like a soccer ball just because they have once been in Afghanistan, or Bosnia, or Chechnya.   That’s screwed up! Thousands of miles away, I felt the warm breath of these other unjustly treated individuals comforting me.”

A judge ordered Mohamedou’s immediate release in 2010. But the Obama administration appealed the decision, leaving him in a legal limbo.

From 1988 to 1991, Mohamedou had studied electrical engineering in Germany. In early 1991, he spent seven weeks, in Afghanistan, learning how to use mortars and light weapons, training which would allow him to join the U.S.-backed insurgency against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. He was one of Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters.”  In early 1992, when the communist supported Afghan government was near collapse, he again went to Afghanistan and, for three weeks, fought with insurgents to overtake the city of Gardez.   Kabul fell shortly thereafter. Mohamedou soon saw that the Mujahedeen insurgents were fighting amongst themselves over power grabs. He didn’t want to be part of this fight and so he went back to Germany, then Canada and, eventually, home to Mauritania, where he was arrested and “rendered” to Jordan for questioning, at last arriving in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base on his way to Guantanamo.

I wonder how he is feeling as he observes Ramadan without his family for the 13th consecutive year. I wish he could know that growing numbers of people in the U.S. believe he should be released and want to help atone for the suffering he has endured. Martha Hennessy, who arrived in Kabul with me, several weeks ago, hurried back to the U.S. to face charges for protesting against U.S. legitimation of torture only to learn that both of the Witness Against Torture campaign cases scheduled for trial that week were dismissed.   Perhaps public opinion now requires that the U.S. Department of Justice recognize that activists’  right and duty to protest the cruel abuses of U.S. torture policies.

I wish Mohamedou could visit Afghanistan again, not as part of a training camp for insurgents, not as a terrified, shackled prisoner, but as a guest of the community here.   A former U.S. military person dropped by the Street Kids School on Friday morning. The U.S. Air Force trained her to operate weaponized drones over Afghanistan. Now, she comes to Afghanistan annually to plant trees all over the country.   She feels deep remorse for the time in her life when she helped attack Afghans.

I don’t believe in training anyone to use weapons, but as I read Mohamedou’s words about his brothers who went to foreign countries as fighters, I thought of the Pentagon’s recent practice runs, over the New Mexico desert, training people to fire the terrifying Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a bunker buster bomb which is 20 feet long, weighs 15 tons and carries about 5,300 pounds of explosives. People in the U.S. should consider how their horror at the violence of U.S. enemies encourages and exonerates the far more crushing violence of their own government, engaged at this moment in conflicts throughout the developing world and armed with weapons capable of extinguishing all human life within minutes.

On this fast day, I remember that many U.S. people worry, like anyone anywhere, about the hardships a new day may bring, in a dangerous and uncertain time that seems to be dawning on every nation and the species as a whole.  In the U.S., we carry the added knowledge that most of the world lives much more poorly – in a material sense, at least – than we do, and that were the sun to truly rise upon the U.S., with familiar words of equality and justice truly realized, we would have to share much of our wealth with a suffering world.

We would learn to “live simply so that others might simply live.”  We would find deep satisfaction in beholding faces like those of my friends gathered for a friendly morning meal before a day of voluntary fasting.  Or, like Mohamedou,  find warmth in the imagined breath of others sharing involuntary hardships. “Another world  is not only possible,” writes author and activist Arundhoti Roy,  “she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  U.S. people must know that life in the daylight might also be the start of an unaccustomed fast.

When will day break? I haven’t a clock nearby to tell me when, but I can’t go back to sleep. When I see the children adapt so readily to the schooling denied them, when I watch my young friends struggle eagerly to take the small steps allowed them, sowing seeds of mutual understanding or planting trees in Kabul, and when I read such grace and dignity in the words of Mohamedou Ould Slahi after years of torture, I have to believe that a dawn will come. For now, it remains a blessing to work alongside people awake together, even in darkness, working to face burdens with kindness, ready to join with kindred spirits near and far, faces aglow with precious glimmers of a coming day.

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

REFLECTION: In Baghdad, organized destruction

by Cathy Breen
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Two days ago an email came from an Iraqi doctor in Baghdad in response to a brief greeting I sent for the month of Ramadan.

“Thanks so much for remembering us…In fact we are the same if not worse.  Our hearts are broken at the organized ruining of our country.  We are targeted by those criminals and gangs coming from everywhere, even from the west who are all witnessing this drama and, if not supporting it, are keeping silent.  We wonder what sin we committed to face this gloomy black fate.  In fact, what is going on is beyond words. “

This courageous woman doctor never left the side of gravely ill children despite the great exodus of doctors due to kidnappings, assassinations and threats to their lives and families.  Sadly she reports that another of her siblings has cancer, and she needs to leave the medical students for some days.  This happens she says regretfully in “the critical time of final exams.”   She herself is a cancer survivor and both her mother and sister had cancer.   They have no choice, she says, but to go on and try to survive.

Another long-time friend is working in southern Iraq in a job that will soon end.  He is away from his family in Baghdad, and it is dangerous for him in the south, but he has no choice with a wife and seven children to support.  There was already an assassination attempt on his life in Baghdad and houses near their own have been bombed.  There are nightly explosions and gunfire, assassinations and kidnappings.   Approximately 200 people across Iraq have been killed each day in this month alone.

We have been frantically trying to find a safe place for him and his family to escape to.  If they could go to Kurdistan they would join the ranks of the already three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within Iraq.  If they could get to Turkey, they might eventually get refugee status.  But it is expensive there, they don’t speak the language, are not allowed to work and resettlement could take years.

Our friend emailed that his wife decided to send their second oldest son, 16 years, to her mother’s house due to kidnapping cases. “Two kids were kidnapped two days ago.”   Ali, I will call the son, has exams and his grandmother’s house is closer to the school.  When I stayed with this family for two weeks in 2013, one of Ali’s twelve year old friends was kidnapped and was never found.

The grandmother takes her grandson each day to school and sits against a wall under its shadow until Ali finishes his exam.   She is “old and weak,” Ali’s father writes, “and honestly it is meaningless to think she could protect Ali as she can’t really protect herself.  But I do appreciate her efforts.”    Ali told his dad that his grandmother was causing him “too much embarrassment as she doesn’t understand the rules of the exams.”  She always tries to enter the exam class to give Ali cold water because it is very hot.  The first day the director of the exam allowed her to do this, but another day during the exam she tried again.  This time it was not to give him water.  She had cooked a rooster and told the staff that he had to eat well to do good on the exam!  Ali was a little bit angry but his love for her “let him forget the embarrassing feeling!”  He is “crazy in love” with his grandmother as she is the only grandparent left.

Ali was complaining to his father about the insufferable heat and lack of air cooling system, as well as the terrible mosquitoes.  He uses a kerosene lamp for studying at night.    The father was trying to encourage him by phone to overcome the difficulties saying: No pain, no gain.  Ali responded “Dad, since we opened our eyes in this life, we have only known pain.”

Just yesterday two civilians were killed as Ali and his grandmother approached the school.  This happened right in front of their eyes.   His father emailed: “Ali couldn’t answer exam well as he saw the accident.  Let us pray for his safety.”

Our friend and his wife worry excessively about their oldest boy, 18 years, as militia come to the houses seeking young men to fight ISIS, and they “will take young guys by force to do battle.”  Although this son is needed to guard the house at night and help his mother, the mother felt compelled to send this son away too.

My friend concluded:  “Cathy, It’s hard to sleep. Don’t worry. The family is still fine.”

Cathy Breen has represented Voices for Creative Nonviolence in many visits to Iraq. She lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the U.S. invasion.  She lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in NYC.

REFLECTION: The Front Page Rule

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library, and an “In Brief” item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group “Code Pink” interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Senator John McCain. The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. “McCain,” the article continued, “blurted out, ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum.'”

At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke’s novel, The Sting of the Drone, (May 2014, St. Martin’s Press), about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I’m in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former “National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism,” worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.

Photo credit: C-Span

Photo credit: C-Span

He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don’t share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.

Elsewhere in the plot, U.S. citizens face acute questions after they themselves witness remote control attacks on colleagues. Standing outside a Las Vegas home engulfed in flames, and frustrated by his inability to protect or save a colleague and his family, one main character ruefully identifies with people experiencing the same rage and grief, in faraway lands like Afghanistan and Pakistan, when they are struck by Predator drones that he operates every day. U.S. characters courageously grapple with more nuanced answers to questions such as, “Who are the terrorists?” and “Who are the murderers?” As the plot accelerates toward a potential terrorist attack against railway systems in U.S. cities, with growing suspicion that the attacks are planned for Christmas Day, Clarke builds awareness that those who launch cyber-attacks and drone attacks, no matter which side claims their loyalty, passionately believe their attacks will protect people on their own side.

When U.S. media and U.S. government officials ask, “who are the murderers,” the default answer is enemy soldiers. I’m reminded of Senator McCain’s own response to a 2012 prisoner exchange of five Afghan militants, where he was alleged to have exclaimed, “They’re the five biggest murderers in world history! They killed Americans!”

It brings home a core fact about drones: that you can’t surrender to a drone. Enemy soldiers, and people merely suspected of being, or intending to become, enemy soldiers, are killed at home gardening, or eating dinner with their families. At the military base where I was arrested, soldiers drive home every evening from piloting drones in lethal sorties over Afghanistan, Iraq, and presumably a sizable list of other countries less well known to the U.S. public. With no overwhelming zeal to kill civilians, they assist the U.S. in killing many more civilians each year than Al Quaeda and ISIS can collectively dream of doing, in the course of advancing U.S. interests over a whole world region U.S. drones render into one large battlefield. No thinking person would wish that same logic to be visited on these soldiers returning home from daily battle, although Clarke’s novel chillingly imagines the U.S.’ own technology and rules of engagement turned against it. It’s a warning we’re too prone to ignore.

In Clarke’s novel, the U.S. drone operators and intelligence officials are smart, efficient, generally honest, caring and often funny. Romance and occasional flings color their lives. The two masterminds of the enemy plot in contrast, are more mysterious. Readers learn almost nothing about their personal lives, although it’s clear that they don’t expect to live much longer. They, too show remarkable expertise exploring high-tech ways to achieve goals. They, too, are clever and terrifyingly competent; personal loss and deeply felt grievances motivate them; like their counterparts, they’ve moved into high positions with increasing wealth and perks. But, unlike the U.S. characters, they express no remorse or second thoughts about killing their targets and strategizing for a major attack.

The fact remains that if we didn’t see enemy soldiers as “murdering terrorists” lacking the human emotions and rights of our own troops, and enemy civilians as “collateral damage” whose deaths are automatically the fault of all who resist us, then there couldn’t be a drone program. There wouldn’t be a technology for eliminating human threats and human obstacles conveniently, cheaply, and instantly from the skies. We would no longer be killing militants and suspected militants unquestioned, too often at the first hint that they might pose a risk to us.

The “means-ends” question intensifies as both sides demonstrate increasingly high-tech ways to thwart and attack each other. One intelligence officer asks how his superior manages to draw the line between what is acceptable and what would be out of bounds when he issues orders that will “take out” presumed enemies.

“It used to be the ‘Front Page Rule,'” the higher official responds. “Assume it will be on the front page of the Post someday and only do it if you could stand that level of exposure. But it’s amazing what has been on the front page without any real consequences: torture, illegal wiretaps, black sites. No one goes to jail. No one gets fired. So I don’t know anymore.”

When Clarke invokes the “Front Page Rule, it seems to be his acknowledgement that peace protesters like those of Code Pink play a valuable role informing public opinion. Believing that the means you use determines the end you get, they hold out for alternatives to war and killing. Far from being low-life scum, they have distinguished themselves in fields of diplomacy, research, journalism, law and education. More than this, they are distinguishing themselves in service to the victims of war.

I hope that someday Senator McCain will gain the insight to repent of insulting them, just as one of the witnesses that day, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, may now regret having exalted the “indispensable” U.S. nation’s right to lead in using force, having sinceadmitted, “We have been talking about our exceptionalism during the recent eight years. Now, an average American wants to stay at home – they do not need any overseas adventures. We do not need new enemies.”

Militarists trust in weapon strength. Still, though perennially disregarded, another option is readily available, offering much greater safety and letting us insist without self-deception on the respect for life that we invoke in defense of our nation’s drone strategy and its war on terror. It’s the option of treating other people fairly and justly, of trying to share resources equitably, even that precious resource of safety; of trying to see the humanity of our so-called enemies and of seeing ourselves as we’re seen by them.

Clarke’s story moves toward a suspenseful conclusion at the height of the Christmas season, ironically moving toward a day traditionally set aside to herald a newborn as the Prince of Peace.

As drone warfare proliferates, as the stings of the drone become more lethal and terrifying, the peace activists hold a newsworthy message. I’m glad Code Pink members continually interrupt high level hearings. I hope their essential questioning will plant seeds that germinate, take root and gather underground strength.

This article first appeared on Telesur.  

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (info@vcnv.org), is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.