Tag Archives: Afghanistan

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.

REFLECTION: Drones and discrimination – kick the habit

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, federal Magistrate Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in prison for having crossed the line at a military base that wages drone warfare. The punishment for our attempt to speak on behalf of trapped and desperate people, abroad, will be an opportunity to speak with people trapped by prisons and impoverishment here in the U.S.

Our trial was based on a trespass charge incurred on June 1, 2014.  Georgia Walker and I were immediately arrested when we stepped onto Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force where pilots fly weaponized drones over Afghanistan and other countries.  We carried a loaf of bread and a letter for Brig Gen. Glen D. Van Herck.  In court, we testified that we hadn’t acted with criminal intent but had, rather, exercised our First Amendment right (and responsibility) to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance.

US-MILITARY-DRONE-PROTEST

A group of Afghan friends had entrusted me with a simple message, their grievance, which they couldn’t personally deliver:  please stop killing us.

I knew that people I’ve lived with, striving to end wars even as their communities were bombed by drone aircraft, would understand the symbolism of asking to break bread with the base commander.   Judge Whitworth said he understood that we oppose war, but he could recommend over 100 better ways to make our point that wouldn’t be breaking the law.

The prosecution recommended the maximum six month sentence.  “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated,” said an earnest young military lawyer. The judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions and agreed that I hadn’t yet learned not to break the law.

What I’ve learned from past experiences in prison is that the criminal justice system uses prison as a weapon against defendants who often have next to no resources to defend themselves.  A prosecutor can threaten a defendant with an onerously long prison sentence along with heavy fines if the defendant doesn’t agree to plea bargain.

In his article “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” Jed S. Rakoff draws attention to the institution of plea bargaining which now ensures that less than 3% of federal cases go to trial at all.  “Of the 2.2 million U.S. people now in prison,” Rakoff writes, “well over 2 million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by the government’s prosecutors, who effectively dictate the sentence as well.”

“In 2012, the average sentence for federal narcotics defendants who entered into any kind of plea bargain was five years and four months,” Rakoff writes, “while the average sentence for defendants who went to trial was sixteen years.”

It’s one thing to read about the shameful racism and discrimination of the U.S.  criminal justice system. It’s quite another to sit next to a woman who is facing ten or more years in prison, isolated from children she has not held in years, and to learn from her about the circumstances that led to her imprisonment.

Many women prisoners, unable to find decent jobs in the regular economy, turn to the underground economy. Distant relatives of mine knew plenty about such an economy several generations ago. They couldn’t get work, as Irish immigrants, and so they got into the bootlegging business when alcohol was prohibited. But no one sent them to prison for 10 years if they were caught.

Women prisoners may feel waves of guilt, remorse, defiance, and despair. In spite of facing extremely harsh punishment, harsh emotions, and traumatic isolation, most of the women I’ve met in prison have shown extraordinary strength of character.

When I was in Pekin Prison, we would routinely see young men, shackled and handcuffed, shuffling off of the bus to spend their first day in their medium-high security prison next door.  The median sentence there was 27 years. We knew they’d be old men, many of them grandfathers, by the time they walked out again.

The U.S. is the undisputed world leader in incarceration, as it is the world leader in military dominance.  Only one in 28 of drone victims are the intended, guilty or innocent, targets.  One third of women in prison worldwide, are, at this moment, in U.S. prisons.  The crimes that most threaten the safety and livelihood of people in the U.S. of course remain the crimes of the powerful, of the corporations that taint our skies with carbon and acid rainfall, peddle weapons  around an already suffering globe,  shut down factories and whole economies in pursuit of quick wealth, and send our young people to war.

Chief Executive Officers of major corporations that produce products inimical to human survival will most likely never be charged much less convicted of any crime.  I don’t want to see them jailed.  I do want to see them rehabilitated.

Each time I’ve left a U.S. prison, I’ve felt as though I was leaving the scene of a crime. When I return to the U.S. from sites of our war making, abroad, I feel the same way. Emerging back into the regular world seems tantamount to accepting a contract, pledging to forget the punishments we visit on impoverished people.  I’m invited to forget about the people still trapped inside nightmare worlds we have made for them.

On January 23, 2015, when I report to whichever prison the Bureau of Prisons selects, I’ll have a short time to reconnect with the reality endured by incarcerated people.  It’s not the rehabilitation the prosecutor and judge had in mind, but it will help me be a more empathic and mindful abolitionist, intent on ending all wars.

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

AFGHANISTAN: Not again, on ‘a more expansive mission’ in Afghanistan

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

President Obama has authorized ‘a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned’.

Imagine that, like the late U.S. war veteran Jacob George, you’re sent on this ‘more expansive mission’. Your military helicopter is landing on farmland amidst mud-house villages, like a futuristic war machine inserted into an agricultural community in the Middle Ages.

There are no women to be seen.

They are in their kitchens or rooms, pleading for you, as well as the Taliban, not to come.

“The things that I participated in over there surely brought the farmers terror when we landed in their fields, crashing their crop. I remember running off a helicopter and looking into a man’s eyes, and terror was what was looking back at me. It was as if a ‘devil’ had just stumbled into his life. Actually, most of us are poor farmers killing poor farmers while people in our nations starve,” Jacob had shared.

Like most people, my Afghan and American friends also wish for the Afghan conflict to be resolved, but not in this way:

Not through a ‘more expansive mission’ to kill.

In 2011, Jacob George flew into Kabul, this time on Safi Airways.

“Please forgive me for my participation in the war,” Jacob had asked of Ali and Abdulhai, two of the Afghan Peace Volunteers Jacob had met. He had pledged to ride his bicycle across the States, singing with his banjo, reaching out to people to end the war. It was going to be “A Ride to the End”, with his songs put together in an album called “Soldier’s Heart.”

Jacob George with Ali and Abdulhai in Kabul, 2011

Three years later, on 19th of September 2014, Jacob George committed suicide.

Not again, only one option

An American official was quoted as saying that “the military pretty much got what it wanted”, the ‘more expansive mission’.

Obama is repeating the same mistake he made in 2009, when he ordered a troop surge for Afghanistan. Since the troop surge, the United Nations and the people of Afghanistan have experienced worsening security in Afghanistan. The number of civilian casualties, mainly children, has increased.

In Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s Wars”, Obama had asked his war cabinet in 2009, “So what’s my option?… You have essentially given me one option…. It’s unacceptable.”

For 13 years in Afghanistan, literally only one option, an unacceptable option, has been exercised.

Imagine that you have heavy equipment strapped on your body and your adrenaline mixed with tender thoughts of loved ones back home.

You dare not ask whether there are any other options to the longest U.S. war in history.

You approach the impoverished homes of the ‘enemies’.

Not again, ignoring public opinion

In 2009, 60 percent of Americans in an ABC News-Washington Post poll said that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Hillary Clinton had explained the troop surge then, “I’m well aware of the popular concern, and I understand it. But I don’t think leaders — and certainly this president will not — make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling.”

In a CNN poll in December 2013, 82% of Americans opposed the Afghan War , making it even less popular than the disastrous Vietnam War!

Imagine soldiers in your own squadron gun down  several Afghan ‘Fighting Age Males’, and you briefly see little children dashing bare-footed across their  paths, looking as if they have just seen ghosts.

You’re aware that your own people no longer support the mission you’re engaged in. You think, for just a moment: What is the Afghan public opinion about my military mission?

You don’t know. No one has ever asked Afghans.

Not again, continuing the failed ‘war against terrorism’

Despite spending more than US$4,000,000,000 in the ‘war against terror’, a Global Terrorism Database maintained by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland showed that the number of terror attacks in Afghanistan had been increasing over recent  years.

The war against terror has failed!

In the book ‘Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars’, Lieutenant-General Daniel Bolger said, “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”

You crouch low against a crumbling wall of a village house compound. You let your bullets fly, as bullets also fly at you.

You steel your nerves amidst bated breath and the unintelligible screams of Afghan women, wondering in another lucid moment if your actions will make Afghans less ‘terrorist-like’, less angry?

Not again, failing to see the suffering of Afghans, and American soldiers

You don’t have time to digest the dire statistics.

Why is it that after 13 years of Operation Enduring Freedom, more than 4000 Afghans have set themselves on fire in 2014, and another 4000 have tried to poison themselves?

You recall some principles drilled into your training, that if necessary, you ought to ‘shoot everything that moves’.

You get irritated because a few boisterous-looking teenage boys appear too defiant, standing in front of women in burqas and girls who are crying quietly.

You hear some shuffles in the next room, and you instinctively pull the trigger.

Back in the military camp, you’re aware of the crisis of up to 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide every day.

Your heart, like the “Soldier’s Heart” Jacob George describes in his music album, begins to suffer.

At a memorial service for Jacob in Arkansas, last October, a friend delivered this message from the Afghan Peace Volunteers:

“When Jacob came to visit us in Kabul, he sang his heart out for us, just like he did across the States for you. We may not remember the song, but his voice and spirit is what each of us wants, a spirit seizing peace within and without.

Jacob, thank you! Jacob, thank you for your kindness in asking forgiveness from the people of Afghanistan.  Jacob, thank you for throwing your war medals back to NATO because you understood that those medals opposed the meaning of life! To Jacob’s family, thank you for raising your child as a man who would not pretend that our world is okay.

Our world is not okay. That’s why we in Afghanistan will try our best to continue Jacob’s tune and ride so that our next generation can see an end not only to war in Afghanistan, but to war as a human method in the world.”

In 2011, Jacob gave this video message to Ali, Abdulhai , Afghans and Americans, “To be perfectly honest, I feel that the U.S. government might not have the best interest s of the people of Afghanistan in mind, although the soldiers are human, and there are charitable acts that come from being human. The ultimate goal does not look like peace. It resembles perpetual war.”

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: Training midwives in Afghanistan

by Anne Richter
Pax Christi Florida

Training midwives in Kabul

Training midwives in Kabul

Yes, I’m on my way home from a great trip to Afghanistan to conduct a Training of Trainers (TOT) workshop to Afghan midwives. This visit I was so happy to be accompanied by an old friend, Mariam. We met in Kabul in 1976 when she was Director of Nurses for the country and I was working on a project to train young woman from rural areas in midwifery. After the Russian invasion she and her family had to leave the country. They eventually settled in North Carolina where they raised their children to be doctors and engineers. We have kept up over the years, and I thought that Mariam would be the perfect person to help facilitate our training workshop and she was. So, we have had a great time catching up these past couple of weeks.

Kabul has grown immensely these past few years. New apartment houses, hotels, and shops have grown up throughout the city. People are sweeping the streets and trying to do the best with the drainage system. Though I rarely saw an accident, the crowded streets provide a daily driving adventure. We have been under tight security and not allowed to travel, except to our work sites. Our pocket buddies have a GPS, so they know where we are at all times. We did meet some people at our hotel who did travel around outside Kabul without any problems. Most nights there were a few small explosions without injuries that were attributed to the Taliban. There is lots of activities on the streets of Kabul, mostly men are walking around, children going to school, but only rarely do you see a western foreigner on the street.

The workshops went well, the first week we worked on training the facilitators and the second week they taught three groups of midwives from rural areas. Some of the midwives really blossomed in the second week. One midwife who was so shy that she could not stand and introduce herself in the beginning, said, “You have given me confidence,” she was amazing to see and hear from them on.

On the last day, I attended the 10th congress on the Afghan Midwives Association (AMA). As I helped found this association in 2004, I was thrilled to see the progress they had made. Many of the hopes and dreams of those days have become a reality. They now have a basic midwifery program at the university and a bridge program for experienced to study for a B.S. The 300 members in 2004 have grown from 300 to over 3,000 with chapters in every province. The maternal mortality has decreased and the number of women being attended by a skilled health provider has greatly increased. The strong leadership of the association has really been the driving force of these achievements.

Home: Yes, I have arrived home. You know how life is, sad to leave, but happy to be home.

Do keep the women and midwives of Afghanistan in your prayers, they have been through hard times. These coming years of transition are precarious.

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.