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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Rant Against This War



Upon the recommendation of my friend, Nick Briejer, I started reading _Three Cups of Tea_ this month. It's about Greg Mortensen, a remarkable man who has been building schools for children in the Karakoram Mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1996. Not only is this story inspiring, it's unnervingly pertinent to the current state of affairs here in the US given the war on terror and the upcoming elections.

A brief recap of the premise of the book: Mortenson began building schools in the tribal region of Pakistan on accident. He was a climber and during a failed attempt on K2's summit, he stumbled lost, malnourished, and nearly delusional onto a small village called Korphe. After several weeks recuperating in the village and building relationships, he discovered the children attending classes outside at the mercy of the elements, scribbling their homework in the dirt, without a teacher. He promised the village mullah (chief) that he would build them a school.

And he did, with remarkable tenacity despite morale crushing obstacles. But once the school in Korphe was completed, he went onto build several more schools all across the mountains. The very part of the world that gave birth to the Taliban.

As you can imagine, when 9/11 happened, Mortenson was sucked into a vortex of need. While every other American and foreigner was fleeing Pakistan, Mortenson went right back in to battle terrorism the right way. By building schools that offer non-extremist education.

Reading Mortenson's account I can't help but feel desperate. What he is doing is so right. Is so absolutely dead on. But his work is eclipsed by the US government's war on terror.

The problem: poor, uneducated children in Pakistan have been failed by the Pakistani government, which does not build schools for them, or provide teachers. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia with all it's oil money is pouring money into the tribal region of Pakistan. Madrassas that teach nothing but the Koran and jihad are popping up all across the area like "cancerous cells." These families who are desperate for an education send their children to the Madrassas. When the kids graduate they are offered money to fight in the extremist movement.

Greg Mortenson's solution: Since 1996 he's been building schools that offer a non-extremist education. The villagers love him. He operates within the systems and social norms of their culture and has risen to a near god-like status among the Muslims there who long for education but despise the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The US Government's solution: war.

Who has more money? Who has more power of these three? Mortenson fades quickly into the background when you line them up.

Today while listening to Fresh Air, I heard an interview with Dexter Filkins the author of "The Forever War." He has spent the last several years in the same region as Mortenson and was telling the host that Al Qaeda has in fact regained it's strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

I think we've all known this, but I had never before had any frame of reference for the area he was talking about. Immediately I thought about _Three Cups of Tea_. The host and Filkins discussed the options the US had in dealing with this problem. And it's a big one because at this moment Pakistan is our ally. I was so troubled as I listened to Filkins say that the US Government was going to have to turn their bombs and fire-power on Pakistan.

I nearly started shouting at the radio. I wanted to stop the car and pull someone over and tell them how terrible this situation is! How absolutely devastating this war is.

Why is it that the US government can think only of war? Why is death and destruction the only answer to this problem? Who over there at the Pentagon will stop and listen and think reasonably for just one minute?! Why must we pour our money into war? Why can't we pour our efforts and money into education?

The majority of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not extremist. They simply want the same freedom that every human craves. Freedom to learn, to make their future better than their past, and to leave a legacy for their children. If we help build a strong, efficient education system over there than these people will have options. They'll vote with their feet and I truly believe they will walk right out of those Madrassas and extremist movements.

In my opinion, THAT'S how terrorism will end. It will shrivel up and whither away. If not forever, than at least it will be far weaker.

I really must do something. I can not just read this book and write a blog about it. This feels too important. This is too critical a moment in our nation's history. But what? What can one woman do in Azusa, CA?

2 Comments:

Blogger Drew and Erika Hettinger said...

I liked that book as well...

If you haven't seen the movie "Charlie Wilson's War", I recommend it. It provides an interesting back drop to the whole situation described in Mortenson's book...kind've the how Afghanistan got to where it got to when Mortenson stepped in.

What can we do? I don't know.

Vote.

Give money to people like Mortenson (my book club took up a collection and lo and behold ended up giving over $2000!)

Pray.

Pray some more. :-)

10:32 PM  
Blogger Carmine said...

Wow, you're right- the "pre-emptive strike" policy has to end. In a global view, America is seen by the rest of the world as a BULLY. I agree that education HAS to be the answer. Not guns, not bringing American democracy and values to the middle east, but EDUCATION. Not just for them, but for US. Maybe there's a way to send books and reading materials to schools? Childrens books and textbooks are so inexpensive here. If more materials about medicine, language, etc. were available, the schools could continue to grow.

I'm proud of you for being aware!

7:50 AM  

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