Enough To Go Around -- Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Darfur
from Chapter 1 -- Abrahams Sandwich
Perhaps most of all, it was the blunt, vivid depiction of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction - the human imagination. We all had to quietly ask ourselves whether there's really any difference between the will to kill with a hijacked airliner versus a nuclear bomb? Is there really any difference between lobbing compressed hydrogen at a professed enemy versus the brutal murder of 800,000 Tutsis using only machetes for weapons? Time, which has only a self-perceived beginning and end in the act of mass killing, seems the only difference. How instant, how dramatic, do we want the killing to be? And what level of fear do we hope to unleash upon our audience, our enemy in our quest for submission or self-proclaimed victory?
Although we may keep killing ourselves in new ways and record numbers, in conflicts most of us can't name and for reasons most of us can't fathom, we are, most of us, still horrified by that distinctly masculine and desperately arrogant part of our nature. Still, for as long as we have claimed to want peace, our friends have become our enemies, our enemies our friends, in a cycle of violence that creates the strangest of bedfellows. We have cheered our warriors, warriors who are too often the victims of failed intelligence and failed leadership in the ballet of political dancers.
A society that can't provide for its own long-term security and independence is not a solution to anything.
from Chapter 2 -- Tribes & Tribulations
As 19th century British author Rudyard Kipling once observed, Afghanistan can't really be conquered. He even said that Afghanistan was where great powers go to die. What Kipling noted, I saw with my own eyes. It is simply too diverse, and ground travel is too difficult, for even a national government to exercise total control, let alone that of a colonial power or foreign military. Cultural and ethnic autonomy often thrives within the confines of a river valley, but rarely exports over the mountain. Although there are widely held beliefs in Islam, the degree of devotion from one place to another is no different than it is for Christians in the United States or Jews in Israel. Some folks are religious, some aren't. Many who are religious are moderate, some are fundamentalist, and some fall into the category I would call extremist.
Access to any of the resources taken for granted in the west, including abundant food, clean water, schools, transportation, and security, presents extraordinary challenges to rural Afghanistan. Even the climate, which includes blistering heat in the summer, snow and ice in winter and flash flooding in spring, presents obstacles that have long kept Afghans from communicating or traveling much beyond their home turf.
The human scars are hard to ignore in Afghanistan. Finding a family untouched by the loss of a loved one to an explosion, a death or injury from battle or wounds suffered from a landmine, is nearly impossible. Danger is a part of everyday life.
from Chapter 3 -- Sleeping with the Dead
A few miles from Muzaffarabad, I spent more than an hour walking and at times climbing over the rubble of a village near the epicenter of the earthquake. I'd been told that shortly after the quake, widowers would spend long hours combing through the rubble, searching for remnants of lives lost so abruptly. They would search for hours, alone, wandering. On this day, months after the quake, I could see two men walking alone, separated by hundreds of yards, lost in their thoughts. What were they thinking? I wondered. How did they cope with the sudden loss of a wife, a child, a father, a mother? What meaning were they searching for? What hope could they find living in a tent, their possessions gone, livelihood lost, their family a memory? What comfort did they find in returning, day after day, to the rubble of their former home?
from Chapter 4 -- Land of the Fur
Six hundred people a week. That's how many displaced people were arriving in the Zam Zam refugee camp near Al Fashir, Sudan during my visit to North Darfur in early 2008. And that's on top of the estimated 40,000 people who were already there. And that's just one of many refugee camps in Darfur and along the western border with neighboring Chad. The numbers challenge comprehension and defy explanation.
Their villages burned, their livelihoods destroyed, most of the families that arrive in camps such as Zam Zam are no longer intact. Someone has died along the way. Someone else has been raped. Another's been attached by machete or has a bullet lodged somewhere inside a limb that no longer works right. The children, even the ones who can still smile or play, have witnessed things no adult or child should ever see. Their nightmare is their reality - armed men on horseback, mercenaries and soldiers sanctioned by a government they know little about and have little contact with who've been sent to rape, pillage, destroy, and burn what's left. For thousands of innocent villagers, the only offense to their attackers is their color, their tribe, their family, their culture, their faith.
Darfur is not like Afghanistan or Pakistan. It's not like anywhere else I've been to film or document. The conflict is manmade and if it can get worse each day, it does. There has been no getting better for years.
No matter who's to blame, it is a nightmare for those whose only alliance is to their family and a small community they'd never left before their forced departure. Whatever resources or possessions they once had - a one room hut, a few cows, an acre of wheat, a pet dog, an old bicycle - those things no longer exist. The likelihood is that they'll never return to whatever life they knew before. And if they didn't have an enemy before they were attacked, they do now.
While there were signs of hope and empowerment in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, hope was harder to find in Darfur. What hope I did see … was in the faces of the children too young to comprehend the challenges
of their future. I also saw hope in the perseverance of women, tortured
by their losses, who still managed to find love and beauty in what little they had.
from Chapter 5 -- Facing Fear, Finding Hope
Given the immediacy of the Internet and network newscasts, it's become all too easy to view much of the world as threatening. We're exposed to the violence of the developing world but rarely to the simple joys that people everywhere experience around their family, work, play and faith. What makes "news" news, especially television news, involves conflict. But even in a war zone, conflict is not a constant.
When media fails to focus on people and those things that unite us - music, art, faith, family and culture - it becomes easy to dehumanize and group others into stereotypes. Fear begins to feel natural. Those things that build bridges among people take a back seat and it becomes difficult to imagine that everyone in the world is ultimately more similar than different. The same desire for equality, opportunity, freedom and peace that drove America's Civil Rights Movement is no different from the desire for equality, opportunity, freedom and peace desired by most people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Darfur. No one wants to live a life defined by violence, homelessness, disease and despair.
The greatest asset we all have is the quality of our intention.
No one's life should be determined by unnatural borders that looked good a century earlier to a now forgotten British general or Belgian ambassador. No one's life should be confined - or worse, destroyed - by a tyrannical government, rebels, suicide bombers or terrorists without regard for the innocent. Beyond its role in providing temporary security, no one's life should be lived within the confines of a refugee camp.