2 million friends

2 million friends

FOR PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN

2 Million Voices to remember 2 Million Afghan Victims of War, including Hashim and Zukoom

At least 13 Afghan civilians killed, including Hashim & ZukoomAt least 13 Afghan civilians killed, including Hashim & Zukoom

 

On the 16th of November, 2013, eight-year-old Hashim s/o Abdul Hamid and nine-year-old Zukoom s/o Abdul Majid were on the streets of Kabul polishing boots when a suicide bombing ( in opposition to the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement ) killed them.

 

Johnny Barber, a peace activist from New York, and Ronya, an independent, freelance journalist from Germany, accompanied the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs )  to Hashim’s and Zukoom’s funeral in an Internally Displaced Persons ( IDP ) camp two days later. We had a conversation with Hashim and Zukoom’s classmates, Kahar and Naseem, which you can view at “At least 13 Afghan civilians killed, including Hashim & Zukoom

 

The daily struggles of ordinary people against elite-driven injustices hovered in the mud-walled room, like a scent.

 

I was swept up by voices both personal and familial.

 

War had not become less cruel with time.

 

Afghans, like Syrians and many others since time immemorial, are smothered in the cross-fire among the Powers, in declarations and Agreements for more war.

 

Over the past four decades of war, Afghans have lost at least 2 million loved ones.

 

Media reported ‘at least 13 killed’, but as Kahar and Nazeem remembered Hashim and Zukoom, these news flashes lost their de-humanizing hold, and the 13 became the two, and the two became us.

 

Hashim at extreme left with eyes closed,

Naseem and Hazrat in front

Zukoom in his tent-school,

partially hidden in the middle,looking back

 

 

Hashim,

8 years he lived, each year yet another 12 months of war.

“He rejected my rules for playing hide and seek,” Kahar recalled,

his instinct  to survive,

to dodge the bullets and bombs of the Taliban

AND the U.S./NATO night and air raids,

to play for yet another moment, till last Saturday.

“I couldn’t believe it. I cried.”

 

 

“Zukoom,” Naseer affirmed, “was a good boy, not a naughty boy” of nine years,

finally owning a new school bag, a rucksack!,

So he went to the tent-school energetically,

while polishing boots,

till he came to the gates of adults

who would rather spend

on bases and the methods of brute, competitive force.

 

Gul Jumma

entered the room with her widowed mother.

They must have attended the funeral we had been at briefly.

Gul Jumma may have been amazed

that these ‘foreigners’ were offering comfort

when their governments behaved like armed local criminals,

busy, target-killing and randomly-shooting,

collaterally eliminating farmers irrigating their fields,

like they did to her late father.

 

These sharp, young minds may have remembered

‘experts’ surveying in their home province, Helmand,

“Have you heard of September 11th, the two buildings….?”

92% had indicated ‘huh’??   

Another occasion in Kandahar, Karzai asked, “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation (offensive against the Taliban) to be carried out?”

“We are not happy,” shouted 1500 tribal elders.

Operation Moshtarak ( Joint ) and Operation Enduring Freedom proceeded anyway,

trapping and occupying the 99%

 

Naseem said, “They wanted to be teachers.”

But, conventionally,

the special wishes or body bags of commoners

aren’t counted in the game plans

of the Taliban or the U.S./NATO elite or

those signing another ‘bilateral’ war agreement.

‘Stay for tea!”

We thanked everyone, and rose to go.

In the eyes of Rahmatullah the camp elder,

was a protest,

“Billions of dollars later,

less security,

Our women can’t go out at all.”

 

 

Maybe,

Kahar, Naseem, Hazrat and Gul Jumma,

our friends, our humanity,

our children,

should not have to ply the street economy

of polishing boots,

mending shoes,

collecting trash.

They, like Hashim and Zukoom,

should be our teachers,

re-informing our books,

telling their stories after work,

of how the streets have always been screaming. 

 

Hazrat, Kahar and Naseem with their new school bags

Zukoom at bottom right with pen & open book,

looking at Afghan Peace Volunteer Abdulhai

Naseem, Hazrat, Kahar and Gul Jumma

remembering Hashim and Zukoom

 

Johnny said during the funeral-visit, “I’m really grateful to be here in order just to learn their names, & to learn a little about them because, you know, whenever you read about it in the press, it’s always civilians. You never have a connection to who they were, & what they meant to the community.”

 

Naseem, Hazrat, Kahar, Gul Jumma and the Afghan Peace Volunteers hope for the global silence to be broken, for 2 Million Voices to resound from around the world in remembering Hashim, Zukoom and the 2 Million Afghan victims of war.

 

On the 10th of December, the International Day of Human Rights, they launch their ‘2 Million Voices’ campaign, appealing to you and the people of the world: Please Sign our Petition to be One of 2 Million Voices that will say to the Afghan Peace Volunteers ‘We remember them too’.

 

 

Text of Petition

 

Dear People of the World,

Salam! We are the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a nonviolent multi-ethnic community working for peace in our war-stricken country. We wish to hear 2 Million Voices breaking the silence on the 2 Million loved ones Afghans have lost to war.

Every morning in Kabul, like yourselves, we wake up to the same old noise.

 

The same old rich getting louder and the poor remaining unfed and unheard.

 

The same old firing of weapons and use of brute force to defend thieves and warlords, both local and foreign.

 

The same old suffocating of Mother Earth, as her desertified land fills with trash and grey fumes.

 

We the people of Afghanistan, like yourselves all over the world, are hurting.

Because we find hope and healing in friendship, we’d like to hear 2 Million of your Voices remembering our 2 Million loved ones lost to wars.

On signing this petition, please arrange a Skype or phone connection, by sending us the message ‘We remember them too’ in one of these ways:

- borderfree@mail2world.com

- facebook.com/borderfreeworld

- Twitter @afg_borderfree (with the hashtag  #2millionvoices)

- http://borderfree.tumblr.com

- Skype name: Afghan Peace Volunteers

We look forward to hearing your voice! We will keep a Tumblr photo-blog on the connections we’ve made.

Whatever our race, religion or silly politics, under a common borderfree blue sky, we ask you to extend your love to us and to one another.

 

Keeping our dignity and equality as ordinary folk who seek simple, decent livelihoods, we need to hear from you.

 

Surely, every voice of friendship is a song for freedom!

Tashakor/thank you.

Love from Afghanistan,

The Afghan Peace Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

What next for Afghanistan?

http://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/what-next-for-afghanistan/

October 14, 2013 by Aisha Maniar

What Next for Afghanistan?

This is an overview of the Afghanistan: What Next? peace conference held in London on 12 October 2013 by Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK to mark the twelfth anniversary of the current war in Afghanistan and the start of a new initiative to bring British and Afghan campaigners and communities for peace closer together. As well as a small role in organising the conference, I also facilitated a workshop on “The Dark Side: Secret Prisons, Torture and the War on Terror”.

 

As the British government gears up for costly centenary celebrations of World War I in 2014, less public attention is being paid to the highly unpopular ongoing war in Afghanistan, which marked its twelfth anniversary on Monday 7 October. In a war that has now lasted longer than both the first and second world wars combined, the UK has lost almost 450 servicemen and women, with many casualties from other NATO states, and over 30,000 Afghan deaths, not including the unknown number of casualties of drone strikes. The situation in Afghanistan is currently at a major crossroads: 2014 will see elections for a new president as well as both Britain and the US withdrawing their militaries by the end of the year. They leave behind a country devastated by their presence, an unimproved security situation and questionable progress on the stated aims of the war, such as getting rid of the Taliban and liberating Afghan women, with even President Karzai stating that NATO has caused “a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains because the country is not secure.”
 

On 12 October, as American and Afghan officials met to discuss a partial security deal, a very different and unique meeting was held in London, with the aim of “supporting peace and justice for Afghans”. The conference was organised by Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK, which led the first British peace delegation to Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion in December 2012, following a visit by the group’s Maya Evans in 2011, during which she forged positive relationships with local activists working in challenging circumstances. The conference brought together activists and concerned individuals from the British and Afghan communities to consider the issues, challenges and possible solutions through keynote speeches and workshops on issues such as drone warfare, women in Afghanistan and movement building.

 

Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele and Maya Evans at the conference

 

Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele, author of Ghosts of Afghanistan was the main speaker, providing an in-depth analysis of the current challenges, in 2014 and beyond. He first visited the country in 1981, and has reported on the various wars there for the past 30 years. With NATO due to withdraw next year, he expressed his concerns that particularly with a British public weary of war and a parliament that would like its failures forgotten, the issue, which is already underreported, could fall off the radar altogether. The grim reality of the situation is not reported in the media. Stating that since 1978, Afghanistan has been “ruled and bullied by men with guns”, and that aid must not be withdrawn along with troops, he particularly emphasised the negative impact on women and children in a country where the infant and maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high. He looked at four areas where the withdrawal of NATO is likely to have a huge impact: security, the economy, politics and people.

One of the conditions for NATO withdrawal is the ability to ensure Afghans can take care of their own security issues. To this end, NATO has funded the training of 32,000 police and security personnel over the past few years. In spite of this and Barack Obama’s claim that “the tide of war is receding”, Taliban attacks have not declined and casualties among the poorly-trained and poorly-motivated Afghans are higher than among US and UK troops. This year alone, there has been a 24% rise in civilian casualties. The Taliban has made advances and dominates rural districts. Some local NGOs believe that the withdrawal of NATO next year could lead the Pashtun-led Taliban to establish rural bases very soon.

There is also a risk of an economic vacuum being created when tens of thousands of jobs dependent on NATO’s presence leave with it. Afghanistan’s economy is 90% dependent on foreign aid with 97% of its GDP coming from international donors. More than two million people, mainly young people, rely on jobs related to the occupation. Many NGOs will also leave with NATO. In anticipation, the Afghan middle classes have already started to leave, many opting for residence in Middle Eastern states. With presidential elections due next year, which President Hamid Karzai cannot participate in due to constitutional rules, a power vacuum may also emerge with new political tensions arising.

There is also the impact on the Afghan people. Kabul, whose population has swelled to 5 million from 2 million in 2001, is likely to see an influx of many more rural residents, turning to the city for shelter, work and food. The UNHCR reports that the war has created over half a million internally displaced people, many of whom live in tent cities in Kabul and work in precarious conditions. There is also likely to be a large increase in refugees. Afghanistan is already the main source country of refugees in the European Union. Human trafficking is likely to increase too. A brain drain is already underway with many people educated under western-sponsored schemes, particularly women, looking for employment elsewhere.

The situation looks bleak. Negotiations may be the only option, as while the war with the foreign occupier ends, the inter-tribal war is ongoing. A large part of this will depend on whether or not the Taliban will be invited to take part and whether Pakistan will allow the Taliban leadership based in the country to do so. Taliban representation in a national government of unity would lead to an end to the war. Nonetheless, the men in power in Afghanistan are not interested in justice as many of them are guilty of serious human rights abuses going back to the 1990s. Taliban involvement in a coalition government would be positive for security but it would not change the justice deficit; “a peace settlement would be reconciliation to elites” as the justice situation would remain unaddressed.

Mr Steele also stated that while the UK should withdraw its troops, it should continue to support Afghan civil society financially.

Beyond 2014, the US and UK are likely to maintain some form of military presence, most probably through continued drone strikes, as well as support for the military. The current crisis situation in Iraq perhaps provides a bleak example of what the future may hold for Afghanistan.

Brian Terrell, visiting Europe from Voices for Creative Non-Violence in the US, explained why the organisation has, since 1990, sought to humanise and create links with communities as part of its efforts to counter the dominant pro-war narrative in the US.

Other speakers were from the Afghan community in the United Kingdom, and two Skype conversations, including questions and answers, linked London and Kabul. Contrary to media reports, none of the Afghan speakers in London or Kabul mentioned the Taliban as a concern, or at all. Instead, the predominant issues raised by Afghans were the difficult security situation in the country, inter-tribal, inter-ethnic and religious disunity among Afghans and the failure of Afghan rulers to consider the concerns and needs of the Afghan people.

Afghans speak:

An aim of the conference was to link British and Afghan activists. This was facilitated through two Skype conversations across three and a half time zones linking Londoners to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers project in Kabul. The project  was set up in 2008 by a doctor from Singapore called Hakim who has worked and lived with Afghans for several years and started a project at Bamiyan University to “investigate the potential for creating peace in Afghanistan.” The response was positive and the group has set up a number of initiatives in the country, including a women’s sewing cooperative, providing employment for around 30 women, and initiatives to bring Afghans of different ethnicities together. The conference had hoped to bring some of the activists to the UK, however as it is only possible for Afghans to apply for British visas from the British Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, even though the embassy in Kabul is larger, this was not feasible. Before introducing themselves, a video was shown of one of their recent peace initiatives:

 

Five women from the sewing cooperative spoke about their experiences and hopes as Afghan women. They stated that the country has a general culture of women not working, studying or leaving their homes. Although this was changing in Kabul, attitudes were more fixed and traditional in rural areas. Furthermore, the insecurity created by war only creates more concerns about the safety of women and affects their ability to go out, study and work. They said that the Afghan people were tired of war, and that it had negative effects on the general mental health of people too. They regretted the fact that the international community has never consulted the Afghan people about policy on their country; decisions are made without them. They also called on their government to be transparent and honest.

The conference was joined by an Afghan woman who had recently won her asylum claim in the UK. She stated that working for peace is a challenge for the whole world and not just the Afghan people: security and peace go hand in hand. She too criticised the Afghan government for not reflecting the concerns and aspirations of the Afghan people. As well as Afghans needing to unite along ethnic lines, women need to be included and their participation facilitated through education. Fundamentally, the progress of men depends on that of women and vice versa.

Sabir Zazai, who has lived in the UK since 1999, is an Afghan grassroots community activist. He focused his speech mainly at the lack of unity among Afghans, in the country and the diaspora, as a challenge to their progress. External interference and decades of war have reduced social cohesion and the mechanisms traditionally used to deal with problems in the country. Civil unrest has damaged the social fabric and trust between ethnic groups; divisions that once existed among tribes and ethnic groups have now permeated into families. Mistreatment by the authorities in Afghanistan is a common trait to all groups in the country, yet poor social cohesion creates more challenges to unity. Social media also takes these problems beyond borders and into the diaspora. He called on Afghans, particularly in the UK, to play their part in bringing about change, especially at the grassroots level, to work with other communities and think of what they, and not others, could and should do. He stated that Afghans need to look beyond their emotions and forgive one another. Sectarianism is a challenge, but Afghans should be pro-justice, equality and human rights. The Afghans in Kabul backed his call for Afghans within and outside the country to work together.

The conference was attended by over 80 people, some of whom had travelled to London for the event, and was the first step in a new initiative to ensure the plight of the Afghan people, largely as a result of the policies of our governments, does not fall under the radar, and that ordinary people on both sides continue to cooperate. For more details on the initiative, please visit www.vcnvuk.com or e-mail vcnvuk@gmail.com

The Dark Side: Secret Prisons, Torture and the War on Terror

As part of a series of workshops held in the afternoon, along with my colleagues Val Brown and Noel Hamel from the London Guantánamo Campaign, I held one on the issue of secret prisons and torture. While many people are aware of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, far fewer know about Afghanistan’s role in extraordinary rendition and its facilitation of secret torture prisons for the CIA. Most of the prisoners held at Guantánamo had previously been held at Bagram and other prisons in Afghanistan; some prisoner never made it out, having been tortured to death. They include both Afghans and foreigners. Contrary to the popular myth, many of the prisoners held at Guantánamo and/or in Afghanistan were not engaged in combat with anyone, and were in many cases brought into the country. The US’s operation of secret prisons has not ended, with 57 foreign nationals still held at Bagram under US control, without charge or trial, whose future beyond 2014 remains uncertain. In September, US lawyers brought an appeal case to look at why some of these men continue to be held after a decade with no reason given. Afghan local media also continues to report the arrest and “disappearance” of Afghans at the hands of American soldiers. Britain too has recently admitted to holding Afghan prisoners without charge for prolonged periods at a secret detention facility.

Afghanistan is one part of a large jigsaw puzzle, a global network of secret prisons and torture facilities that in some cases continue to operate with impunity and beyond the reach of the law: one of the most pernicious and undocumented facets of the global war on terror. Due to their complicity, government are keen to keep such matters as secret as possible. The media is complicit with an almost blanket lack of coverage of such issues.

In the workshop, we looked at the cases of three individuals who were tortured at such prisons in Afghanistan: Afghan taxi driver Dilawar, whose cruel death in 2002 was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, German Khaled El-Masri who was kidnapped in Macedonia and “rendered” to Afghanistan in 2003, and won his case against Macedonia in the European Court of Human Rights last year, and Saudi national Abd El-Nashiri, currently facing the death penalty at Guantánamo Bay, whose “disappearance” over four years and four continents is a most disturbing tale. In spite of being at the very heart of the rationale and practice of the so-called war on terror, raising public awareness about the issue is very difficult, which was the subject of our discussion. Government secrecy and media disinformation or lack of information were identified as the main blocks to raising awareness, as well a failure by NGOs and groups within whose remit such issues would normally fall, to give them their due, having fallen for the status quo that such detention falls out of the known confines of the law. A public lack of awareness as opposed to interest was seen as the problem, with a personalisation of these cases – which we tried to do – seen as a possible solution.

The issue is another potential casualty of the withdrawal next year, and must not be seen as an opportunity to allow further impunity and lack of accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

One of the best reports on the issue thus far, listing and documenting the complicity of 54 states in breaches of international law and crimes against humanity through the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, was published in February, Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, with details of the known involvement of both the UK and Afghanistan.

 

Rap Against impunity as the Afghan War Turns 12

Rap Against impunity as the Afghan War Turns 12

http://youtu.be/Nmg9E-1PESw

 

http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/2013/10/rap-against-impunity-as-the-afghan-war-turns-12/

 


The Afghan Peace Volunteers had their views on the war transcribed in English, which they read along with a rap by a Peace Poet, Luke Nephew

 

 


The Afghan Peace Volunteers and Luke Nephew of the Peace Poets

Live from Kabul, 

October 7th, 2013

The 12th Anniversary of the United States War in Afghanistan.

 

but over 2500 Afghan women have committed suicide so far in 2013, as the war turns 12

 

We’re making the sound

of asalaam alaykum to awaken the crowd

My people breaking it down

because we need peace & we need it now

 

No matter what your politics,

you can’t deny this

War is killing people quick

& our society is sick

But we not looking for a cure

We just trying to procure

Enough money to endure

A life that anything but pure

But your hurting just like me

See yourself on the T.V.

in camps of refugees

tortured like a detainee

And you can look me in the eye

& tell me you don’t wonder why

Our cholesterol is high

& there’s starvation n Mumbai

Try to buy another path

But we can’t escape the wrath

I don’t need to do the math

There’s a constant blood bath

And the way we walk is slanted

We don’t nourish what we planted

We taking life for granted

But its time that we demanded:

STOP THE WAR, STOP THE WAR,

Right now, STOP THE WAR

 

That’s why we

We’re Making the Sound

Of Asalaam alaykum to awaken the crowd

My people breaking it down

Because we need peace & we need it now

 

We, the young people are 75 percent of society,

But we struggle for basic education.  

We are searching for a peace & unity we’ve never seen. 

We want to design the future ourselves…

because as the war turns 12

 

As the war turns 12, the US military says

they should have total impunity for their crimes

but We ask why!

Why do they think they should not be held responsible?

 

We’re Making the Sound

Of Asalaam alaykum to awaken the crowd

My people breaking it down

Because we need peace & we need it now

 

Peace to the Poets who propagate Peace

& power to the people who march in these streets

& word to the workers who walk in bare feet

& light to the writers who fight to get free

 

I see me in you and you in me

That’s why making the Sound…

Asalaam alaykum to awaken the crowd

My people breaking it down

Because we need peace & we need it now

 

 

 

N.B. Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets  (  www.thepeacepoets.com  ) is in Kabul, Afghanistan to use Hip Hop and Spoken Word Poetry to create Circles of Peace

 

Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets in Kabul, Afghanistan

Help us Find Najib the Afghan orphan boy

Help me find Najib the Afghan orphan boy

In 2002, I was working as a physician among Afghan refugees in Quetta, Pakistan.

I won’t forget the first time I met Najib. It was as if a hurricane had surrounded the still, dusty room.

He was a 12 year old Afghan boy from Kanadahr, Afghanistan and had lost his father and mother to war. To find bread, he collected trash.

Once, when I asked Najib to smile for a photograph, his grandmother protested angrily that Najib had ‘no reason to smile.’

I grew to love Najib. I wanted him to have reasons to for his dignified smile, as it was a smile of survival, resistance and friendship.

One day, he left to seek refuge in Iran, saying goodbye while crying, and stating that, “Life here is difficult.” I never saw him since and I miss him.

I told this story to the Afghan Peace Volunteers and we wish to find Najib so we can help him with his livelihood.

Please help us find Najib, seen in the video clips above and below. Write to journeytosmile@gmail.com

Help us find Najib the Afghan orphan boy

 

 

Our Afghan Street Children Program

Below are some photos of the 30th August launch of our ‘Help us Find Najib’ campaign, with a few Afghan television stations attending the launch in Kabul and reporting on it.

The ‘Help us Find Najib’ campaign is part of a year-long, back-to-school program for five Afghan children who work in the streets of Kabul, like Najib did in Quetta.

The five Afghan street children we are helping are Gul Jumma, Kahar, Naseem, Hazratullah and Bakhti.

 

Gul Jumma ( right ) with her siblings

 

Bakhti, Naseem, Hazratullah and Kahar ( left to right ),

with Najib’s photo on the wall in the background

 

Faiz speaks at the launch of the ‘Help us Find Najib’ campaign

 

Khush Nawaz sings for us

 

Naseem, Kahar and Hazratullah at our launch

 

Some of the APVs and participants at the launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love letters from Kabul – on deeper emotions

“Love letters from Kabul – on deeper emotions”

A fairer life for all

http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/2013/08/love-letters-from-kabul-on-deeper-emotions/

 

Dear friends and fellow human beings,

10th August ,2013 ( Gregorian calendar )

 19th Asad, 1392 ( Afghan calendar )

 

From Abdulhai

 

I liked the movie ‘Billy Elliot’.

 

Billy was asked by a lady on the selection committee for admission into the London Royal Ballet School, “What does it feel like when you’re dancing?”

 

“Dunno. It sort of feels good. I sort of stiffen up but once it gets going, then, I forget everything and….

I sort of disappear.

I sort of disappear…I can feel a change in my whole body, like this fire in my body, just there, flying, like a bird, like electricity. Yeh,….like electricity.”

 

I’m not a dancer, but I think that when Billy danced, he could ‘disappear’ into a ‘free’ world.

 

He could be himself.

 

That was how I felt when some of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I were dancing on a ledge of a hill in Paghman. 

Watch me dancing in the video clip “Expressing dreams in Afghanistan.”

 

We danced, without a plan, and I forgot my worries for a while….

 

I hoped for love to remain fresh, like the wild mountain tulips we saw.

 

But people eventually part, don’t they?  Friends don’t remain friends forever.

 

The Afghan Peace Volunteer community I live in has recently been through an emotional ‘earthquake’: one of us had attempted suicide, a bomb had exploded near our house, there were tiring arguments and accusations over small matters.

And expectations that didn’t match.

Farhad and Mustafa, while so happy in the video clip, have unhappily left our community.

 

During one of the arguments, Hakim lost his temper at Ali and I. Hakim had looked so distraught that I tried reaching out to him afterwards.

 

But when I approached him, he asked me to go away, saying, “I really need some space on my own for now.”

 

I went to lie down, but couldn’t sleep. My feelings kept me awake.

 

From Samia

 

If my family lived on our own, we would invite Hakim, Kathy and their friends over for meals again and again.

 

But people talk, and we ‘eat many worries’ from the talk.

 

I wish to walk over more often to see friends at the Afghan Peace Volunteer community, and to study with them, but I can’t, and I feel sad about it.

 

The problem with life is that people are ‘watching’.

 

Doing my homework at the Afghan Peace Community home

 

From Hakim

 

Anger.

I’ve a problem with anger, and mixed with that is impatience.

 

When I think that I, and not ‘the other’, am right, I raise my voice, and I hurt ‘the other’, like Ali and Abdulhai.

 

In Afghanistan, anger creeps like ‘lava’ below many interactions.

 

“That official asked for 500 Afghanis as ‘shirni’ ( ‘candy’ ) money!”

“Like everyone else, he is lying.”

“Have we run out of flour for bread?”

“There’s smelly trash everywhere.”

 

As if that’s not enough, bombs and killings continue to metastasize anger.

 

The Afghan Peace Volunteers speak with labourers in Kabul

who are angry with corruption and unemployment in Afghanistan

 

Sometimes the anger becomes fury.

 

Stéphane Hessel, a French diplomat, a survivor of Buchenwald, and water-board torture, one of the writers for the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a strong proponent of nonviolent action, wrote ‘Indignezvous’ at 93 years of age, two years before he died in February of 2013. In the booklet, he asked that we ‘network’ to channel our ‘anger’:

The worst attitude is indifference, saying “I cannot do anything, I’m doing my job.”

By having this, you lose one of the components which is essential in humans…: the faculty of outrage and its consequence – commitment.

We can already identify two major challenges: 1.The huge gap between the very poor and very rich and which continues to grow. This is an innovation of the twentieth and twenty first century. The very poor in the world today earn just two dollars per day. We cannot let that gap widen further. This statement alone should generate commitment.2. Human rights and the state of the planet.

“We call today to a real peaceful insurrection against the means of mass communication that do not offer a horizon for our youth, mass consumption, the contempt for the weakest, and culture, generalized amnesia and excessive competition of all against all. To those who will make the twenty-first century, we say with our affection: TO CREATE IS TO RESIST. TO RESIST IS TO CREATE. “

 

Samia, come as often as you can.

 

Ali and Abdulhai, dancing, hard conversations, sharing meals and disappointments, I now can’t live without you. I’m working out my faculty of outrage and its consequence - commitment.

 

Love,

Abdulhai, Samia and Hakim

 

NB Dr Jake Donaldson, who danced with us in the video clip “Expressing Dreams in Afghanistan”, will be on Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ forum on the 11th of August 2013 at 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time / 11 a.m. Pacific Time ) 

Special Report : Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire’s Citizen Peace Diplomacy to Syria

 

 

Report and Appeal to the International community to support a process of dialogue and reconciliation in Syria between its people and Syrian government and reject outside intervention and war.

 

BY Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate. Spokesperson for Mussalaha International

Peace delegation to Lebanon/Syria    l-llth May, 2013,

 

 

After a 10 days  visit to Lebanon and Syria, leading a 16 person delegation from 8 countries, invited by Mussalaha Reconciliation Movement,  I have returned hopeful that peace is possible in Syria, if all outside interference is stopped and the Syrians are allowed to solve their own problems upholding  their right to  self-determination.

 

An appeal to end all violence and for Syrians to be left alone from outside interference was made by all those we met during our visit to Syria.  We have tried to forward it to the International community in our Concluding Declaration(l).

 

During our visit we went to refugee camps, affected communities, met religious leaders, combatants, government representatives, opposition delegations and many others, perpetrators and victims, in Lebanon and Syria.

 

1. Visits to refugee camps:   In Lebanon we visited several refugee camps, hosted by Lebanese or Palestinian communities.  One Woman said: "before this conflict started we were happy and had a good life (there is free education, free healthcare, subsidies for fuel,  in Syria ,) and now we live in poverty". Her daughter and son-in-law (a pharmacist and engineer) standing on a cement floor in a Palestinian refugee camp, with not even a mattress,  told us that this violence had erupted to everyone surprise’s and spread so quickly they were all still in shock, but when well armed, foreign fighters came to Homs, they took over their homes, raped their women, and killed young males who refused to join their ranks, so the people fled in terror.  They said that these foreign fighters were from many countries like Libyans, Saudis, Tunisians, Chechens, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Emiratis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Turkish, Europeans, Australian, and these gangs are financed and trained by foreign governments.  They attach suicide vests around peoples’ bodies and threaten to explode them if they don’t do what they are told.  One refugee woman asked me ‘when can we go home’?   (To my great delighted a few days later in Damascus I met a woman working on a government programme which is helping refugees to return to Syria and over 200 have returned to date).

 

Religious and government leaders have called upon people not to flee Syria and it is to be hoped many will heed this call, as after seeing so many Syrian refugees living in tents and being exploited in so many ways, including sexually, I believe the best solution is the stability of Syria so its people feel safe enough to stay in Syria.   If refugees continue to flee Syria then surrounding countries could be destabilized, causing the domino effect and destabilizing the entire Middle East.

 

Many people have fled into camps in surrounding countries like Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, all of whom are trying to manage the huge influx of Syrian refugees. Although the host countries are doing their best to cope they are overwhelmed by refugee numbers. (UNHCR’s official figure of refugees is one million).   Through our meetings we have been informed that Turkey invites Syrian refugees into the country and forbid them to go back home. It is documented that Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan are mistreated. Some young Syrian refugee girls are sold for forced marriage in Jordan.   From OHCHR reports we know that more than 4 million Syrians are displaced inside their own country, living in great need.

 

A representative from Red Cross, told us that there is freedom to do their work throughout Syria for all NGO and the Syrian Red crescent in co-ordination with the Ministry of Social affairs  and under such dire circumstances, they are doing their best, providing services to as many people as possible.  However there is a great shortage of funds for them to cope with this humanitarian tragedy of refugees and   internally displaced population.   The economic sanctions, as in Iraq,are causing great hardship to many people and  all those whom we met called for them to be lifted.  Our delegation called for the lifting of these illegal US-led sanctions that target the Syrian Population for purely political reasons in order to achieve regime change.

 

2- Hospitals: We visited the hospitals and saw many people injured by shootings, bombings, and armed attacks.  A moderate Sunni Imam told me how he was abducted by jihadists, who tortured him, cut off his ear, tried to cut his throat, slicing his legs, and left him for dead.  He said when he goes back to his mosque they will slaughter him.  He told us "these men are foreign fighters, jihadists from foreign countries, well armed, well trained, with money, they are in our country to destroy it.  They are not true Muslims but are religious extremist/fundamentalists terrorizing, abducting, killing our people".  The government spokesman also confirmed that they have in detention captured foreign fighters from 29 countries, including Chechens, Iraqis, and many others. The Ministry of Health showed us a documentary on the terrible killings by Jihadists and the terror caused by these foreigners with the killing of medics and destruction of medical infrastructure of the Syrian State which has made it difficult to answer the needs of the population.

 

3- Meeting with Opposition:  Our delegation participated in an open forum with many representatives  of internal opposition’s parties.    One political opponent who was in prison 24 years under the Assad regime, and has been out for 11 years, wants political change with more than 20 other internal opposition components, but without outside interference and the use of violence.  We met with ‘armed’ opposition people in a local community who said they had accepted the governments offer of amnesty and were working for a peaceful way forward.  One man told me he had accepted money from Jihadists to fight but had been shocked by their cruelty and the way they treated fellow Syrian muslims considering them as not real Muslims.   He said foreign Jihadists wanted to take over Syria, not save it. 

 

The 10th May a part of our delegation headed to Homs, invited by the opposition community of Al Waar city where displaced families from Baba Amro, Khalidiyeh and other rebel’s strongholds seek refuge. The Delegation saw all the conditions of this city and is studying a Pilot Project for Reconciliation and peaceful reintegration between this community and the surrounded non rebel communities (Shia and Alaouites) with whom 15 days ago an agreement of non belligerence has been signed through the auspices of Mussalaha.

 

4 -  Meeting with Officials: Our Delegation met, and spoke, at the Parliament, and also with the Governor, Prime Minister and 7 other Ministries.  We were given details of the new Constitution and political reforms being put in place, and plans for elections in 2014.  Government Ministers admitted that they had made mistakes in being slow to respond to legitimate demands for change from civil community but these were now being implemented.  They told us when the conflict started it was peaceful for change but quickly turned into bloodshed when armed men killed many soldiers.

In the first days soldiers were unarmed but when people started asking for protection the government and military responded to defend the people and in self defence.

 

When we enquired from the Prime Minister regarding the allegation that the Syrian Government had used Sarin gas, he told us that as soon as  news came from Aleppo that allegedly gas had been used, his government  invited immediately the UN to come into investigate, but heard nothing from them.  Most recently however, a UN investigator, High Commissioner Carla Del Ponte, has confirmed that it was rebels, not Syrian government, who used Sarin gas.   During meeting with Justice Minister, we requested that a list of 72 non-violent political dissidents currently detained be released.  The justice Minister said after checking those listed were indeed non-violent political dissidents,  he would,  in principal, agree to the release of these nonviolent detainees.  He also informed us they they do not implement the death penalty and it is hoped that when things settle in Syria they will move to have the death penalty abolished.  We also asked the Justice Minister (an international lawyer) about Syrian Government’s Human rights abuses, namely the artillery shelling into no-go areas being held by jihadists and armed opposition.  The Minister accepted those facts but alleged that the Government had a duty to clear these areas.  We suggested there was a better way to deal with the problem than artillery shelling but he insisted that the government had responsibility to clear the areas of rebel forces and this was the way in which they were doing it 

 

The Ministers and Governor said that President Assad was their President and has their support.  There were many people we spoke to who expressed such sentiments.   However, some young people said they support the opposition but in order to protect the Unity of Syria from outside destruction, they will support the government and President Assad, until the election next year and then they will vote for the opposition. They said the Doha Coalition in Qatar does not represent them and that no one outside Syria has a right to remove President Assad but the Syrian people through the elections next year.  The journalists in Syria are in great danger from the religious extremist/fundamentals,and during my visit to a television station a young journalist told me how his mother was killed by jihadists and he showed me his arm where he had been shot and almost killed. 

 

5- Meeting with religious leaders: We attended in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus a prayer gathering led by the Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic, Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun and the Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham with the delegate of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi, and clerics of all traditions. The Assembly prayed for the peace and unity of Syria and the non-interference of outsiders in their country.  They stressed the conflict in Syria is not a religious conflict, as Muslims and Christians have always lived together in Syria, and they are,(in spite of living with  suffering and violence much of which is not of their own making), unified in their wish to be a light of peace and reconciliation to the world.  The Patriarch said that from the Mosque and Christian churches goes out a great movement of peace and reconciliation and asked both those inside and outside Syria, to reject all violence and support the people of Syria in this work of dialogue, reconciliation and peacemaking.

 

The Muslim and Christian Spiritual Leaders are very conscious if the religious extremist/fundamentalists gain momentum and control Syria, the future of those who are not supportive of fundamentalists like moderate Muslims, Christians, minorities, and other Syrians is in great danger. Indeed the Middle East  could loose its precious pluralistic social fabric with the  Christians, like in Iraq, being the first to flee the country. This would be a tragedy for all concerned in this multi-religious, multi-cultural secular Syria, once a light of peaceful conviviality in the Arab world.

 

AN OVERVIEW: 

Following many authorized reports in the mainstream Medias and our own evidences I can stress that the Syrian State and its population are under a proxy war led by foreign countries and directly financed and backed mainly by Qatar who has imposed its views on the Arab League. Turkey, a part of the Lebanese opposition and some of the Jordan authorities offer a safe haven to a diversity of jihadist groups, each with its own agenda, recruited from many countries. Bands of jihadists armed and financed from foreign countries invade Syria through Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon porous frontiers in an effort to destabilize Syria. There are an estimated 50,000 foreign jihadist fighters terrorizing Syria.  Those death squads are destroying systematically the Syrian State infrastructures (Electricity, Oil, Gas and water plants, High Tension Pylons, hospitals, schools, public buildings, cultural heritage sites and even religious sanctuaries).  Moreover the country is submerged by snipers, bombers, agitators, bandits.  They use aggression and Sharia rules and hijack the freedom and dignity of the Syrian population.  They torture and kill those who refuse to join them. They have strange religious beliefs which make them feel comfortable even perpetrating the cruelest acts like killing and torture of their opponents. It is well documented that  many of those terrorists are permanently under stimulant like Captagon. The general lack of security unlashes the terrible phenomenon of abduction for ransoms or for political pressure.  Thousands of innocents are missing, among them the two Bishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, many priests and Imams.

 

UN and EU economic sanctions as well as a severe embargo are pushing Syria to the edge of social collapse. Unfortunately the international media network is ignoring those realities and is bent on demonizing, lying, destabilizing the country and fuelling more violence and contradiction.  

 

In summary: the war in Syria is not as depicted a civil war but a proxy war with serious breaches of International laws and the Humanitarian International laws.. The protection of the foreign fighters  by some foreign countries among the most powerful gives them a kind of an unaccountability that pushes them with impunity to all kind of cruel deeds against innocent civilians. Even war conventions are not respected incurring in many war crimes and, even, crimes against Humanity.

 

CONCLUSION:

During our visit to Syria, our delegation was met with great kindness by everyone and I offer to each one who facilitated or hosted our Delegation my most sincere feelings of gratitude.  We witnessed that the Syrian people have suffered very deeply and continue to do so.  The entire population of 23 million people are under tremendous threat of continued infiltration by foreign terrorists.  Many are still stunned by the horrors and suddenness of all this violence and worried their country will be attacked and divided by outside forces, and are all too aware that geopolitical forces are at work to destabilize Syria for political control, oil and resources. One Druze leader said ‘if westerns want our Oil – both Lebanon and Syria have oil reserves – let us negotiate for it, but do not destroy our country to take it’.     In Syria memories of next door Iraq’s destruction by US/UK/NATO forces are fresh in people's minds, including in the minds of the one and a half million Iraqis who fled Iraqi’s conflict, including many Christians, and were given refuge in Syria by the Syrian Government.

 

The greatest hope we took was from Mussalaha, a non political movement from all sections of Syrian society, who have working teams throughout Syria and is proceeding through dialogue to building peace and reconciliation.  Mussalaha mediates between armed gunmen and security forces, help get release of many people who have been abducted, and bring together all parties to the conflict for dialogue and practical solutions.  It was this movement who hosted us, under the leadership of Mother Agnes-Mariam, Superior of Saint James’ Monastery, supported by the Patriarch Gregory III Laham, head of the Catholic Hierarchy of Syria.

 

This great civil community movement building a peace process and National Reconciliation from the ground up, will, if given space, time, and non-interference from outside, help bring Peace to Syria.  They recognize that there must be an unconditional, all inclusive political solution, with compromises and they are confident this is happening at many levels of society and is the only way forward for Syrian peace.

 

I support this National Reconciliation process which, many Syrian believe, is the only way to bring Peace to SYRIA and the entire Middle East. I am myself committed to this peaceful process and hope that the International Community, the Religious and Political Leaders as well as any person of good will will help Syria to bypass violence and prejudice and anchor in a new era of Social peace and prosperity.  This cradle of civilizations where Syria occupies the heart is an enormous spiritual heritage for humanity, let us strive to establish a non war zone and proclaim it an OASIS of Peace for the Human Family.

 

MAIREAD MAGUIRE

Nobel peace laureate.    www.peacepeople.com

Peace people, 224 Lisburn Road, Belfast. Bt9.

23.5.2013

 

N.B.  See the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Open Letter to Kofi Annan here and here

Forgot your password?