Saturday, September 13, 2008

"The Enemy Is Ignorance" - Brigadier General Bashir

In the weeks leading up to the 7 year anniversary (is that the right word to use?) of the 9/11 attacks, I started reading Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea, watched the film, Traitor, starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce and written by Steve Martin and Jeffery Nachmanoff and read the NYT's special report "Right at the Edge" by Dexter Filkins.
I feel like I need to write a disclaimer on this but you know, this is what I learned and this is what I feel and this is my blog. Therefore, I am not writing one.
With the election and all the Palin business, the anniversary of the attacks seemed to be a minor blimp on the major media networks, there were a couple parades featured and talks about the Pentagon Memorial opening but I was not really bombarded like I used to be. That night, as I sat in bed, I began the passages in the book where Greg Mortenson, who was in northern Pakistan, was awoken at 4:30 am to be told of the attacks. His "family" stationed people outside his sleeping quarters to protect him. I remembered where I was 7 years ago, getting ready for work, watching the second plane hit and being in shock. I was so in shock I still drove to work that morning.
A few nights before, I went to watch Traitor with MisterJT. The film is intense and touches on religion's subtle (not so subtle) factor in people's lives and their culture. There were moments were people were laughing and as we walked out I heard some people say things that for me just sounded ignorant. Yes, it's a film but films reflect the period they were created in. This film demonstrated aspects of Muslim religion that none of us get, unless, we make the effort to learn about it, practice it or know people who are Muslim. One of the last scenes, Guy Pearce's character, Roy Clayton, ends a conversation with Samir Horn, who is played by Don Cheadle, by saying " As-Salaam Alaaikum." Samir Horn responds by telling him that he should have started the conversation with that phrase as well. Subtle, but for some people extremely, vitally important.
Then I read "Right at the Edge" by Dexter Filkins, which is about how the Taliban will remain in power, how the aid money coming in to Pakistan and Afghanistan is just being funneled around between the government and the militants, and how the "[United States] is being taken for a ride." There is a lot in this special report and it is definitely worth reading. Like Mortenson, Filkins seems to have been able to get to places where most foreigners would never be allowed to enter.
Now come into this mix another inspiring and insightful book I have read in 2008, Three Cups of Tea. The tag line is "one man's mission to fight terrorism and build school at a time" and that is what Greg Mortenson (he has a blog) and the Central Asia Institute are doing. Education is always a major contributor when it comes to fighting just about anything, poverty, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and terrorism. Mortenson was a mountaineer who stumbled upon the rural village of Korphe after trying to return from K2. He was nursed to health by the people of the village and he had an epiphany after witnessing children who were practicing their lessons with sticks and writing exercises in the dirt - he wanted to build schools. He was helping a region that no one cared about, knew about or just ignored. The book is beautifully written, with sweeping descriptions of the mountains of Pakistan, in addition to following Mortenson's quest to raise money to begin his mission to explanations of the customs and traditions of the most remote regions in Pakistan and later Afghanistan. His devotion to the people and his mission is awe-inspiring. Mortenson did what people promised to do and in the long run, his efforts, mainly focusing on educating the girls of those areas, will help more in preventing terrorism than any war on terror campaign will. The chapters begin with quotes, some translated from songs, some from political officials and all articles and they highlight the essence of each chapter. The title references a lesson Mortenson learns from the Korphe leader and his mentor, Haji Ali, who stated,
"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die...Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time."
Mortenson made mistakes but he tried to know the people, who were now his family. I think, most Americans do not understand this sense of obligation or loyalty. The individuals in Mortenson's circle would give their lives for him and it is fascinating how he befriends them and approaches them, not as this American who knows everything and will save them from themselves, but as someone who wants to learn their way of life and also preserve it while providing education and training centers for them. There is not hidden agenda, no attempt at converting them, just the agenda of having a safe space for their children to learn.
What I have taken to heart from these three pieces combined is that it is not always combat. It is also empathy and understanding. It is taking time to learn the customs and traditions of people. It is having a president who knows what a jirga is and makes an effort to not insult the other country by remaining ignorant of its importance. It is making sure that the civilians are taken care of and not only saying that they will be taken care of. No false promises. It is realizing that for some cultures, maybe most cultures, "shock and awe" means nothing if you do not care for the people you displaced. "Shock and awe" will only be a means of reinforcing the hatred that is now in these places that are not so far-away. It is knowing that you begin a conversation with As-Salaam Alaaikum and make the time to have three cups of tea.


gregory said...

the golden rule is practical, in other words, and not religious.

Ms. Bladen said...

Well said, my friend. Lots to think about. I have seen Traitor and read (most) of Three Cups - I will finish the book and read the special report as I am inspired by you.