DON’T FORGET HOW GREAT YOU ARE

Although forever in the West people have felt the world to be near its end—this moment does seem to be particularly dire. Call me clairvoyant, but I think it has something to do with nuclear weapons, environmental peril, massive humanitarian disasters never making headlines and a virtually unanimous lack of belief in state leadership all staking their claims as utterly normal modes of existence—not to mention a lack of, as Jimmy Stewart said in Mr Smith Goes To Washington, “…a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness—and a little looking out for the other fella, too.”

A few weeks ago Hugo Chavez stood up on the UN pulpit and in a surreal moment endorsed Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, pushing it to the bestseller list.

A week or so later Afghani leader Karzai (after a stint in Canada) and Pakistani leader Musharaff were visiting President Bush (Musharaff was on the Daily Show saying Iraq had been disastrous for terrorism), and nobody on the nightly news or any leaders anywhere reminded us of the irony, or parody, or tragedy, unfolding before us.

It made me wish, by some miracle, some other leader would bang a drum on the UN pulpit and implore us to read Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, a primer on the journey out of the Cold War into the War on Terror.

In short, it was these same three countries who in 1979/80 came together (the mujahideen in Afghanistan and American and Pakistani intelligence) and gathered from across the globe an unprecedented Islamic rebel army to battle the invading and brutal Russians.

On page 120 Mamdani writes:

The revolutions of 1979 [in Nicaragua and Iran, where US-backed dictatorships were overthrown] had a profound influence on the conduct of the Afghan War [The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan].

The Iranian Revolution led to a restructuring of relationship between the United States and political Islam.

Prior to it, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on one side was the Soviet Union and militant Third World nationalism, which America regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side was political Islam [the present day enemy in the War on Terror], which America considered an unqualified ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union.

From the beginning of the Afghan War [1979-1989] there was (pg 126):

…sustained cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)…to provide maximum firepower to the mujahideen and, politically, to recruit the most radically anti-Communist Islamists to counter Soviet forces. The combined result was to flood the region not only with all kinds of weapons but also with the most radical Islamist recruits. The Islamist recruits came from all over the world, not only Muslim-majority countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Indonesia, but also such Muslim-minority countries as the United States and Britain…

This US/Pakistani organized jihad had a “central objective: to unite a billion Muslims worldwide in a holy war, a crusade, against the Soviet Union, on the soil of Afghanistan (128)…

The real damage the CIA did was not the providing of arms and money but the privatization of information about how to produce and spread violence—the formation of private militias—capable of creating terror (138).

The CIA was key to the forging of the link between Islam and terror in central Asia and to giving radical Islamists international reach and ambition. The groups [the CIA] trained and sponsored shared a triple embrace: of terror tactics, of holy war as a political ideology, and of a transnational recruitment of fighters, who acquired hyphenated identities (163).

By hyphenated identities, Mamdani is referring to, among many, the notorious terrorist group al-Qaida who, in case anybody in the world doesn’t know, were behind the heinous 9/11 attacks, killing nearly four thousand citizens in one day in America and god knows how many people elsewhere. Their leader, Osama bin Laden, was nurtured on the movement, if not officially funded by the CIA. Some believe he is presently sheltered in Pakistan.

On several occasions, legendary conservative Ronald Reagan praised the Afghan “freedom fighters,” and even invited a group to the White House, saying on March 10th, 1982: “…the freedom fighters of Afghanistan are defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability.”

No doubt their actions were heroic, from one angle. Does this not say it all? Members of this mujahideen would become the most extremist, misogynist Islamic government in the world: the dreaded Taliban.

Mamdani asks the question that infuriates so many pundits and scholars, and causes words like Islam apologist and anti-American to be thrown out in torrents: “If 9/11 cut short the celebration of that victory [the collapse of the Soviet Union], it also posed the question: At what price was the Cold War won?”

Either way, when will partisan pundits and elected officials begin the shift towards working together to ask the hardest questions of all?

Where will the imagination and will come from that slows the incessant war machine of American (and worldwide) foreign policy (forewarned by Eisenhower in his remarkable 1961 farewell speech)?

Where will the compassion and imagination come from that reaches past the war-mongers to the millions of moderates in the Middle East and begins to break Arab leadership that blurts “Nazisms” without a moment of self-reflection or censorship—and rarely receives commentary by the American Left (please excuse my reverting to the label).

Imagine if the bar of honesty, of remembering, of solidarity could be raised—and of course it can.

The detailed infighting between the people of the Left and Right is a tragic cancer we don’t even know we’re causing; uninspiring, a projection of privilege (and powerlessness) that feels like it makes up for how little say we actually have.

The fighting lacks inward reflection and responsibility, which with right intention soon reveals our mutual humanity.

In Salon (Oct 2, 2001) a 26 year old woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)—who are mind-bogglingly courageous and should be known by everybody—was interviewed. Identified only as `Fatima,’ and referring to the Taliban, she said this after the unprecedented attacks of 9/11:

We are so sorry for the victims of this terrorist attack. We want to shower them with deep solidarity. We can understand their sorrow because we also suffered this terrorism for more than 23 years. We were already victims of this tragedy.

On the other hand, unfortunately, we warned the United States government about this many, many times; as well as the other countries that are supporting and creating the fundamentalist parties. They helped create these terrorists during the Cold War; they supported Osama bin Laden [during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan]. Fundamentalism is equal to terrorism; it’s equal to crime. We said, this germ won’t just be in Afghanistan, it will spread out all over the world.

Today we can see this with our own eyes. We warned them but they never listened to our cry, to our voice.

Five days after this interview was released, and despite repeated pleas from RAWA, the coalition bombing of Afghanistan began with a vengeance, and continues as of August 2006 (and the Taliban are back in force).

God knows how RAWA and other women, children and moderate men are surviving, literally and psychologically.

What are we doing? How does it not stop?

In the Georgia Straight today (Vancouver) there was an interview with the suddenly “mainstream” Chomsky. With the extreme cynicism of American foreign policy, and its counterparts, he said there are two currents in American thought: a growing public openness about ideas and a “new strain”—an increased hopelessness at feeling change is impossible.

At least it’s new in my experience, which goes back 60 years: a feeling of hopelessness. I mean we have every possible opportunity, and an incomparable legacy of freedom, of privilege…and there’s numbers that I’ve never seen involved, engaged and concerned. But they feel they can’t do anything. They feel hopeless.

As understandable as that response may be, if I could get up on that UN pulpit (with all my friends), I would cry out: “We must not succumb to hopelessness!”

There is always something to do. There is always a new stranger to be kind to, a new letter to write, another person to encourage, a new person to listen to, to engage in solidarity, across cultures and ideologies (including our own).

There is a wonderful yogic saying: “Trying to change the world is your ego. Trying to change yourself is spiritual practice.”

Ah, I feel a little better. Love in thought. Love in practice. There are beautiful, courageous people everywhere. And there are also just your average non-violent folk, who need to be remembered. And, of course, noble warriors, who protect women and children (although modern warfare seems to make this very difficult). Millions are here. Millions are in Afghanistan. The Congo. Uganda. Iraq. Everywhere. Sisters and brothers.

Hope is overflowing. Don’t forget how great you are.

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