I stand before you today more in sadness than anger – although I have some of that as well.
My anger, however, is less directed at President Obama than at the system within which most of our political leaders are (willingly) trapped: a system of hegemony and domination supported by a military system which is more predatory than protective. Our political leaders like to think they are “protecting the American Way of Life” when, in reality, they are promoting a predatory system of corporate domination which seeks to continue the profligate pattern of American over-consumption protected at gun-point.
I had the distinct privilege of traveling to Afghanistan Spring a year ago as part of an International Peace Team led by Kathy Kelly of Voices For Creative Nonviolence. In Kabul we met with young Afghans who are committed to nonviolent solutions in their homeland. The Afghan Peace Volunteers are true nationalists who don’t want their beloved land “occupied by either US and NATO forces or the oppressive, fundamentalism of the Taliban.
We should have no illusions about the brutish misogyny and thuggish rigidity of the Taliban – but we must also understand the US/NATO complicity with equally repressive warlords who were bribed with millions of our taxpayer dollars to help overthrow the Taliban. When the US drove truckloads of crisp $100 dollar bills and handed them over to warlords 11 years ago this week to buy their loyalty, cooperation, and combat capability, we directly fed the rampant culture of corruption that now so clearly has infected all of Afghan society.
We also empowered the system of tribal warlords who continue to try to keep most of Afghanistan back in the 15th century when it comes to the rights of women and girls. Our Secretary of State as well as a couple of her predecessors, Condi Rice and Madeline Albright have used the battle-cry of “women’s rights” as a call to support the present US Occupation of Afghanistan. But, as my friend Chante Wolf of Veterans For Peace and others have so clearly observed, looking to the US Military to defend the rights of women is beyond ironic and is rather full-fledged hypocrisy. The incidence of sexual harassment, abuse and assault within the US Military of it’s own women soldiers is frighteningly horrendous and such a system based on fear, authority, and domination cannot be expected to model human rights for anyone – let alone others who speak a different language, practice a different religion, and have very different cultural mores and practices.
[Again, the irony of today’s situation is palpable: if we really supported the rights of women in Afghan society, we would have supported the efforts of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s in their attempts to quell the rising fundamentalism in Afghan society. It was the Soviets who elevated the roles of women within that culture while those who militantly opposed such an effort were the mujahedeen funded in secret by the CIA.]
I have no illusions as I march in these streets that President Obama will listen to us. He has already weighed his political options and doesn’t want to appear to be “soft” on defense against terrorism. He has decided to double-down on the use of un-manned aerial vehicles, drones with the names of Predator and Reaper, machines which rain destruction from on high, so fewer American troops come home in body-bags. His policy has made all Afghan and Pakistani males between the ages of 15 and 45 as “militants” for whom he has granted himself the right to “kill-on-sight”. When they are killed by Apache helicopters, bombers, or drones, they are no longer classified as “collateral damage” – civilians killed by accident in a war-zone – because they have already been re-defined by the Pentagon as combatants because of their gender and age.
But I can personally assure you that although they fall within that gender/age range, my new friends Abdulai, Ali, Amer Shah, Basir, Ghulmai, Mohammed Jan, Asif, and others should not be targets of our weapons but fellow collaborators for peace and justice. Sharbanoo, Zahra, Lena, and other Afghan women I met are not looking for continued American occupation of their country in the name of their rights but also want that occupation to end NOW.
I wrote to my friends in Afghanistan and asked them what they would like to say to you today. Here is what the Afghan Peace Volunteers sent me:
Statement for October 7, 2012 in protest of the 11th year of the U.S./ NATO war in Afghanistan- from Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers. www.2millionfriends.org
After 11 years of the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan, and the three decades of war before that, we are very tired of the killings.
This war cannot stop the war. This human method of war doesn’t work.
Afghans have a saying that ‘blood cannot wash away blood’ and we’ve witnessed and experienced its truth, daily. The U.S. has lost 2 thousand of their soldiers. Afghans have lost at least 2 million loved ones over the past four decades of war.
Stop. Stop the killings. Stop the mutual bloodshed. Stop spending two billion US dollars a week just on killing. Stop the drones. Stop the use of depleted uranium. Stop.
Ordinary Afghans don’t need more weapons or more war. We need food, water, shelter and clothing. We need education, health care and decent livelihoods for all.
We also need friends. We wish to remember the 2 million Afghan victims of war by finding 2 million friends for peace in Afghanistan. The Afghan Peace Volunteers ask for a ceasefire from all warring groups. We want peace, the peace which is the color, soul and jewel of life, without which we live bearing fears and worries, and without which life has little meaning. In 2010, we the Afghan Peace Volunteers inscribed our beliefs and hopes on a plaque that sits at the entrance of Bamiyan Peace Park in the centre of Afghanistan, “Why not love? Why not bring peace? Even a little of our love is stronger than the wars of the world.”
Even though most of our politicians running for office [with the notable exception of Minnesota’s own Keith Ellison and candidates running under the banner of the Green Party or other small independent tickets] won’t even mention Afghanistan in their campaign events (other than to praise “our troops” as “heroes”) , it is important that we send a message by being on the streets. We can send a message to the Afghan Peace Volunteers that there are Americans standing in solidarity with them. We can send a message to the United Nations and other international bodies that there are some Americans who really want substantive “hope and change” – not just as political rhetoric but as a tangible redirection of our nation and its policy. And we can send a message to our fellow citizens who find themselves wearing a military uniform: we call on you to refuse to deploy to a nation where our Occupation is both unwise and illegal.
I’ll be marching with both sadness and anger – but also with intent to engage my fellow Minnesotans in conversation urging both truth-telling and a new direction for our foreign policy. I'd rather carry a candle to shed some light and hope rather than just curse the darkness of our present policies. Silence isn’t an option.