Jan 29 2012
By Brian Terrell
On January 25, the host committee for the G8/NATO summit in Chicago in May unveiled a new slogan for the event, “The Global Crossroads.” The mood of the organizers is upbeat and positive. This is a grand opportunity to market Chicago with an eye for the tourist dollar and the city is ready, the committee assures us, to deal with any “potential problems.”
One of the potential problems that the committee is confident that it can overcome, according to a report by WLS-TV in Chicago, is “the prospect of large-scale protests stealing the stage as the world watches.” The new slogan stresses the international character of the event and the prestige and economic benefit that hosting world economic and political leaders is expected to bring to Chicago. “We’re a world class city with world class potential,” declares Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “If you want to be a global city, you’ve got to act like a global city and do what global cities do,” says Lori Healey who heads the host committee and who previously led the city’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2016 Olympics.
All indications, unfortunately, are that Chicago is preparing to “act like a global city and do what global cities do” and it appears to want to follow the lead of other “global cities” in dealing with mass demonstrations threatening to “steal the stage;” think Tehran, Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and Seattle, to name a few.
One of the chilling developments the hosting committee announced was that the Illinois State Crime Commission is “urgently seeking Iraq-Afghanistan combat veterans to work security positions for the G8 summit.” The commission’s chairman clarifies that is for “private security” and not to work with the Chicago police. As in other “global cities,” these veterans will be used as private mercenaries without the legal protections and benefits of public employees.
The Veterans Administration reports treating about 16% of the 1.3 million of veterans of these two wars for post-traumatic stress disorder and many more do not seek help. In answer to a potentially volatile situation in the streets of Chicago, the commission is not seeking workers trained in conflict resolution, but it has an urgent need for ex-soldiers trained in the violent chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans urgently need treatment and meaningful employment, but at the “global crossroads,” they are offered only temp jobs as rent-a-cops protecting the interests of their exploiters.
Beyond touting the overblown promise of money that the summit is expected to bring (“To penetrate international markets takes time and money,” said Don Welsh, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau) the city and its welcoming committee do not encourage education or reflection on what NATO and the G8 are and what they do. Despite its claims, NATO was never a defensive alliance. It is structured to wage “out of area” wars in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as to “contain” China. NATO’s creed is aggressive, expansionist, militarist and undemocratic. The G8 represents the economic interests of its member states. It is not a legal international entity established by treaty but acts outside the law, with NATO as its enforcer.
Jan 04 2012
by Kathy Kelly and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
January 3, 2012
Kabul – Bibi Sadia and her husband Baba share a humble home with their son, his wife and their two little children. An Afghan human rights advocate suggested that we listen to Bibi’s stories and learn more about how a Pashto family has tried to survive successive tragedies in Kabul.
Holding her three year old granddaughter in her arms, Bibi adjusted her hijab and launched into a narrative that began during the Soviet occupation. The mujahideen had asked Baba to bring them medicines two or three times a week for those injured in the war. For each batch of medicines that Baba delivered, the mujahideen paid him a small sum of money. When the Russian occupiers discovered what he was doing, they beat him severely. After that, the mujahideen accused him of spying for the Russians and they also beat him badly.
The vicious beatings gave him perforated ear drums requiring six operations and left him permanently hard of hearing.
They also left him mentally unsound, so that Bibi became the sole breadwinner for the family. “During the time of the Taliban,” Bibi tells us with a soft smile, “I used to make bread, wash clothes and reap other people’s wheat to earn a living,” The mujahideen, having ousted Russia’s favored government and its army, were now in power and frowned on women working. “I used to work by the moonlight, sewing clothes from animal hide”.
Eventually, Bibi found work as a cleaner at the Aliabad Hospital in Kabul, but the Taliban who had gained power frowned on women working. One evening, the Taliban had come to the hospital and insisted on taking a particular male staff member away. Warned by the hospital manager, the man in question had managed to escape, but Bibi was not so lucky. When the Taliban spotted her working, they started slapping her. “I crouched in a corner and didn’t speak. When the hospital manager asked them why they were beating me, they said they had previously warned me against working at the hospital and that I hadn’t heeded their warnings.” This incident was actually Bibi’s first warning, but not her last.
Dec 23 2011
by Kathy Kelly
December 23, 2011
Beneath our flat, here in Kabul, wedding guests crowded into a restaurant and celebrated throughout the night. Guests sounded joyful and the music, mostly disco, thumped loudly. When the regular call to prayer sounded out at 5:20 a.m., the sounds seemed to collide in an odd cacophony, making all music indistinguishable. I smiled, remembering the prayer call’s durable exhortation to live in peace, heard worldwide for centuries, and went back to sleep.
Through most of my life, I’ve found it easy to resonate with the ringing and beautiful Christmas narrative found in the Gospel of Luke, but less so with that jangling discord with which westerners are so familiar-the annual collision between (on the one hand) the orgy of gift-purchasing and gift-consumption surrounding the holiday and the the sweeter, simpler proclamations of peace on earth heralded by the newborn’s arrival. I’ve found myself quite surprisingly happy to spend many Christmases either in U.S. jails or among Muslims living in places like Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and now Afghanistan. My hosts and friends in these places have been people who are enduring wars or fleeing wars, including, as in the case of U.S. jails, a war against the poor in the United States.
The Christmas narrative that imagines living beings coming together across divides, the houseless family with no room at the inn, the shepherds and the foreign royals arriving, all awakening to unimagined possibilities of peace, comes alive quite beautifully in the community with which I’m graced to find myself here in Kabul.
Five of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are spending winter months in the apartment here which accommodates their group as well as visiting guests such as our small Voices delegation. In recent months, the place has evolved into a resource center for learning languages and exchanging ideas about nonviolent movements for social change. I am filled with fond and deep admiration for these young people as I watch them studying each other’s languages and preparing their own delegation to visit other provinces of this land on the brink of civil war, meeting with other young people wherever they can.
I’ve often described Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers as having bridged considerable ethnic gaps in their steadfast aspiration to someday live without wars. It’s quite impressive, during this trip, to learn from them about how close several of them came to becoming armed fighters.
One young friend recalls having spent three weeks, at age 12, as part of a Taliban group. He had no choice but to go with the Taliban as a conscript. He was given a rifle, as well as adequate food, and assigned to be a sentry. “I loaded the weapon and I fired warning shots,” said our young friend, who is now 21 years of age, “but I didn’t feel good about it.” A village elder intervened, saying the new recruits were too young, and the Taliban released my friend and the other young teens.
We watched a film together in which another youngster, about seven years previously, had acted the role of the leader of a group of children imitating Talib fighters. Carrying sticks, the young actors had harassed a little girl over her determination that she would learn to read. Now we asked the young man, himself a Hazara, how he felt about playing a Taliban child. He acknowledged having grown up believing that anyone who was part of an ethnic group that had persecuted his people could never be trusted.
The father of another youngster had been killed by the Taliban. Still another describes how he watched in horror as Hazara fighters killed his brother.
Last week, the AYPVs welcomed a new friend who lives in a neighboring province and speaks a different language to join them and help them learn his language. Asked about NATO/ISAF night raids and other attacks that have occurred in his area, the new friend said that families who have suffered attacks feel intense anger, but even more so people say they want peace. “However, international forces have made people feel less secure,” he added. “It’s unfortunate that internationals hear stories about Afghans being wild people and think that more civilized outsiders are trying to build the country. People here are suffering because of destruction caused by outsiders.”
The air, the ground, the mountainsides, the water, and even the essential bonds of familial living have been ravaged by three decades of warfare here in Afghanistan. People living here have suffered the loss of an estimated two million people killed in the wars. 850 children die every day because of disease and hunger.
Amid excruciating sorrow and pain, it’s good to see people still find ways to gather for celebrations, even when the sounds seem curious and the dances seem, to some, forbiddingly exotic. Differences between insiders and outsiders become less relevant as people meet one another to celebrate.
Peace can surprise us when it comes, and that alone is abundantly sufficient cause for celebration in this season, wherever we are. Dr. King wrote that “the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice,” and we should not be surprised as new and growing movements around us reveal an unquenchable and ineradicable longing for simple justice. The killing fields that scar our earth and sear the memories of survivors beckon us to look and listen for new ways of living together. Massacres of innocents call to us to reject the easy and familiar and go home by an other way.
The desires to live more simply, to share resources more radically, and to prefer service to dominance are not unique to any place, season, or religion. Such desires may yet herald unions previously unimagined and a better world for every newborn, each one bringing an astonishing potential – as we do if we strive to fulfill it – for peace.
Kathy Kelly (kathyvcnv [dot] org), twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She and two companions are part of a Voices delegation visiting the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Kabul
Nov 16 2011
by Kathy Kelly and Hakim
November 16, 2011
Adelaide, Australia -At Tabor House Technical College, 21 young people sit in a semicircle looking curiously at Hakim and me. We’ve been invited to speak with them about the practice of justice. Hakim, who has lived among Afghans for the past nine years, begins by describing how an Afghan youth, Zekerullah, would greet them. “Salam,” he says to all. With his hand over his heart, Hakim makes eye contact with each student, and then nods in silent greeting. I smile, having watched Zekerullah do just this, whenever he entered a room. The students are interested.
“You can’t listen only to leaders,” Hakim tells them. “We must put our ears close to the hearts of ordinary people and listen to them.” Hakim is often poetic, but he’s also a trained physician, prone toward assembling data and seeking careful diagnosis.
Rising early this morning, he prepared for today’s presentation by collecting statistics about government responses, in various parts of the world, to massive manifestations of public opinion. As expected, the short survey showed that leaders aren’t listening well to ordinary people, that ‘national interests’ routinely overrule the people’s interests:
72% of Australians want their troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.
But Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists that Australian troops will remain “till the end of the decade, at least.”
63% of Americans oppose the Afghan war.
But the US is about to sign a US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that will allow joint military bases in Afghanistan beyond 2024.
80% of the Spanish population support the estimated 6.5 to 8 million Spanish Indignados protesting unemployment.
But the Spanish government has been repressing the protesters since their police cleared out Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid on 17th May 2011.
89% of Chileans support the student protests for free public education.
But Chilean police used water cannons and tear gas to break up a student march on October 6th 2011.
US National polls over October and November 2011 were mixed, with agreement/approval ratings for Occupy Wall Street varying from 59% to 22%, but, generally, approval was larger than disapproval.
Yesterday, New York police cleared out the protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York.
“Do governments hate their people?” Hakim asks, “Or do they simply treat their general public as stupid belligerents?”
He encourages students to recognize the wisdom ordinary people hold, offering as an example Afghan villagers who became his teachers. He thought he had come to assist people in the Afghan village because he had ‘knowledge’ to offer them. He instead found that they changed his life completely. They taught him about love and community.
Jun 27 2011
by Kathy Kelly
June 27, 2011
Last week, newly-arrived in Athens as part of the US Boat to Gaza project, our team of activists gathered for nonviolence training. We are here to sail to Gaza, in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in our ship, “The Audacity of Hope.” Our team, and nine other ships’ crews from countries around the world, want Israel to end its lethal blockade of Gaza by letting our crews through to shore to meet with Gazans. The US ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support to a population suffering its fifth continuous decade of de facto occupation, now in the form of a military blockade controlling Gaza’s sea and sky, punctuated by frequent deadly military incursions, that has starved Gaza’s economy and people to the exact level of cruelty considered acceptable to the domestic population of our own United States, Israel’s staunchest ally.
The international flotilla last year was brutally attacked and the Turkish ship fired on from the air, with a cherrypicked video clip of the resulting panic presented to the world to justify nine deaths, one of a United States citizen, most of them execution-style killings. So it’s essential, albeit a bit bizarre, to plan for how we will respond to military assaults. Israeli news reports say that their naval commandos are preparing to use attack dogs and snipers to board the boats. In the past, they have used water cannons, taser guns, stink bombs, sound bombs, stun guns, tear gas, and pepper spray against flotilla passengers. I’ve tried to make a mental list of plausible responses: remove glasses, don life jacket, affix clip line which might prevent sliding off the deck, carry a half onion to offset effect of tear gas, remember to breathe.
Israel Defense Forces are reportedly training for a fierce assault intended to “secure” each boat in the flotilla, the “Freedom Flotilla 2”. As passengers specifically on the U.S. boat, we may be spared the most violent responses, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not ruled out such violent responses and has preemptively certified any response we may “provoke” (in sailing from international waters to a coastline that is not part of Israel) is an expression of Israel’s “right to defend themselves” . Israel says it is prepared for a number of scenarios, ranging “from no violence” (which it knows full well to expect) to
We are preparing ourselves not to panic, and to practice disciplined nonviolence whatever scenario Israel decides to enact.
If they overcome our boat swiftly, they will presumably handcuff us and possibly hood us, before commandeering our ship toward an Israeli port, removing us from the ship, jailing us and (judging from their past actions) deporting us. I don’t know what country I would be deported to, but I would eventually return to the U.S. and to my home city of Chicago, and to a safety I cannot share with the desperate people of Gaza, or friends from throughout this region so troubled by war, much of it instigated by my own country.
The slogan of our flotilla is “Stay Human.” It’s advice that exposure to violence, real or imagined, always tempts us to forget. Young friends I have met in Afghanistan, faced with pervasive everyday precarity I cannot easily imagine, have expressed this idea in a YouTube video which utterly takes my breath away: They ask Gazan youth to hold on to hope and to the capacity for childlike joy: “To friends in Gaza: don’t stay angry for too long, Stay together, and love from us in Afghanistan!”
My fellow passenger John Barber recently visited Gaza, and this morning he told me a harrowing story of a Gazan family, that of a farmer named Nasr, living near the Gazan-Israeli buffer zone. The first attack took place in June of 2010. To quote John’s website: “…the Israeli army attacked the family home while the children were playing outside…Nasr’s wife, Naama, was in the front yard when a tank 500 meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr’s wife, torn to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the narrow dirt road to his home.” Ambulance stoppages are a frequent punitive measure used against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
“After the second attack,” which occurred in April 2011, “Nasr’s family moved to a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night, around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found them at their mother’s grave.” The next day he took them away from that village and back to their land, to try and put the past behind them, and await a future they can barely hope will be kind.
I hope that our ship will make it to Gaza. I hope Johnny Barber can again visit Nasr, and that I can visit the family and the trapped young men who sheltered me during the final days of the crushing December 2008 “Operation Cast Lead” bombardment. I hope that our ship will make it out of dock – acting on an “anonymous complaint,” the government here has demanded an inspection of several days before they will allow our (entirely seaworthy) ship to sail. With its world-headline-producing economic troubles, Greece seems incredibly vulnerable to the intense pressure that the Israeli and U.S. governments seem openly prepared to exert: we hope that neither economic nor political blackmail will succeed at stopping our ship from leaving the spot near Athens where it is waiting to receive us.
“Please don’t lose the human capacity for happiness.” My Afghan friends in the video urge us to stay human. Ali, who speaks in the video, has been harassed by Afghan security forces since becoming active with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. So has his family. Others of his companions have faced death threats, interrogation, arson and theft. Their persistence encourages and guides me, and I struggle to let their persistence urge me on, because staying human is also about doing what is right.
I think of Nasr’s children watching their mother die, and I think that if they’re going to stay human then I and my countrymen and women ought to help. We have to become more human than we’ve so far managed to be: We have to make sacrifices to stop the crimes that are ultimately being committed in our names. In different ways, we have to risk the consequences of being where we need to be when we need to be there. We have to stand up to injustice and with the victims of injustice, and rely on our opponents to find their humanity in time, given enough examples of what it can look like. When we find ourselves, against all odds, staying human, that example surprises us and helps sustain us in hope for the power of humanity. We hope we will be allowed through to Gaza, we hope that the siege will be lifted, and that in this time when humankind can so little afford the nightmares of greed and ignorance that rend the Middle East and that render our leaders incapable of uniting to address ever-more desperate, ever-more-frightening global crises, we as a species, one with no assurance of its perpetual survival, will somehow find some way to stay human.
Mar 06 2011
These happenings on Madison’s Capitol Square are exhilarating — and exhausting.
They are both inspirational and emotionally draining.
Saturday, March 5, was just another day in Madtown. Not much planned, just a little rally. The formal part, with speakers and musicians, was just announced about 24 hours before it began.
So my expectations were low, having seen last Saturday what the biggest demonstration in Wisconsin history looked like, 100,000 strong.
There weren’t 100,000 again today. Maybe there were 40,000 or 30,000 or something in between. It really doesn’t matter at this point. It’s now in the third week, with no end in sight.
The movement lives, and it is growing. Every time Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican cronies commit another outrage, the coalition grows and the opposition gets stronger.
Mar 04 2011
by Kathy Kelly
Recent polls suggest that while a majority of U.S. people disapprove of the war in Afghanistan, many on grounds of its horrible economic cost, only 3% took the war into account when voting in the 2010 midterm elections. The issue of the economy weighed heavily on voters, but the war and its cost, though clear to them and clearly related to the economy in their thinking, was a far less pressing concern.
U.S. people, if they do read or hear of it, may be shocked at the apparent unconcern of the crews of two U.S. helicopter gunships, which attacked and killed nine children on a mountainside in Afghanistan’s Kumar province, shooting them “one after another” this past Tuesday March 1st. (“The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting.” (NYT 3/2/11)).
Four of the boys were seven years old; three were eight, one was nine and the oldest was twelve. “The children were gathering wood under a tree in the mountains near a village in the district,” said Noorullah Noori, a member of the local development council in Manogai district. “I myself was involved in the burial,” Noori said. “Yesterday we buried them.” (AP, March 2, 2011) General Petraeus has acknowledged, and apologized for, the tragedy.
He has had many tragedies to apologize for, just counting Kunar province alone.
Dec 28 2010
From Kathy Kelly in Kabul:
While the US may be the world’s single super power in military terms, it faces another super power: the voices of war-weary millions who detest violence and killing. In Afghanistan, in the United States, and among the populations of countries whose governments have joined the NATO coalition, millions of people are calling for an end to war in Afghanistan.
On New Year’s Day, 01/01/11, people around the world are invited to raise their voices, through Facebook, Twitter, Free Conference calls, Skype, and blogs at several websites in a massive refusal to accept the Afghanistan war any longer. Let your New Year’s resolution be to stand for the people and end wars by sending a digital or spoken peacemaking message to people in Afghanistan. By amassing millions of messages calling for peace, we can create yet another indication that ordinary people within and beyond Afghanistan have had enough of war.
Dec 20 2010
Voices for Creative Nonviolence representatives in Kabul are privileged to be meeting with representatives of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, (AYPV), a group of teenagers based in Bamiyan, Afghanistan who campaign to promote nonviolence. As the Obama administration releases its December Review of U.S. war in Afghanistan, the AYPV, along with Afghans for Peace, have issued a review of their experiences. To express support for their letter, follow this link. — Kathy Kelly.
We Want You Out
An open letter from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and Afghans for Peace
To all the leaders of our world, the leaders of the US-led coalition, the Afghan government, the ‘Taliban/Al-Qaeda’ and regional countries,
We are intolerably angry.
All our senses are hurting.
Our women, our men and yes shame on you, our children are grieving.
Your Afghan civilian-military strategy is a murderous stench we smell, see, hear and breathe.
President Obama, and all the elite players and people of the world, why?
Dec 11 2010
by Kathy Kelly
December 10, 2010
The Obama administration has announced the imminent release of a December Review which will evaluate the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. The military has yet to disclose what the specific categories for evaluation will be. Yet many people in Afghanistan might wish that hunger along with their anger over attacks against civilians could top the list.
In Afghanistan, a nation where 850 children die every day, about a quarter of the population goes hungry. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five.
“Do you think we like to live this way?” an Afghan man asked me, last October, as he led us toward a primitive tent encampment on the outskirts of Kabul. “Do you see how we live? The cold and the rain are coming. How will we protect our children?” He flicked his forefinger on a weather-beaten blanket covering a tent. The blanket immediately ripped.
Jun 24 2010
By Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson
June 24, 2010
Yesterday, accepting General McChrystal’s resignation, President Obama said that McChrystal’s departure represented a change in personnel, not a change in policy. “Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks.” he stated, “We persist and we persevere.”
Yet, President Obama and the U.S. people don’t face up to the ugly truth that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. has routinely committed atrocities against innocent civilians. By ducking that truth, the U.S. reinforces a sense of exceptionalism, which, in other parts of the world, causes resentment and antagonism.