Saturday, April 16, 2005

Remembering Afghanistan 

Originally published in the Old Gold and Black, Wake Forest University, on September 6, 2002.

For many Americans next Thursday, September 12, 2002, will be New Year’s Day. It will be the start of year one following the attack on America. Yet, for the rest of the world, and indeed for many other Americans, it will be yet another day in September. Citizens of the United States will certainly mourn, and moments of silence will most likely be observed. Meanwhile, others around the globe will nod their heads in our direction and then resume their business. Before we come to this day, let us take a moment to reflect on the past year, what has happened, and how we as a nation and as a member of the world community have responded.

A note on my perspective: I write to you as one who recently learned much about the world’s opinion of the United States and as one who was shocked by what he discovered. I do not hate America, by any stretch of the imagination. I love America for what it is supposed to stand for and for all it has given me. Yet, due to my recent experiences abroad, I can no longer be complacent about my nation’s foreign policies. Criticism is necessary and good. Onward.

On September 11, 2001, a foreign enemy breached continental American soil for the first time since the War of 1812, and it was breached thoroughly. A well-planned and well-executed attack was carried out destroying Americans’ sense of security and invincibility as well as buildings and lives. Over three thousand American lives were lost; it was undeniably a tragedy. Children were left orphaned, wives and husbands lost their beloved, and brothers and sisters were left alone in the world.

Yet, the knee-jerk reaction with which we responded did not endear us to the global community and was indicative of our nation’s destructive foreign policies. Frankly, I was surprised that we waited as long as we did before we attacked someone. The amazing fact remains that almost one year and billions of dollars later, we still do not know who committed this act! President Bush’s “War on Terrorism” has accomplished almost nothing but the slow loss of international support, especially from the Arab world. The “War on Terrorism” is what I have termed the Great National Excuse. It is our excuse to do anything that we want, to any other country (even to any other individual in our own country) and call it “fighting terrorism”.

This summer I spoke with an Afghani woman while on a study program in Switzerland. Not only is she Afghani, but a citizen of the United States of America. Indeed, she is a college professor, supposedly a well respected profession. Yet when she flew back to the U.S. from her annual visit to Afghani refugee camps, she was forced to remain in the airport for fourteen hours while officials carried out the directives of the Patriot Act (reading every paper she had on her, every file on her laptop, and even listening to every last second of her musical CD collection). With this Patriot Act we are “fighting terrorism”, but if you read it closely what you find is a part of the Great National Excuse that strips citizens of their constitutional rights! Under this atrocity, amendments 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 14 no longer apply. Look it up for yourself if you do not believe me.

This is only one example of the Great National Excuse, but there are many others. The U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan delivered myriad results. One: it has removed the oppressive Taliban government from power. Two: it has hindered the activities of the al’Qaeda group and executed or imprisoned many of its members. Three: It has claimed the lives of over three thousand, nine hundred Afghani civilians who had nothing to do with either al’Qaeda or the Taliban. This is because, according to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, “some of our ordnance ended up where it should not have.” How astute.

Someone I met this summer asked me if we held a moment of silence after the September 11 attacks, and I responded affirmatively. They then asked me if we held a moment of silence for the Afghani people who died as a result of U.S. bombing. Have we? How many more will have to die violently before we hold that moment of silence?

How many of us Wake students actually know the first thing about Afghanistan? I willingly admit that before this summer, I knew nothing, even including its location. Some mediocre knowledge about the nation may help us to understand what has transpired and what is continuing to unfold. In 1979, with government and power structures crumbling, Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union. The U.S. decided to involve itself on behalf of Afghanistan over the next nine years by supplying the Afghani people with funds, weapons, and training. One student in our Afghani school of war paid particular attention and soon distinguished himself from the rest. Saudi national Osama bin Laden was our champion in Afghanistan.

After the war ended, the U.S. disappeared with all its aid, money, and support. Afghanistan was left weak and unstable. Afghan citizens could not understand why the U.S. quit their presence there, nor what was to become of their future. It has often been said since September 11, 2001, that the attacks were a wake-up call to the U.S. Yet, how many of us knew to what we were supposed to wake up? If indeed Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, then perhaps he, in a twisted, evil, and horrible way, was trying to say, “Hey! Remember us?” This is inflammatory, I know, but please, just try and think about it in that way for one moment. Don’t get me wrong, the attacks on our nation can in no way ever be justified, but they can be understood. To me, understanding the attacks in this way seems to answer President Bush’s question of “why do they hate us” so much better (and more truthful) than he did himself.

After any tragedy, an important step towards healing is grieving. Part of grieving is taking time for self-reflection, for really delving deep within ourselves (and our nation) and for figuring out who we are. We did not allow ourselves time to grieve - American flags tacked onto bumpers do not count - and therefore, we eliminated self-reflection. Can we, after one year, go back to that grieving stage and think inwardly? I pray that we can at least try, for it is there that true healing can begin and pave the road to peace.


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