Demanding Democracy in Afghanistan

Dear Stakeholders in Afghanistan,

Forgive this letter.

We felt we could share with you our burdens without incurring your anger or pity.

Much has happened to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers since we met with you for a wonderful hour in Kabul.

Like it is with 30 million other Afghans, our mounting challenges are ‘intolerable and untenable’, and in some instances, rather severe on our souls.

It is improbable that we will see any fruit in our lifetimes.Peace has become a broken ideal. It is a joke derided over tea.

We’re not being negative ; our endeavor to love means that we remain realistically positive, even if love seems to have broken.

But the world is being untrue in ignoring the perpetual breaking of Afghan mothers as peace is torn apart like a goat in the Powers buzkashi game ; the humanitarian statistics and our visual witness prove that this shattering is borne on the backs of the people.

The chiseled Herati-stone sculptured dove which we enthusiastically raised funds to purchase from an Afghan artist, sits silently at Bamiyan Peace Park, inviting visitors to dignity.

One its wings was recently broken off and taken away, as if to break us.

We are no longer shocked.

The energies of local and international communities have been twisted to destruction in Afghanistan for at least 3 decades.

Why?

Why is the media, and the political climate, so antagonistically and obstinately breaking peace?

How much time do we have left to change ourselves, in hope of changing a global predicament?

The people know that the strategy in Afghanistan is failing. They
are paying for it with their lives.

We wish there would be a study like the Global Commission on Drug
Policy, in which ex-Presidents and the ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared clearly a failed ‘war against drugs’.

Like in Mexico where 40,000 Mexicans have died violently since 2007, Afghans need a Caravan of Solace to grieve together. So, in the past few days, we had telephone conversations with Julian LeBaron and Emilio Alvarez from Javier Sicilia’s people’s movement, to think together about how ‘poems die’, and how beautiful things are ignored, laughed at and then criminalized.

We are sorry that in the Commission’s report, Afghanistan, the top
producer of heroin and marijuana, is not mentioned. It is as if in
thinking about water, we ignore the oceans. It is as if Afghans do not exist.

But in it lies a practical way to live again. It’s found on Page 10 of the report, as its very first recommendation: “Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate……… Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately.”

After Kai Eide had resigned ( and we wish he had declared this BEFORE he left his post as Afghanistan’s UN Envoy ), he declared in a preface of a book he wrote, that he had increasingly disagreed with Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan, saying it put too much emphasis on military operations over civilian reconstruction efforts. ‘In my opinion it was a strategy being doomed to fail.’ He said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry had also warned against an imbalance between military and civilian efforts. ‘But none of us gained support for our views,’ Eide wrote.

Afghans and internationals like myself have a shared responsibility to stop being subjects and slaves.

So, we will ask for a conversation.

Y Not converse? The Y Generation across the Middle East, Africa and Europe are already rising up in dignity, to listen and to be heard.

More important than it is for leaders to benefit from listening to and conversing with the people, people who are unconscionably dying by the day need to be affirmed as equal human beings. They need to see democracy being practiced.

The youth volunteers have experienced harassment for their peace
activism, but we realize we should not be defeated by this culture of impunity where the victims are cast as culprits, by the Afghan system of ‘justice’ funded and trained by a complicit world.

The Afghan authorities are stealing from the people while abusing them.

The US/NATO coalition wants a ‘victory’ that would match their
strategic national and client-state interests.

The ‘insurgents’ will naturally resist. For those who live here, it is their land and freedom. Other ‘simple folk’ are ‘ideologically or emotionally attracted to’ the fight like bees to nectar.

ALL these groups feel comfortable and justified in using violent
means. Everybody distrusts everybody. A thousand fatal schemes are
being hatched and changed daily. Hate reigns.

Unfortunately, the world is either unaware, mis-informed, too busy or just passively spectating.

It needs to stop.

Otherwise, a negotiated political settlement ( which the youngest
among us knows is NOT a settlement to benefit the people but to please the Powers ) will be reached, perhaps somewhat like the Treaty of Versailles, setting the stage for future mass conflicts, not inconceivably a regional World War III.

Otherwise, a US/Afghan strategic partnership agreement would be
‘successfully’ signed, nurturing the grounds for continued ‘terrorism’ throughout the average 43-year life span of the Afghan human being.

Faiz said in one of our ‘global days of listening’ telephone
conversations that he believed that a ‘peace movement’ has already
begun in the heart of every Afghan citizen, because the people are so fatigued by loss, and desire a reasonable life.

I wanted to tell Faiz that I was burdened by the poverty of human
empathy, that the peace movement he envisions may be buried before its birth because the world will stare as long as it itself is not acutely hurting, and because it’s hard to find human commitment.

We can’t even find a conversation.

I wanted to tell Faiz that we may have to hurt like the dove.

But I didn’t tell him.

He understands already.

We sincerely hope to visit with you again.

Love,
Hakim and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog
http://globaldaysoflistening.org

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Saudi Arabia’s Freedom Riders

by: Farzaneh Milani

On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.

The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”

The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.”

Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men.

This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Koran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn’t they drive cars today? Which Koranic injunction prohibits them from driving?

Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.

That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.

These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region.

It may require decades to see an end to the Middle East’s gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable.

The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism.

Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across the Middle East, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.

Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement.”