Why the US Should Honor the Courageous Afghan Peace Volunteers
I am grateful that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Singapore have considered my visa re-application in light of the surprising write-in campaign on my behalf, and have kindly granted me a U.S. visitor's visa.
Border officials living in today’s fearful world of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing from wars have a tough time.
I empathize with them and know that many do their administrative best to prevent visitors from over-staying in their countries, while being open to the genuine student, visitor or businessman.
The human race has a challenge.
How do we build face-to-face international relations for peace and justice while understanding immigration concerns?
I’ve been privileged to meet the Afghan Peace Volunteers and their families and to have been changed by their humanity. While impoverished and voiceless in the current global system, they have shown me that with just a little encouragement, relationships within and outside of Afghanistan can be built.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers wanted so much to connect with other human voices that a growing number of peacemakers and I helped them to organize an international program called the ‘Global Days of Listening.’ In their hunger to find friends, these Afghan youth changed my life.
After losing his father to war, Abdulhai has been struggling to find forgiveness. He understands very logically that it’s better not to seek revenge in order not to risk losing his beloved mother or other family members in endless cycles of vengeance. “I can’t imagine losing my mum ; she’s my everything.”
At a peace and justice meeting in Kabul in 2011, Ali and Abdulhai, both 15 years old, had bravely stood up to describe their journey. Abdulhai said, “I don’t want to take revenge. It doesn’t solve the problem.” Ali added, “We Afghans say that ‘Blood cannot wash away blood.’”
Unfortunately, an Afghan elder at the meeting became furious, and angrily retorted,” You are young and have no experience. How can you say what you said? What we must do is to bring all the perpetrators of [this] crime to justice. We cannot forgive them.” Later, over a dinner meal, this elder approached me to ‘berate’ Ali and Abulhai for ‘supporting the Taliban’ in ‘forgiving’ them. “Abdulhai lost his father in the war,” I suggested. “ How can a human being ‘support’ his father’s killers? He doesn’t support them. He wants to forgive them.”
I was shocked at the elder’s reply: “Then, I wish the Taliban had killed Abdulhai too! Don’t bring these kids to Kabul again.”
I’ve not only brought Abdulhai and Ali to many meetings in Kabul, they have also switched to schooling in Kabul so they can continue to build relationships with fellow Afghan youth (68% of the Afghan population is below 25 years of age).
I also hope to accompany them to the U.S. for the Caravan for Peace tour, an opportunity to exchange and nurture their non-violent approach to the war against drugs and terrorism. This would greatly encourage them in the face of ‘condemnation’ from fellow Afghans. They have a potentially powerful role to build restorative justice in their own communities and country.
So I appreciate the challenges of daily decision making at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. And I’m hoping that when Ali and Abdulhai go for their visa interviews on August 5, they will be able to sense the same gratitude I recently felt towards the officials when I had re-applied for a visa to the United States after having been denied on two previous occasions.
1976 Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire has already written to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul with this request : “I urge the consular officials who will review the applications of Ali and Abdulhai to help manifest the potential already developed through Ali’s and Abdulhai’s peacemaking efforts by making it possible for them to communicate with audiences, media, youth groups and good friends, in the United States, for this brief and unrepeatable Peace Caravan in September 2012. The next step of the journey will be back in Kabul .…….. I look forward to visiting the projects they have started which depend on their energies and skills.”