Saturday, October 17, 2009


As most liberals who woke up listening to The Morning Edition on NPR this past week, what is happening in Pakistan . . . scares. the. fucking. shit. out. of. me. I should have paid more attention to this region of the world long before 2001, but I've always been more interested in South East Asia. Selfishly because I've had the opportunity to travel and work there some 7 times over the past 10 years.

In 2005, while I was restlessly exploring and living in New York City, I worked as a production assistance in a couple film festivals and worked for Rubina, a Pakistani woman who was raised in the US. At that point I had traveled to the Thai-Burma border three times, spending something like six total months doing crap work for the people who were doing real work in trying to bring democracy and end violence against the more than 30 ethnic groups in the country.

Just after Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake that shut off communication and supplies to some of its already poorest and most isolated areas, Rubina told me about her desire to bring supplies into those areas and asked my advice on how to get around as an American woman without knowing anyone or where to go or how to do it. My advice to her was to get as close to where you want to go and then hang out in the tea shops that seems to have other foreigners who could also be relief workers. Be personable and start asking questions. Ask them for contacts and don't take the language barrier to getting what you need as a stumbling block. There is always a path around these types of problems, you just have to be dedicated to finding them.

Over the next couple months she gathered donations, bought a ticket to Pakistan, rented a helicopter, bought supplies with the money she raised, and then flew it all in. I'm a very lucky person and I've been able to meet some really amazing activists, Rubina is definitely included, even if she did make it me cry at the Hamptons International Film Festival one afternoon. Even besides the only 3 or 4 hours of sleep that we were able to get and the batshit crazy directors we had to deal with, I loved working that festival, Walk the Line premiered and I deescalated a potentially violent situation with 300 retired New Yorkers who lived south Florida who almost beat the shit of me because we over sold some shitty movie about retired New Yorkers who live in South Florida. But working for Rubina has been one of my biggest highlights. As a shy and not always strong woman, I love being able to work alongside really dedicated and extremely strong women.

The news coming out of Pakistan is usually shocking and full of violence. I have to say I never really hear anything good, unless its in a book that is specifically about something good. But this week really shook me. Each morning my radio turned on at 645am and I layed in bed listening to hostage taking, bombings, and audacious attacks on boys training to be police officers. I met so many brave and committed Burmese people who have taken up arms in a way to save their families and maybe one day their country and I think of them when I hear about attacks on the Iraqi, Afgahni, and Pakistani boyas who have choose to take up arms.

I believe that non-violence is a tactic not a lifestyle, a tactic that 99% of the time is the only tactic. I support the men and women in Burma who carry weapons with them and who fire on the Burmese military when they enter their villages. And I support the men (and women?) who are choosing to join the police, military or otherwise in South Asia to fight against the Taliban.

I understand that it is much more complicated issue than this. As in most conflict areas where government sponsored armed resistance are in the process of building up, it is not cut and dry that the boys being trained are there on their own accord. There is poverty, corruption and ignorance in play in building an army during wartime. I believe attending school would solve more problems, but somebody has to make sure students aren't murdered in their classrooms or schools shut down completely like in Zimbabwe. Or in the case of the over 25,000 Wahhabi madrasahs in Pakistan, taking it further, and make sure that students aren't being indoctrinated into an extremist and violent ideology. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is the military's role, but the deescalation of violence would help close these madrasahs in the long run.

I have marched in anti-war rallies, worked for anti-violence organizations, and told a friend of my aunt's inside a catholic church in the deep south in 2007 when she congratulated my aunt for her sons serving in the military during wartime that I didn't see anything to be happy about and we'd much rather my 18 year old cousins stay home and go to college. I believe that she mumbled something about me going to hell, which I'll give her, but I was too angry to hear anything she had to say after that. Given all that I do in my life in the name of peace and education, I'm not sure that at this time we should pull completely out of Afghanistan or end our help to the Pakistani army.

Before 2001 the Taliban could barely get boys to join them and could be found in only 20% of Afghanistan, today the Taliban rules over 70% and are organized enough to pull off several brazen attacks that killed 150 people in a matter of just a couple days this week. I understand that there are reasons the Taliban has been so successful in the past few years and the US actions are the biggest ones. But what do we do now?

One thing is to put real resources into education and economic and social development of women and in children in the area. Because as we all know from conflicts the world over, when women are healthy, all of society is healthy. But I'm not convinced that is the only answer. It's a huge piece of the answer for long term stability, but what about for today? What's the answer for protecting the students and teachers against violence so they can go to school today and tomorrow and the next day and not get caught in some fanatics backpack bomb or specifically targeted because she is a little girl going to school?

There is no reason to take me seriously in this conversation. I barely know what I'm talking about the majority of my waking life after all. I just believe that as activists we shouldn't be so quick to say that no violence ever is the answer. In 2001, those of us that protested against the occupation in Iraq were right. Today is a different situation. I don't know what the answer is, but I do think we, as people who believe in peace, should be more thoughtful in our call to action right now. I also believe that having people who say 'no violence ever' is an extremely important part of making sure that us in the middle don't swing too far out of our league.

Happy rainy and freezing Saturday,

1 comment:

Renee Claire said...

Also, take a read from a 2007 interview with Greg Mortenson. He is the mountaineer who started building schools in rural Pakistan in the Waziristan.