Friday, April 29, 2011

Bill to Expand Global War on Terror

In November 2009, on the eve of a long-delayed decision regarding the Pentagon request for additional troops to Afghanistan, the White House convened three days of meetings. They invited three communities to join; faith-based organizations, development agencies, and peace groups and academics.

As alternatives to military solutions and sustainable Afghan-led alternatives were articulated, a revealing comment from the government officials circulated through the discussion. It often went like this. We agree with you, but “it is hard to turn the ship around.’ We are trying. The decision was to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan within the next six months.

Yesterday’s announcement of the ‘new war cabinet’ and some of the critical analysis it fostered makes clear that the CIA and the Pentagon – the key bodies in fighting the global war on terror - were seeking to deflect public concern about the actions of US forces abroad by increasingly acting in secret.

Now we hear about a dangerous new bill from the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that proposes to greatly expand the power of the President and the Secretary of Defense to start wars by stripping away congressional checks and balances.

Rep. Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced legislation (H.R. 968) handing the Executive Branch a blank check for endless war. By declaring the United States in armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces” this bill would allow any president to go to war against anyone, anywhere, anytime. Exactly who are these “associated forces?” Chairman McKeon’s bill leaves that entirely up to the Secretary of Defense.

Tom Andrews posted this alert yesterday.

Senator John McCain and Congressman “Buck” McKeon, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, are proposing: Congress should give the President and the Secretary of Defense a blank check to wage war against anyone he or she declares “associated” with al-Qaeda or the Taliban – anytime, anywhere, anyhow.


Just what and who is an “associated force” of al Qaeda and the Taliban? Chairman McKeon’s bill leaves that determination entirely up to the Secretary of Defense. Shock and awe – the sequel – might not be far behind. And there would be no need to get authorization from Congress before the missiles start flying – that would all be covered in this new blank-check legislation.

What could be more efficient?!? No more messy Congressional authorization, with all of those hearings, debates and prolonged votes. No more having to deal with intruding Congressional inquiries! No more having to worry about the likes of Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) who insist on accountability by the administration and oversight by the Congress!

This is not a pipe dream. Legislation that will do what I have just described has not only been introduced in both the House (H.R. 968) and Senate (S. 551), it is likely to end up in the Defense Authorization bill that emerges from the House Armed Services Committee a few weeks from now. Those keeping score should note that the new authorization is:

• Global in scope. With no geographic boundary, the Secretary of Defense could take America to war in any country in the world where a suspected terrorist resides;
• Never ending. This language is open ended and doesn’t require the President to return to Congress for additional authority;
• Divorced from national security concerns. Unlike the 2001 authorization passed days after the 9/11 attacks that ties the authority to use military force to a direct attack on America, this language is not linked to any attack or imminent threat to American citizens.

It is arguably the greatest ceding of unchecked authority to the Executive Branch in modern history. Not only would this bill abdicate Congress’ authority to declare war, it would relieve the Administration of the need to seek Congressional resolutions of support or authorizations for new military actions.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to providing a blank check for war, the proposed legislation would give the president dangerous new powers to detain anyone suspected of links to terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the legislation, titled the “Detainee Security Act of 2011”). It requires that all suspects be held by the military (unless the Defense Secretary grants a waiver), and either tried by military commission or held indefinitely. This provision alone diminishes the authority of law enforcement agencies integral to our anti-terror efforts, obstructs the counterterrorism operations of officials who have a record of successful intelligence gathering, overburdens the military with responsibilities it does not want, and limits the president’s options in defending America’s national security interests. Dozens of federal agencies with critical expertise would be prevented from participating in a review of whether suspects posed a threat to national security.

The odds of the Committee stripping any of this dangerous language from the bill before it hits the floor of the House are about as long as my being signed by my Boston Red Sox. House leadership is very likely to support their Chairman and push hard for passage on the floor. Passage of similar language in the Senate Armed Services Committee is not a sure bet, but it is a distinct possibility. While the Democrats hold a voting edge on the panel, one of those “edges” is none other than Senator Joe Lieberman – a Co-sponsor of the McCain version of the bill! That leaves Senator Ben Nelson as the swing vote, putting opponents of a blank check for endless war in a very precarious position at best. If Senator Nelson votes for the bill, Senator McCain will have a victory in Committee and have plenty of momentum as the bill heads to the Senate floor.

But the first stop for the bill will be the House Armed Services Committee and then the House floor. It will begin to make its way in just a few weeks and a final floor vote will more than likely occur by Memorial Day.

Those who believe that this legislative attempt to grease the skids for the next US military adventure is outrageous and irresponsible need to worry. Better still, we need to get busy. Chairman McKeon’s legislation has so far been flying well below the radar of public attention. His bill is alive and well without a peep of public opposition or concern. This has to change now.

Take one minute right now and tell your Representative to oppose Chairman McKeon’s blank check for endless war.

Members of Congress need to start hearing from opponents of endless war and supporters of the U.S. Constitution. This tidy little provision – that heretofore has gone completely unnoticed by the public - should not be allowed to be tucked into a Defense Authorization bill without a fight. If there isn’t one, and Chairman McKeon and Senator McCain prevail, public opposition to any future US military action around the world won’t matter. It will have already been authorized by Congress.

AFSC is on the steering committee of Win Without War.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Petraeus, Panetta and War Fighting

Every minute of every day our government spends $2.1 million on the military. To slash that spending we have joined the New Priorities Network, a broad coalition of groups working together to fund jobs and services, end wars, and cut the pentagon budget.

And there is a lot to be done - Linda Bilmes lays out some of the challenges here.

”Even the Pentagon admits that it has “lost visibility’’ on spending. We spend $600 billion per year on the “base’’ military budget — but anything we ask it to do — like fighting wars or distributing humanitarian aid — costs extra. It’s like having a fire department that charges extra if your house catches on fire.”

The New York Times looks at the war-fighting picture in Afghanistan following the announcement of President Obama's new team. Mr. Panetta will leave the CIA to head the Department of Defense and General Petraeus the current US commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan will take over as head of the CIA.

"As C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta hastened the transformation of the spy agency into a paramilitary organization, overseeing a sharp escalation of the C.I.A.’s bombing campaign in Pakistan using armed drone aircraft, and an increase in the number of secret bases and covert operatives in remote parts of Afghanistan.

General Petraeus, meanwhile, has aggressively pushed the military deeper into the C.I.A.’s turf, using Special Operations troops and private security contractors to conduct secret intelligence missions. As commander of the United States Central Command in September 2009, he also signed a classified order authorizing American Special Operations troops to collect intelligence in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and other places outside of traditional war zones.

The result is that American military and intelligence operatives are at times virtually indistinguishable from each other as they carry out classified operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Some members of Congress have complained that this new way of war allows for scant debate about the scope and scale of military operations. In fact, the American spy and military agencies operate in such secrecy now that it is often hard to come by specific information about the American role in major missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya and Yemen."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Talking to the Taliban - A Roundtable

Decades of violence has traumatized generations, displaced one-quarter of the population and left hundreds and hundreds of thousands dead. Invasion, occupation, and intervention from bordering countries, and the arming of proxy militias by the US and others ‘outside’ powers have damaged traditional and governmental structures and elevated the use of force to resolve conflict.

The result has been a sustained absence of the rule of law and a culture of impunity on all sides. Many Afghans are addressing this challenge through concepts of transitional justice and the need for truth and reconciliation. Most of all there needs to be transparency. No more shortcuts and backroom deals at the expense of ordinary Afghans.

Will these principles be applied to negotiations with the Taliban?

Here is a sample of different positions.

Muhammad Tahir, writing for Radio Free Europe (Don't Negotiate Over The Heads Of The Afghan People) gives voice to the influential in order to make the case for truth and reconciliation. It begins with the wounds from the Taliban era.

Malalai Joya – former member of Parliament.

"What kind of negotiations they are talking about?" she asked during a recent appearance on the U.S. radio and TV news program "Democracy Now." "The people want all those killers to be brought to criminal courts for the war crimes they have committed."

Ahmad Zia Masud - Brother of the slain Tajik guerilla leader

"There is no way the Tajiks would sit down with the Taliban," says Ahmad Zia Masud, the brother of the slain Tajik guerilla leader. "It's a grave mistake that the West is supporting these so-called negotiations."

More Than Reconciliation Needed

"But it is precisely the complexity of this bloody history that makes it unlikely that genuine peace can be achieved without genuine reconciliation. And genuine reconciliation cannot be achieved by fiat. Nor can it be achieved by pretending that all is well, or that everything will be great if everyone simply agrees to move ahead and forget about the past. You can only avoid mistakes in the future by honestly confronting what has happened.

A genuine and sustainable peace process must include a formal mechanism to ensure that everyone's concerns are properly addressed. The best forum would be a conference sponsored by the international community -- perhaps one reminiscent of the Bonn Conference in 2001 that brought the interim government to power after the fall of the Taliban.

At the same time, it should be clearly stated that no real reconciliation can take place without a truth-finding process to clarify the nature of crimes against humanity committed both by the Taliban and its opponents during the long years of internal Afghan conflict.

This does not necessarily have to lead to criminal prosecutions. That would undoubtedly complicate the efforts to find a lasting peace in Afghanistan. The experience of post-apartheid South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers a fitting example of the sort of process Afghanistan needs. The Karzai government is fond of referring to "reconciliation" but less eager to talk about the "truth" component of the equation. But lasting peace cannot happen without both."

Additional Resources

Chatham House: No Shortcut to Stability: Justice Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan

“The challenge is that it is precisely now, when the pressure is growing, that it is most important to have a long-term perspective, to recognize that there is no shortcut to stability. That requires making justice an issue of core interests, one that will command not just lip-service but serious political capital when it comes into conflict with other priorities. This is the single overarching recommendation of this report, for both Afghans and foreigners: that the strategic weight given to justice should be much greater across the board. What this means in practice will vary from case to case, though a key element is the need to send a coherent political signal. Substantive change will inevitably involve a degree of political heat (indeed that will be a sign of an effective impact), and will demand compromise, diplomacy and tactical intelligence rather than simply the promotion of abstract principles; it can only be one part of a strategy to build”

Human Rights Watch: Repeal Amnesty Law

“The National Stability and Reconciliation Law was passed by parliament in 2007 by a coalition of powerful warlords and their supporters to prevent the prosecution of individuals responsible for large-scale human rights abuses in the preceding decades. The amnesty law states that all those who were engaged in armed conflict before the formation of the Interim Administration in Afghanistan in December 2001 shall "enjoy all their legal rights and shall not be prosecuted."

Also noting that.

"The existence of this law is as much a test of the principles of Afghanistan's international backers, such as the United States, as it is of Karzai," said Adams. "Will they stand with abusive warlords and insurgents, or will they stand with the Afghan people?"

Is talking to the Taliban a betrayal of Afghanistan’s women?
New Internationalist Magazine

"The US is scheduled to start a partial withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in a couple of months’ time. Talk is in the air of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. But what would it mean for Afghan women and the rights that they have struggled to gain in recent years? Our debaters this month, Orzala Ashraf and Michael Semple, are both passionate workers for peace and justice – but they take opposite positions on a thorny issue with global ramifications."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One Minute for Peace | The Mural

Fresh Mural Hits the Heart of Little 5 Points

From our Atlanta office:

Check out this minute long time laspe showing the creation of a mural inspired by the One Minute For Peace campaign.


We've been working with Camron Wiltshire, of We Are Change Atlanta, for several months to develop a mural for the 5-Spot wall in little 5-Points. The 5-Spot gave us permission to put the mural up last October after our Love Bombs Over Euclid Event.

Camron purposed a mural inspired by AFSC's "One Minute For Peace" campaign, which basically draws attention to the gross crisis in spending priorities our federal government continues to perpetuate. Everyone was knocked out by Camron's design. Volunteers came out of the woodwork to help put the mural up, it really looks great.

We're really excited to have the mural up in such a prominent spot. Thousands of folks walk by the wall off Euclid over each weekend.

Big thanks to the 5-Spot for the space, Camron Wiltshire for the amazing design and heading up the mural painting, Angie Brooks for scaffolding, SCAP for providing resources, and all the volunteers who helped paint, took pictures and video!!!

There will be a few minor touch ups to the mural this week, including the addition of the One Minute For Peace website and the articulation that the numbers presented are the 2012 recommended discretionary budget.

Action: Sign Our Petition

Monday, April 25, 2011

Huge Prison Escape Kandahar

* The scene outside Kandahar prison after a previous escape in 2008.

Hundreds of Taliban prisoners escaped from Kandahar's Sarposa prison in a daring escape Sunday night. The escape from an Afghan run prison has exposed glaring security gaps and led to a huge hunt for the fugitives. Kandahar is considered the spritual home of the Taliban leadership.

All armed forces increasing.

The Bookings Afghanistan index notes that from 2004 – 2009 ‘Taliban’ forces multiplied roughly tenfold from (1,770-3,200) to 30,000. Afghan government forces tripled, and US forces have grown to 100,000. Increasing the levels for Afghans on all fronts.


Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Gulam Dastageer Mayar, the director of prisons in Kandahar, says police are investigating the jailbreak.

"Most of the 467 prisoners who escaped were political prisoners," he says. "They had dug into [the prison] from some village, but it's not entirely clear how they did it. The police are investigating. At least eight of the escaped prisoners were rearrested this morning."

Sarposa prison, rebuilt after a 2008 jailbreak, is supposed to be one of Afghanistan's most secure. In June 2008, more than 800 prisoners, including Taliban insurgents, had escaped from the same prison after a suicide bomber blew up the facility's gates and destroyed a nearby army check-post.

The Prison sits on the outskirts of Kandahar city and holds both captured insurgents and criminal prisoners from across southern Afghanistan, where thousands of American troops have spearheaded the campaign against rural Taliban strongholds.

The Taliban, in its own statement, said 541 prisoners escaped through an extensive tunnel that took months to construct and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations.

The statement said that "mujahedin started digging a 320-meter tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy checkpoints and [the] Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison."

The Taliban said the tunnel was completed late on April 24, with hundreds of insurgents escaping over a 4 1/2-hour period.

Kandahar: Quick Facts
Founded by Alexander the Great 2,500 years ago
Second largest city in Afghanistan with a population of 300,000
Central trading city in the country with an international airport
Manufactures wool, felt, silk
Crops: Opium, grapes, grain and tobacco

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Global War on Terror – The Costs

Ever wonder what type of information is available to elected officials as they continue to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The Congressional Research Service actually provides a huge number of authoritative reports for members of Congress. Amy Belasco is the author of a number that look at the financial cost of the global war on terror. Her most recent update was released at the end of March 2011. She has a interesting section at the end on previous congressional efforts to cut funding to wars.

The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11
Amy Belasco
, Specialist in U.S. Defense Policy and Budget
Congressional Research Service, March 29, 2011

Here is what else you will find.

“Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks…”


Between FY2009 and FY2010, average monthly DOD spending for Afghanistan grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month, a 50% increase while average troop strength almost doubled from 44,000 to 84,000 as part of the troop surge announced by the President last year. Troop strength in Afghanistan is expected to average 102,000 in FY2011. DOD’s plans call for troop levels to fall by less than 4,000 in FY2012 unless the President decides otherwise as part of his decision to “begin transition to Afghan security lead in early 2011. . . [to ] a responsible, conditions-based U.S. troop reduction in July 2011.” At the same time, the President announced a long-term U.S. commitment to a NATO summit goal of “a path to complete transition by the end of 2014.” It is currently unclear how quickly or slowly troop levels will fall this summer or in later years to meet these goals.”


“Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has initiated three military operations:

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) covering primarily Afghanistan and other small Global War on Terror (GWOT) operations ranging from the Philippines to Djibouti that began immediately after the 9/11 attacks and continues;

Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) providing enhanced security for U.S. military bases and other homeland security that was launched in response to the attacks and continues at a modest level; and

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) that began in the fall of 2002 with the buildup of troops for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, continued with counter-insurgency and stability operations, and is slated to be renamed Operation New Dawn as U.S. troops focus on an advisory and assistance role.”


Some 94% of this funding goes to the Department of Defense (DOD) to cover primarily incremental war-related costs, that is, costs that are in addition to DOD’s normal peacetime activities. ..


[T]he Administration initiated several programs specifically targeted at problems that developed in the Afghan and Iraq wars:

Coalition support to cover the logistical costs of allies, primarily Pakistan, conducting counter-terror operations in support of U.S. efforts;

Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) providing funds to individual commanders for small reconstruction projects and to pay local militias in Iraq and Afghanistan to counter insurgent or Taliban groups;

Afghan Security Forces Fund and the Iraq Security Forces Fund to pay the cost of training, equipping and expanding the size of the Afghan and Iraqi armies and police forces; and

Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs) Defeat Fund to develop, buy, and deploy new devices to improve force protection for soldiers against roadside bombs or IEDs.


Congressional Options to Affect Military Operations

As interest in alternate policies for first Iraq and now Afghanistan has grown, Congress may turn to the Vietnam, and other experience to look for ways to affect military operations and troop levels in Iraq. In the past, Congress has considered both funding and non-funding options. Most observers would maintain that restrictions tied to appropriations have been more effective.

Restrictive funding options generally prohibit the obligation or expenditure of current or previously appropriated funds. Obligations occur when the government pays military or civilian personnel, or the services sign contracts or place orders to buy goods or services. Expenditures, or outlays, take place when payment is provided.

The Vietnam Experience

Past attempts or provisions to restrict funding have followed several patterns, including those that cut off funding


One or both houses may also state a “sense of the Congress,” or non-binding resolution that does not need to be signed by the President, that U.S. military operations should be wound down or ended or forces withdrawn.

While only a handful of provisions have been enacted, congressional consideration of these various limiting provisions did place pressure on the Administration and thus influenced the course of events. For example, the well-known Cooper-Church provision that prohibited the introduction of U.S. ground troops into Cambodia was enacted in early 1971 after U.S. forces had invaded and then been withdrawn from Cambodia. That provision was intended to prevent the reintroduction of troops.69 Although President Nixon did not reintroduce U.S. troops, the United States continued to bomb Cambodia for the next three years.

Later in 1973, Congress passed two provisions that prohibited the obligation or expenditures of “any funds in this or any previous law on or after August 15, 1973” for combat “in or over or from off the shores of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.”70 The final version of that provision reflected negotiations between the Administration and Congress about when the prohibition would go into effect, with August 15, 1973 set in the enacted version. Bombing did, in fact, stop on that day.

Several well-known proposals that were not enacted—two McGovern-Hatfield amendments and an earlier Cooper-Church amendment—were also part of this Vietnam-era jockeying between the Administration and Congress. One McGovern-Hatfield amendment prohibited expenditure of previously appropriated funds after a specified date “in or over Indochina,” except for the purpose of withdrawing troops or protecting our Indochinese allies, while another also prohibited spending funds to support more than a specified number of troops unless the president notified the Congress of the need for a 60 day extension. The earlier Cooper-Church amendment prohibited the expenditure of any funds after July 1, 1970 to retain troops in Cambodia “unless specifically authorized by law hereafter.”

Generally, Congress continued to provide funds for U.S. troops in Vietnam at the requested levels as the Nixon Administration reduced troop levels. Overall, funding restrictions have generally proven more effective than the War Powers Act, which has been challenged by the executive branch on constitutional grounds.

Recent Restrictions Proposed

Most recently, as part of the July 1, 2010 debate over the House amended version of H.R. 4899, the FY2010 Supplemental, the House considered three amendments designed to restrict funding or troop levels for the Afghan war. The amendments are similar to some of those proposed during the Vietnam war.

Amendment No. 3 would delete all military funding for the Afghan war , and was defeated 25 to 376.

Amendment No. 4 would limit the obligation and expenditure of funds to the protection and “safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel who are in Afghanistan,” and was defeated 100 to 321.

Amendment No. 5 would require the President to submit a plan for a “safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of the Armed Forces from Afghanistan,” along with a “timetable for the completion of that redeployment and information regarding variables that could alter that timetable,” as well as require that none of the funds in the act be obligated or expended “in a manner that is inconsistent with the President’s policy announced on December 1, 2009, to begin the orderly withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan after July 1, 2011,” unless the Congress approves a joint resolution that would receive expedited consideration in both houses. This amendment was defeated 162 to 260.

US Drone Strikes Kill 25 in Pakistan | US to Begin Drone Strikes in Libya

Two U.S. pilotless aircraft fired four missiles into a house in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Friday killing 25 militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The strike came two days after a visit to Islamabad by Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military official, in which he expressed concern over links between Pakistani security agents and militants attacking U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.

According to AFP the strikes inflame anti-US feeling, which is already running high after the January killing of two Pakistani men in a busy Lahore street by a US embassy official later revealed to be working for the CIA.

Last month's US drone attack led Pakistani civilian and military leaders to publicly protest the civilian casualties, although the drone campaign is believed to operate with the tacit consent of the government.

Missile attacks doubled last year, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.

Additional Resource: The Long War Journal has a chart of US airstrikes in Pakistan from 2004 - 2011

US to begin drone strikes in Libya

The US announced it will begin using armed drones against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, raising further concerns about "mission creep" in Libya after a trio of European powers also decided this week to send military advisers to train the rebels. Sen. John McCain called the rebels "heroes" on a surprise visit to Benghazi today.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday evening that President Obama had approved the use of drones for strikes against Col. Qaddafi's forces and defense positions. The announcement marks the United States' return to a direct combat role in the Libyan conflict, which had ceased when the US handed control of Libya operations to NATO in early April, according to the Los Angeles Times.

AFSC Statement on Libya
“We believe that it is morally unacceptable to allow military tactics to lead our response to human crises. The current foreign military assault on Libya is a step in the wrong direction, one that may lead the country to further instability, human suffering, and protracted violent conflict.“

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Muslim Voices

In December 2007, more than 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they would wish to say to the world.

This is what they said.

It is a treat to watch.

The Cost of War to Indiana

Eyes Wide Open, the American Friends Service Committee’s exhibition on the human cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, features a pair of empty boots honoring each U.S. military casualty. The exhibit started in January 2004 when the US casualties in Iraq numbered 500 as a local project in Chicago. As the casualties grew so did the exhibit and it toured the country extensively until May 2007. When the casualties in Iraq passed 3500 it was determined to split the exhibit up into smaller state-based exhibits. Eyes Wide Open has been seen by millions of people across the country and has involved thousands of volunteers.

Today in Indiana

Over 177 pairs of empty combat boots – tagged with the names of Indiana soldiers who have died in the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars – will be displayed with a visual representation of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have died during the conflicts.

Earlham College
Thursday 21 April 2011
10 AM – 9 PM

Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland

In May 2004, the FBI and local Philadelphia police raided the Ansaarullah mosque and arrested its imam, Mohamed Ghorab, on the charges that his first marriage had been fraudulent; he was eventually deported to Egypt. The incident is the focus of Salisbury's harrowing but shapeless book, which examines the devastation of Philadelphia's Muslim community after the government investigation and anti-Arab hysteria after 9/11.

A Pulitzer Prize–winning staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Salisbury builds the text around the personal stories of the many people he interviewed over four years; along the way, he delivers harsh criticism of the government's investigative techniques and draws explicit parallels to his own family's experiences with government surveillance in the late 1960s. Though digressive and anecdotal, the text acquires cumulative power, especially in its vivid portrayals of Imam Ghorab, whom it follows from his childhood, and his wife, Meriem Moumen, who discovered religion as a single mother in her 20s. Their heartbreaking story gives this frequently diffuse text a human center.

- From Publishers Weekly

Last week Stephan spoke at Friends Center in Philadelphia as part of a forum looking at surveillance and intimidation of the Muslim community.

In The Sights of the FBI:
Assaults on Civil Liberties From COINTELPRO to Today

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the disclosure of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) following the March 1971 break-in of the FBI office in Media, PA. Files removed from the office revealed a widespread program of surveillance, intimidation, and harassment of anti-war and radical social change activists.

Panel Discussion

David Kairys, Temple law professor and civil rights attorney
Luis Sanabria, National Boricua Human Rights Network
Stephan Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer and author of Mohamed's Ghosts
Mary Catherine Roper, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Sponsored by the First Amendment Network (FAN), a coalition of groups committed to protecting free speech and the right to dissent.

Stephan Salisbury is the senior cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer where he has been a reporter for three decades. He has covered everything from the Pennsylvania prison system, unrest in Ireland and Eastern Europe, the coup in Turkey, to the culture wars in the United States and disruptions of American life in the wake of September 11, 2001. He has received numerous awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize as part of an Inquirer team investigating local election fraud in 1995. He is married to the painter, Jennifer Baker; they have a daughter and a son.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nonviolent Direct Action

On Saturday I had a chance to visit the new International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro (North Carolina). It is a dramatic space built around one of the nation’s most powerful statements against racial segregation and the bold actions of four young men from North Carolina A&T University. Locals call it the sit-in museum.

It is a sweeping exhibit. Documenting how the civil rights movement used mass nonviolent action to change the face of the South. Inspiring.

I was pleased to discover at the end of the tour – along a moving portrait wall and iconic images from Tiananmen Square and Berlin – that there was a looping video clip affirming modern nonviolent movements and direct action.

The clip features only one person and a crowd she was inspiring in Afghanistan.

The woman was Malalai Joya.

The Greensboro Chronology

In the fall of 1959, four young men (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond) enrolled as freshmen at North Carolina A&T University. The four young men quickly became a close-knit group and met every evening in their dorm rooms for "bull sessions". It was during these nightly discussions that they considered challenging the institution of segregation.

The breaking point for the group came after Christmas vacation when Joseph McNeil was returning to N.C. A&T after spending the holidays at home in New York. McNeil was denied service at a Greyhound bus station in Greensboro. McNeil’s frustrating experience was shared by the group, and they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices - even if it meant their own lives - to provoke change in society.

On that final night in January 1960 in Scott Hall, the four friends challenged each other to stop talking and take action. They didn't realize the journey they would take the next day would ignite a movement, change a nation and inspire a world.


MONDAY, FEB. 1, 1960

Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond (The Greensboro Four) entered the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., around 4:30 p.m. and purchased merchandise at several counters. They sat down at the store's "whites only" lunch counter and ordered coffee, and were denied service, ignored and then asked to leave. They remained seated at the counter until the store closed early at 5 p.m. The four friends immediately returned to campus and recruited others for the cause.

Additional Resource: History of Nonviolence Direct Action (ACT UP)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sort Out Drone Ethics or "Risk our Humanity"

Copied in full from Adam Rawnsley posted to Danger Room.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense would like British policymakers to start discussing the ethical development and use of unmanned aerial systems — before the Rise of the Machines, that is.

As first reported by The Guardian, a new study published by the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense warns that tackling the ethics of drones is important to do now, before we’re up to our ears in robots. “The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems” by the Ministry’s in-house think tank nudges British defense planners to question whether their growing reliance on unmanned systems will make war too remote (and frequent) or allow robots to take on responsibilities that may be better suited for humans.

“It is essential that, before unmanned systems become ubiquitous (if it is not already too late) that we consider this issue and ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance,” it warns, “we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely.”

The report also points to U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan as proof of how unmanned systems have made the use of force likelier in places where commanders may have otherwise opted out. “That these activities are exclusively carried out by unmanned aircraft, even though very capable manned aircraft are available, and that the use of ground troops in harm’s way has been avoided, suggests that the use of force is totally a function of the existence of an unmanned capability,” it argues.

Whether we’d be hitting targets in Yemen in their absence or not, it’s clear that acquisitions of unmanned systems and the technology that powers them are moving fast. Today, the Defense Department has at least 7,000 drones – so many that now one in 50 troops in Afghanistan isn’t even a human. Research and development is already underway on everything from ambulance drones that treat and ferry the wounded to hospitals to a next generation killer drone that can take off and land on aircraft carriers.

The authors of the report envision a future battlefield in which both complexity and the desire to save on manpower costs will drive demand for more autonomy in unmanned systems. With a shrinking role for humans in the operation of systems equipped to mete out lethal force, it’s important that the U.K. quickly develop policy on “acceptable machine behaviour in future.” Perhaps to prod that discussion, the authors use the Terminator film franchise as a reference to do some provocative wondering aloud.

“There is a danger that time is running out,” it says, “is the technological genie already out of the ethical bottle, embarking us all on an incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality?”

100,000 US Troops in Afghanistan

This is the first graphic you see in the new Brookings Afghanistan index. There are 46,000 other foreign forces in the country as well. In addition, according to the Congressional Research Service there were 112,092 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan last year (March 2010).

With no political commentary the raw numbers are startling. One of the most revealing charts is on revenue.

Figure 3.16 shows that Afghanistan’s general government revenue was $1.3 billion while foreign aid was $4.8 billion. That means more than two-thirds of the operating expenses of the country are being provided by the international community. Sadly – almost every bit of it is focused on a military framework for security - a strategy that threatens to leave a huge Afghan Army and Police the country can’t possibly sustain.

Today’s New York Times touches on the issue of how Afghans will pay for a greatly enlarged police and military, which by some estimates will require $10 billion a year to sustain come 2014 – 10 times the Afghan Governments annual tax revenue.

More evidence that the path towards peace must be Afghan driven - Afghan sized - and Afghan run.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Day Two in Carolina. Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte and a packed auditorium of students and faculty watching films, meeting the filmmakers and celebrating Storyology. A wonderful project of the AFSC office of the Carolinas.

Storyology: Digital Storytelling by Immigrants and Refugees in Charlotte, North Carolina. Using technology to tell our stories, discover our collective power, and digitally document our journeys

Here are the questions.

Whose stories are represented in films today? And who is telling those stories?

Storytelling is possibly the world’s oldest art form, and today’s primary modern storytelling medium is film and video. Yet the stories presented in most TV shows and movies rarely show accounts of everyday people who happen to be immigrants and the powerful stories they have to share. Through Storyology: Digital Storytelling by Immigrants and Refugees, AFSC empowered immigrants and refugees by imparting new digital literacy skills, lifted up immigrant stories to share with and educate the public, and built a community of many cultures within the class. At the end of the class, each student produced a truly impressive work of art, in the form of a 2-4 minute digital story, with the student narrating her/his journey, with background music, and images chosen (and sometimes photographed) by the students themselves.

You can see the rest of the stories here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beyond Belief - A Message of Hope

Last week, with Drexel School of Public Health, we showed the film Beyond Belief and invited one of the participants Susan Retik. She is an engaging speaker and it is an inspiring film.

Beyond Belief

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley are two ordinary soccer moms living in the affluent suburbs of Boston until tragedy strikes. Rather than turning inwards, grief compels these women to focus on the country where the terrorists who took their husbands' lives were trained: Afghanistan.

Over the course of two years, as they cope with loss and struggle to raise their families as single mothers, these extraordinary women dedicate themselves to empowering Afghan widows whose lives have been ravaged by decades of war, poverty and oppression - factors they consider to be the root causes of terrorism. As Susan and Patti make the courageous journey from their comfortable neighborhoods to the most desperate Afghan villages, they discover a powerful bond with each other, an unlikely kinship with widows halfway around the world, and a profound way to move beyond tragedy.

From the ruins of the World Trade Center to those of Kabul and back, theirs is a journey of personal strength and international reconciliation, and a testament to the vision that peace can be forged... one woman at a time.

The Boy Mir - Ten Years in Afghanistan

I am in North Carolina to take part in several events around the mural exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan. At the beautiful Carolina Friends School I was joined by the documentary film director Phil Grabsky who showed part of his new film “The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan.” We spoke to a school assembly. Later this week he will be showing the feature at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Here is the description of the film.

We first met Mir in Phil Grabsky’s acclaimed 2004 film, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. An unforgettable eight-year-old Afghan refugee with an infectious laugh, Mir lived in the stony ruins of the world-famous Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. For that film, Grabsky spent a year with Mir and his family documenting their hardscrabble life deep inside war-torn Afghanistan, but Mir’s story was too compelling to end there, and the filmmaker went back and spent ten more years with him. Boy Mir is shot in Northern Afghanistan, in an area so remote that Mir’s brother-in-law must hike two hours up a mountain for cell phone service. The landscape is stunning, but daily life is decidedly tough. We watch the mischievous boy grow into a young man whose former hopes of becoming a teacher or president of his country give way to the struggle for basic survival. Yet Mir never loses his good-natured spirit. This is a raw, intimate, and often humorous tale of life in present-day, turbulent Afghanistan.

Drone Strike Kills Six in Pakistan

Intelligence officials announced that U.S. Drones launched two missile strikes killing six alleged Afghan Taliban fighters in a Pakistani tribal region yesterday. The attack comes just days after Pakistani authorities asked for limits on such attacks.

The U.S. relies heavily on the covert, CIA-run missile program to kill al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in Pakistan's northwest. Pakistan publicly denounces the strikes, but secretly assists the program.

The drone-fired assaults were the first since a mid-March strike that Pakistan's army chief said took out dozens of peaceful tribesmen. A U.S. official denied innocent people were targeted.

Predator Kills Two US Troops

It is now revealed that last Wednesday US-Drones also killed two US troops when Marines, under fire, called in a drone strike that hit friendly troops by mistake. It is believed that this is the first time that U.S. service members have been killed by a Predator in a friendly-fire incident.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Best Comprehension - Youth Video Contest

The Quaker Youth Program from Old Chatham New York submitted this video to the If I Had a Trillion Dollars video contest. Directed by Sergio Rico, it is a powerful film about a very large number. It will inspire you as well as inform you about the kind of world we live in today.

The video was recognized by the judges panel as representing the ‘best comprehension’ of one trillion.

The contest was framed on a simple question.

How would you invest the $1 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

You will find all the videos here.

Civilian casualties

According to an International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) survey from 2009, almost all Afghans – 96% – have been directly or indirectly affected as a result of the immediate or wider consequences of war; nearly half (45%) of those interviewed had seen a family member killed and a third (35%) has been wounded in fighting.

The UN and ICRC have also recorded that 730,000 people have been internally displaced in Afghanistan due to conflict since 2006, an average of 400 a day. At the end of January 2011, 309,000 people remained internally displaced due to armed conflict, human rights abuses and other generalized violence. This figure was higher than at any time since 2005.

Mural Image: Learning to Walk Again (John Pitman Weber - Chicago). The mural is part of the travelling exhibit Windows and Mirrors.

These facts can help put into perspective, and better understand, the recent demonstrations in the country.

Kandahar in Revolt: The Quran demos in the light of history

Various things helped create the conditions for these demonstrations: the burning of the Qur’an itself, the recently published pictures of the so-called kill-team that shows smiling American soldiers holding up the head of a dead Afghan civilian, the immense pressure that the local population finds itself under, as well as the actions of the foreign forces and the Afghan government. Kandahar’s demonstrations potentially have far-reaching implications. They should be seen as indicators that are far more genuinely representative of ‘public opinion’ than any of the recent polls which claim to represent what people in the south are thinking.

Afghans for Peace also have some great resources that look at the broader issues involved.

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

- El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Trillion Dollar Question

Students from The Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia submitted this video for the If I had a Trillion Dollars youth video contest.

The contest was framed on a simple question.

How would you invest the $1 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

You will find all the videos here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Afghan Women Behind the Wheel

Is traditional male-dominated Afghan society prepared for women drivers?

Director Sahraa Karimi follows several women as they seek to secure a drivers license. In the process, much is revealed about the challenges women face, but you will be surprised to see how many complete the course and become taxi-drivers.

It is a moving story about life in a changing Afghanistan…

It is also an antidote to the notion (put forward by Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush) that securing women’s rights were one goal of the US-UK invasion in 2001. Through film, we witness changes taking place in Afghanistan, changes that reflect the work of so many courageous Afghan woman and their allies – sometimes they are fathers, husbands and sons.

Foreign military intervention will not help and only makes matters worse.

Check out the trailer:
They also have a nice gallery.

Invisible War v. Military Reconstruction

Joy Gordon has released her new book Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions. She is touring. Check here to see if she is coming to your community.

There is a connection to be made between the international consensus on comprehensive economic sanctions against the people of Iraq and the ‘stated’ inverse of military led reconstruction to mitigate the humanitarian crisis of war.

The lesson from Iraq should be never again, the lesson from Afghanistan is you can't militarize relief and reconstruction and not expect a military response.

Invisible War | Joy Gordon

The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 were the most comprehensive and devastating of any established in the name of international governance. The sanctions, coupled with the bombing campaign of 1991, brought about the near collapse of Iraq’s infrastructure and profoundly compromised basic conditions necessary to sustain life.

“In one of the bitter ironies of our time, the UN Security Council--under the influence of the United States--destroyed a country in order to save it from its leader. In vividly portraying and thoroughly documenting the history of the Western decapitation of Iraq through economic sanctions Joy Gordon fills a huge gap in the literature. Her penetrating research reveals the purposefulness of punishment, complicity, rationalization, and outright deception as standard practice in the role played by the United States, which lacked critical self-reflection and any clear sense of rules or the relationship between means and ends. This book will become a foreign affairs classic.”— George A. Lopez, author of The Sanctions Decade

“In a powerful, original book, Gordon offers the most sophisticated and comprehensive analysis of the origins, administration, and impact of the Iraq sanctions regime. This is a damning account of how international administration was used by the U.S. and the UK for policy ends. Despite the rhetoric of humanitarianism, the sanctions were, in Gordon’s term, a humanitarian catastrophe.”—Neta C. Crawford, Boston University

Lessons for Afghanistan

The US military effort to use humanitarian agencies and humanitarian work as ‘force enhancers’ on the battlefield has blurred the lines between military strategy and humanitarian action. The military run Provisional Reconstruction Teams are seen as ineffective use of resources, creating parallel power structures in the country, and ultimately part of the international forces military strategy.

In November 29 aid agencies working in Afghanistan released the report Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan. Deeply concerned about the impact of the escalating violence on civilians, they had this to say about the Provisional Reconstruction Teams.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams

NGOs have long expressed concerns that PRT projects are often poorly executed, inappropriate and do not have sufficient community involvement to make them sustainable. There is little evidence this approach is generating stability and, in many instances where PRT projects have been implemented in insecure areas in an effort to win “hearts and minds,” they put individuals and communities at risk. A study conducted by CARE, the World Bank and the Afghan Ministry of Education in 2009 found that many community members believed that PRT-constructed schools in insecure areas were at higher risk of attack by AOG than other schools.

Most Afghans live in extremely difficult conditions and will often accept whatever support they can get. However, PRT and other military-dominated structures delivering aid must ensure that their actions do not put civilians in harm’s way. Yet despite the mounting evidence, PRT lead nations have done little to address these concerns.

Overall, the quality and type of work, impact and sustainability of PRTs varies greatly among lead nations. There has been little to no success in coordinating the work they do as a whole and the majority of PRTs still do not even report to the Afghan government, at national or provincial level, on their activities. PRT expenditures amount to hundreds of mil-lions of dollars in provinces such as Kandahar and Helmand. But in the relatively secure province of Bamiyan, PRT expenditure is estimated to comprise more than half the development budget for the entire province.

It may be too late to effectively coordinate the work of many PRTs, but it is not too late to plan for a responsible phase down of their assistance activities. As many PRT lead nations are likely to begin pulling out their troops in the near future, a transition strategy must be developed now to mitigate any potentially adverse effects.

ISAF’s rhetoric around PRT transition has become “civilianize, nationalize, Afghanize.” However, it is unclear what this actually means and whether each PRT lead nation agrees with this imprecise approach. There has been recent talk of “handing over” PRTs to the UN or “evolving” PRTs into civilian units under the control of the Afghan government, which is somewhat perplexing given that PRTs have only an interim security mandate and were never intended to be permanent institutions.

Aid money, not PRTs, must be demilitarized. PRTs have, and are likely to continue to have, a strong military, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism association in the minds of Afghans. This severely impairs their ability to deliver effective assistance and support rural development activities in which communities participate. In accordance with their interim status, PRTs should be gradually phased out while civilian forms of assistance are gradually increased as appropriate.

• Establish and implement a plan to gradually phase out PRT-provided and other militarized forms of aid, enabling military institutions to return to a focus on security and security sector re-form.
• Donors should seek to increase the capacity of and funding for national and international civilian organizations, instead of through PRTs or other military-dominated structures.
• In line with this, donors and international NGOs must also do more to increase the ability of local organizations to design and implement development projects over time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If I… Youth Video Contest

A contribution from the American Friends Service Committee and National Priorities Project video contest that asked young people how they would spent the $1 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You will find all the videos here.

Amanda Terkel looks at yesterday’s quarterly report on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan released by the White House. Violence is likely to increase….

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The New School Year in Afghanistan

Dr. Zaher Wahab is a professor from Lewis and Clark College who spends four months of the year in Afghanistan teaching at the Teacher College in Kabul. An institution he helped to establish. He is an example of Afghan professionals returning to create a better future for the country. It is inspiring work with daunting challenges.

He comments that "[T]he education system, the country's only sure hope, is itself a disaster zone, and the millions of young Afghans with no education, employment or hope, a time bomb." This is the first reflection from his most recent trip. You can follow him on his blog Dispatches from Afghanistan where he offers snapshots of the impact of war and his work.

* In March Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory recommending the use of masks or other protective devices during the morning and evening rush hours in Kabul.
I arrived in Kabul on March 8 for my 14th visit to Afghanistan since early 2002. Safi airline from Dubai, touched down at Kabul international airport at 7AM. The airport, opened about a year ago, already feels small, congested, and old. The passengers were mostly non-Afghans of all types, races, and nationalities. Security was tight throughout, with exceptions for VIPs and Afghans with connections, who were spared standing in line, passport checks, or baggage inspection.

I was immediately impressed by the extreme air pollution, heaps of garbage by the road side, overwhelming signs of poverty, beggars everywhere, mud everywhere, crowds, monstrous traffic jams, and construction. Over the last decade, Kabul has grown from about half-a-million people, to 4.5 million; from a few thousand vehicles to a million vehicles; little waste to mountains of waste by the some 200,000 foreigners and the small over consuming Afghan class. The city still does not have a sewage system, any waste management, or regular garbage collection. And there is no urban planning. People just build any and everywhere, including the surrounding hills and mountains. Only the main roads are paved. People, dogs, cats, and animals are constantly going through the piles of globalized garbage spreading if further.

The predatory wealthy class builds gaudy Dubai-style mansions, without paving the sidewalks, or even cleaning up the trash with the work is finished. Most vehicles are second hand and all the fuel is leaded, mixed, and of the lowest quality. Most people still use wood, coal, cow dung, or plastics for cooking and heating. The foreigners, and the wealthy use generators fueled by gasoline, diesel, or kerosene. Very few structures have indoor plumbing or septic tanks, most use latrines, pits, or just nothing.

Since there is no sewage or draining system, since most roads are unpaved, and since it is windy in Kabul, you can get an idea what people breathe, eat and walk in. It is impossible to keep filthy dust and/or mud away. You can clearly see the thick air pollution affecting visibility. Consequently Kabul is probably the most polluted, filthy, toxic, and unhygienic capital in the world. Everyone, it seems, suffers from respiratory, skin and/or other illness, which prompted the previous minister of public health to state that pollution kills more people than the insurgents. This, after the US-NATO-Allies have been here for about ten years spending about $370 billion so far, and $3 billion per week currently.

Nouroze Start of the School Year

Monday March 22, marked the nouroze (new day) of the Afghan New Year--1390. Usually, this is a day of picnics, celebrations, festivities, visiting relatives, kite flying, and farmers showing/doing their stuff. Big festivals occur at the tomb and shrines of Imam Ali, Islam's fourth caliphate, cousin and son-and-law of the prophet Mohammad, in Mazari-Sharif and Kabul. This year, fear of violence, bombings, explosions and trouble kept most people away from public gatherings, though due to exceptional security measures, the day passed without any major incident.

As usual, there were many messages on the radio stations for the missing loved ones.

To "celebrate education," schools did not start on the day after New Year, instead they started on Wednesday, March 23. President Hamid Karzai rang the starting bell and gave a speech at the Amani School (first-twelfth grade) very near the urg, the presidential palace. Since he hardly ever ventures out, people call him a prisoner, the mayor of Kabul and/or the clown, and out of touch with the country. Needless to say all the talk on Thursday March 23 was about education. Officially eight million children, 387 of them girls, will attend 14,000 schools taught by 190,000 teachers. Since 65% of the country's population is under 20, about 7 million school-age children will not be in school. Half of the schools have buildings. There are no girl's schools in half of the country and there are very few, if any, women teachers outside the cities, where 75% of the people live.

Urban schools operate 2, 3, or even four shifts per day, reducing the school day to about 4 hours and the school year to about five months at best. Only a fourth of the teachers are considered qualified. Many children lack textbooks. There are no labs, libraries, cafeterias, athletic facilities, technology, indoor plumbing, or even electricity. School curriculum is old, bloated, and largely irrelevant to the needs or realities of Afghan life. Teaching consists of dictation, memorization, regurgitation and examination. There is little or no homework. Class size can range from 30-100.

There is an explosion of private schools, 450 schools and 36 tertiary institutions nationwide, without effective government oversight or quality control. As for "higher" education, there are 22 public postsecondary institutions enrolling some 90.000 students, 20% of them women. There is an explosion of private tertiary institutions too, again without any quality control by the ministry of higher education. Karzai chastised the substandard private sector. An estimated 1% of the population is enrolled in higher education.

The school year has begun, but the government has yet to announce the results of last year's university entrance exam (the concore), or the allocation of entrants to various institutions. 120,000 took the entrance exam, but only 60,000 will enter. Higher education too is beset with large classes, under-qualified faculty, lack of facilities and resources, old, incoherent, bloated and irrelevant curriculum, lack of funds, centralization, poor quality, lack of academic freedom, ethical issues, corruption and nepotism, and unequal access. Again, the occupation forces have been here for about ten years, spending $370 billion so far and $3 billion per week. The education system, the country's only sure hope, is itself a disaster zone, and the millions of young Afghans with no education, employment or hope, a time bomb.

Zaher Wahab
March 26, 2011; Hamal 6, 1390

Monday, April 4, 2011

Conscience Speaks - King's Legacy

Watch a provocative animation from Sharif Ezzat.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

To learn more about the extraordinary legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visit the Tavis Smiley archive.

Here is the text of the message delivered on April 4th, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York.

Silence is Betrayal

A time comes when silence is betrayal. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities over the pursuit of war.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, clan, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves in the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

May our country, on the brink of war, take to heart the final refrain of "America, the Beautiful": "America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law."

Friday, April 1, 2011

For Teachers and Activists

How do you start a discussion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? After all, teenagers and young adults have only known our country at war. Growing up in the shadow of 9/11 their lives have been shaped by ‘terrorist plots’, homeland security, and troops being sent to war. Faith community and activists across the country are working to change that.

This was one of our ideas.

On May 20 last year, the combined costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars passed the $1 trillion dollar mark. In anticipation we began working with the National Priorities Project to reach out to young people with a simple question.

How would YOU spend $1 trillion?

The response was remarkable. Students groups, community centers, Quaker meetings, classrooms, individuals and AFSC staff with partners wrestled with the question. Some sought to illustrate just how much $1 trillion dollars really is, some talked about the human cost, many made the connection that money spent on war – and militarism – steals the resources needed for communities in distress here.

These videos are great ways to stimulate conversations. Show one, three, six, and you will find people have a reaction and want to talk.

Additional Resources: Curriculum guide, tool-kit and hand out of frequently asked questions.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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