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Change of Hat
F inally the plane touched the ground and along with many other passengers I saw the sunshine of my birth country after more than 20 years of leaving Kabul. I came back to work with a humanitarian organization contributing to the reconstruction efforts. I never had the chance to go back earlier, first because of the Russians, then Mujahideens, and recently the Taliban. But this time it was different; at least that is what I was told. I wanted to see my country governed by the people who really wanted to serve. I wanted to see a great change from what was during the Soviet Union-supported government, the Mujahiddeen, and the Taliban. I went there to help develop my country with others who share the same goal.
Just days after arrival I decided to explore Kabul—the city that Babar, the Mughol emperor, had been so in love with, poets wrote about, and travelers admired. The last time I’d been there, Kabul’s museums had been packed with evidence of a glorious era, its libraries full of books, its archives alive, and its university of high repute. Alas, I saw nothing resembling my memories. Kabul in complete ruin, this is what I went back to.
Every square mile of Afghanistan was painful. The Afghan rulers are still fundamentalists preaching through the voices of Mullahs who wake up early in the morning shouting at the people, using their noisy loudspeakers to criticize Afghan men for allowing their daughters to go to schools and their families to watch TV. (Ironically, Afghan TV does not offer anything special. There is nothing entertaining or educational, but censored Indian films and speeches by strict politicians.)
Outside, the streets are full of children of both sexes begging along with the disabled old men and women. Yet ministers are zooming with big cars from here to there. The warlord system is evident in all aspects of life. Mullahs with long beards demand to have bigger organizations and outfits supported by international and UN funding.
Horrifying stories come alive and touch you, torture you, and traumatize you. The story of Zardad, who had a man-eating dog who was indeed a man. The story of Hezbe Wahdat’s eye gouging and cutting women’s breast. The stories of raping women and keeping them naked in cellars. The story of Sayaf’s party hammering nails on the scalps of innocent civilians. The stories of destruction and madness and, of course, the story of sadness because the same mad people are in power again.
Some of the stories could appear in novels and the people would think they were fiction. But they are the true stories of Afghanistan.
There are some signs of optimism, such as seeing girls and boys going back to school. I traveled to Bamyan and was astonished to see my people still living in dark caves. I was even more surprised to see the same people sending their children to schools. They know that most of the atrocities that happened in the country were related to lack of knowledge and education. UNICEF had predicted that only 1.5 million children would get back to school, but the reality was much more optimistic with an estimated figure of some 4.5 million children attending schools by the summer of 2002. However, the enthusiasm of the people is not matched by the government’s support. UNICEF and the government of Afghanistan have provided no more than the basic facilities for perhaps 50 percent of the 1.5 million targeted school children. Some remote areas such as Bamyan do not get any support. The schools that have been damaged are not repaired. UNICEF massages its figures by claiming that the organization has rehabilitated 1,000 schools. The reality is that much of UNICEF’s engagement is cosmetic and for the sake of statistics, such as counting the replacement of a single door or minor repair or, in the more successful projects, the building of 5 classrooms for an area that requires at least 32. By manipulating the reality such organizations show in the release of their public information that they have single-handedly managed to meet most of the educational demands in Afghanistan, but the truth is different. Moreover, the warlords of the country do not allow the teachers to get their salaries. Teachers’ salaries paid by the UN do not reach them. The warlords control provinces and fraudulently retain the salaries. Teachers are powerless and have not received their salary for a long time in a system with no accountability.
There are a large number of children on the streets. Child labor is also very common. Child abuse cannot be ignored when there is extreme poverty. I have seen girls and boys begging on the street. I have seen children collecting food from garbage. I have seen children being chased by the new regime police and beaten up.
Afghanistan has a few newly rich people. There are streets in Wazir Akbar Khan that now belong to Northern Alliance ministers. Fahim, the defense minister, has bought the whole street and blocked it for his own safety. His soldiers don’t allow anybody, including pedestrians, to go on that street. Each of the houses has a value of at least $400,000. The lions of Panjsheer know very well how to get rich from wars. Destroy half the country, then confiscate some houses from the owners in those places that are not destroyed.
Muslim extremists do not recognize the rights of women. Women come to my office with fear. People like Gulbudin Hekmatyar are there to throw acid on the faces of those women who appear on the street wearing a modest chador, but not a burqa (veil). One of my female colleagues wanted to go to another country for the training provided by the UN. The day she went to the passport office of a fundamentalist mullah (in charge of the passport processing), he told her that she was a prostitute to be working in an office. However, being a prostitute and begging on the streets is not a problem.
The extremists love to see poverty. They were the same people who sold the Afghan women to Arab fundamentalists. People still talk about the shameful act of Taliban when they went and destroyed all Shomali, killed men and took all the women, put them in buses and sent them to Pakistan where the Arabs on the other side received them. Where was the Afghan nang (honor)? Where was their Islam spirit at that time?
Life is very cheap in my country. Frustrated Americans who have failed to find Osama or the real al-Qaeda, bomb wedding parties. I read reports on the Internet, but no action is taken visibly or otherwise by anybody to stop these crimes. I hear that it was the Northern Alliance guiding the Americans to bomb the Pushtoon villages.
The Americans are not in Afghanistan because they love the Afghans. They are there for their own interest and they use the Northern Alliance who has a very poor human rights record. The American humanitarian support to Afghans is the bombing of poor villages. Their record shows heavy spending in Afghanistan, but not for the construction of schools and hospitals. Reagan is back again in Afghanistan in the disguise of Bush. His cowboys this time do not fight the Russians but the al-Qaeda. The poor Afghan masses are paying for it. I know that Osama is going to emerge again in a different form and name, discretely supported by the U.S. I know that, don’t we all?
The turbans have changed to pakols, but the heads are covered with the same mentality. The headgear is not there to allow the old fundamentalism to evaporate. My country’s fall has not slowed or changed, but only its appearance.
Besharat is a poet and writer from Afghanistan. He left 23 years ago when Russians invaded Afghanistan. He has worked in support of humanitarian projects in Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia, Lesotho, UK, and Afghanistan.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.