The Myth of Security: Why We Need to Place People Before Guns on the Global Partners for the Prevention of Armed Conflict web site: Link
Kabul Afghanistan 2011
We do meet for a moment,
my war waging compatriots,
In the blink of an eye they pass overhead,
a liquid shadow, casting a strobe like effect
from their Blackhawk rotor blades.
It is the occultation of light that connects us.
The outline of the helicopter,
here and gone,
for that one instant we merge,
inhabit the same space.
Why does it have to be the darkness,
cast over my small compound space
for the briefest of time,
which brings us to together?
How is it that we can be one in the light?
4. Creating Reality
I have been intrigued by the question of how much of our world we create in our own minds. This question was made really clear on the streets of Kabul and rural north of Afghanistan. This journal entry from: 24 Oct 2012…posted to a student on the topic of culture on the Etown Blackboard Discussion Board…
This past weekend I experienced the hospitality of the people of northern Afghanistan. I felt safe, cared for and the warm welcome of a people who have an ancient culture. Yet just at arm’s length away were the vehicles of war from my own nation, on edge for fear of being shot at. They were at war. How can our two realities exist within the same space-time continuum? What is the difference between me in my host’s Toyota Corolla enjoying the beauty of rural Afghanistan and my compatriots in their Armored Personnel Carrier who see danger behind every rock?
Could it be that the language we use helps create reality? If you have not done so already, check out the Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum* that was recently written by Lisa Schirch and co-published by Alliance for Peacebuilding, Kroc Institute and Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). On page 146 is a chart comparing and contrasting State and Human security terminology. On the one hand the ‘other’ is an enemy, criminal or perpetrator. On the other hand the ‘other’ is a more neutral term; stakeholder. A stakeholder is someone to engage, hear a story from and who has an interest in what happens. Stakeholders, being such a generic term, begs questions about who, what, when, where, why and how. The other 3 terms, enemy, criminal and perpetrator denote a precast, prejudged role with no room for story or depth.
*Schirch, Lisa. Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum. The Hague, The Netherlands: Alliance for Peacebuilding, GPPAC, Kroc Institute, March 2016. P. 146
The women’s peace forum from District 8 met with us and told some stories. One case was a 10 year old that had been promised in marriage at birth to satisfy a family dispute. She was in 3rd grade when the parents decided to marry her off. The 10year old’s 3rd grade teacher investigated when she went missing from school for one week and discovered the impending marriage. When the teacher went to the wedding party, the mother confessed the details of what was about to take place. The teacher worked at educating the family and mullah who was to officiate the wedding, to the laws of Afghanistan that forbid underage marriage. The 10 year old returned to school and the case was solved.
For the price that the US spends on 3 minutes of the war that in Afghanistan, this project (for both women and men) could be expanded to all the districts in this province for 3 years. A far more effective way of damping violence.
I have had some significant conversations with two groups about how they are using newly acquired skills to mediate disputes in their communities.These groups are supported through the community peacebuilding project that I mentor. The local partner in Mazar is called Afghanistan’s Children A-New Approach (ASCHIANA). Through a series of peacebuilding workshops community elders were able to adapt mediation practices with their traditional skills in the neighborhood dispute resolution mechanism called the shura.
First a word about the men’s group who are respected elders in their communities. One mediator told a story about armed men chasing five persons through his neighborhood. The five kept knocking on doors seeking sanctuary and finally the mediator let them in to his home. When the armed men demanded the five be sent out to be shot, the mediator declared they would have to shoot him first. Being Pashtoon, he had a duty to protect those guests he invited in. He also welcomed the gunmen into his home for tea and discussions if they agreed to disarmed. After some time of talking he invited the five to join the disarmed gunmen for a meal on the traditional carpet.. Through discussions it was discovered that the conflict was over land and the mediator accompanied both groups to visit the disputed plot. A settlement was eventually achieved that was amicable to both sets of parties.
As I have traveled around Kabul I have seen many women in the powder blue burqa. Totally obscured, it is impossible to tell who is under this covering. I have often wondered what it would be like to walk on the street and have no ‘public face’ as these women do. I am told that one of the only benefits is anonymity. One can slip out to the corner market and buy a few things without being detained in long conversations with family or friends. Of course one can be know, in one’s own neighborhood, by the children being toted around. I have even heard that the women know each other by their shoes.
The number of women begging on the streets has increased since my last trip and obscurity helps to preserve some semblance of dignity.
Those women not wearing the burqa, are wearing the Hijab, the simple head scarf. When I was in Iran’s most conservative city of Qom a few years back, I learned that the custom of for wearing the Hijab was to let NO hair show from under it. That is not the case in Kabul.
Of course many men wear headgear of some kind too but that is cultural and not religiously mandatory.
In our Conflict Resolution Practicum class at Etown College we have been looking at the role of identity in conflict. Of the many parts of my identity, some have relevance here in Kabul and some don’t. The consultant in me -for sure, the teacher-yes. But the son, father and husband -only during off hours when chatting with family on email and skype. Oh, and I interrupted this writing to look at a parakeet that flew into a tree outside my window so the birdwatcher in me kicks in on occasion. In Afghanistan I am reminded daily of the American and masculine parts of my identity.
By working for this international non-governmental organization (INGO) I have given consent to take on a certain identity which meshes with the organization’s values of empowerment, accountability and inclusiveness. We work hard to end poverty, build a just world and empower marginalized groups such as women and youth.
I have heard from an Afghan colleague the challenge of taking on an inclusive peacebuilding identity that respects persons of other ethnicities. He commented that he was surprised to hear other Afghans working for peace refuse to work with someone because they were of the ‘wrong’ ethnic makeup. I reminded him that even noticing that exclusive attitude was the first step in transcending it.
Against my very grain, I had to call for a car to drive me the 150 feet to the grocery where I purchased my breakfast ingredients to keep me healthy: Quaker Oats in a can, yogurt (locally produced), honey (locally produced), and walnuts (locally grown). Then we drove the 150 feet back to my guest house. Seems crazy but it is our security protocol.
In Kabul I a carry a walkie-talkie as a backup to cell phone for communications with the radio room. My call sign is Bravo Nine Seven and I call for a driver and escort to take me from Base 1 (the office) to base 2 (the guest house).
Kabul, where the walls of most compounds have been progressively raised and some are now 30 feet tall. I guess it’s hard to throw a grenade that high over the wall. Many office buildings have blast walls and sandbags around the guard houses out front. Our office has a fortified safe room and escape routes through the high walls.
Kabul, where every request to do something begins with the security advisers saying yes or no based on the latest security analysis.
When anyone talks of freedom in this context, might it be from the confines that the fear of violence has placed on people’s lives and minds?
There are many things that influence my work efficiency when working in Kabul. Things that I don’t normally face and that make my day interesting.
Road construction is normal all over the world but when it gums up already narrow, crowded streets and a 5 minute drive becomes 30 minutes it means I call for a car and an hour later I arrive at work. The city is filled with fine dust from the construction and dry weather which makes the short commute to the office a grimy affair.
Personnel turnover in the office is high and that is partly due to the success of the organization I work for. Its reputation is good and so any employee applying to one of the big money organizations, like USAID, has a good chance at getting a job with much better pay. So the projects are often limping along partially staffed or with new managers trying to grasp an extremely complex project environment.
A noise outside, a bang or rumble of a truck, draws my mind immediately away from the task at hand into the alert mental state that comes with the noises of a violent attack or bomb blast. These types of mental interruptions must be even greater in my Afghan colleagues who have endured decades of insecurity.
It has really struck me that navigating across cultural boundaries is really an exercise in imprecision. Even if I can am as clear and articulate as I am able about some concept of peacebuilding it just cannot be heard in the same way with the gap of cultures spanning our experiential divide.
An office colleague here in Kabul and I have had an ongoing discussion about theories of change. He looks at change and sees the impediments of warlords, corruption and inept government. I see access to change through leverage of power, influence and values. Today for the first time after a discussion spanning a year, I was able to identify his theory of change. In summary he says the key is education.
Through our discussions I have discovered some tips that help span the enormous cultural gaps in our understanding. Smile. Hand out chocolate and drink tea. Learn to laugh easily especially at myself. Lighten up and accept that there is much less certainty about anything when I am out of my own culture.