What, to the Afghan, is this American election? Bush invaded, Obama surged, regressive, “progressive,” neocon, neoliberal, Worst-President-Ever (so far) or Nobel Peace Prize President… yet the U.S. bombs drop on, and on.
On November 10, 2016, the United Nations launched an investigation into something dismaying for its regularity rather than shock: U.S. airstrikes a week prior that killed over 30 civilians near Kunduz, Afghanistan. Most victims were women and children.
Kunduz, Afghanistan: ring a bell? On October 3, 2015, U.S. airstrikes killed 42 people at the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) trauma hospital in Kunduz. Through an hour, pinpoint strikes by a U.S. AC-130 Gunship hit the hospital’s busy ICU in bombing waves also targeting other patient areas, and machine-gunned patients, doctors, and staff fleeing outside.
Days before the attack, MSF once again gave the hospital’s GPS coordinates to the U.S. war command. Halfway through the attack, MSF staff connected calls to U.S. war officials, shouting “Stop!” In the ICU, one survived. Elsewhere, shrapnel bombs amputated legs and performed a decapitation. Patients burned to death in their beds, screaming.
After sustained international outcry, the U.S. paid Afghan family members of the deceased one to two thousand dollars for each body, and Obama apologized, while declining to submit the U.S. to an independent investigation into possible war crimes, for which intent is not required.
These U.S. atrocities are just a drop of blood on the blood-soaked pages of Afghanistan’s decades of war imposed by foreign powers. Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates that from 2001 to August 2016, the period of this continuing U.S. war (our longest), more than 31,000 civilians have perished violently. Twice as many combatants have lost their lives, and the wounded climb to 162,000. Further attributes of the U.S.-led war: exacerbated poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, absent health care, and environmental degradation.
97,000 Afghan children now suffer severe acute malnutrition. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report notes, “At least a quarter of Afghan children between ages 5 and 14 work for a living to help their families.” These little millions labor in carpet weaving, metal work, brick making and other industries, acquiring carpal tunnel syndrome, neuralgia, respiratory illness, and grievous, sometimes mortal wounds. The greatest military in history watches.
Malalai Joya, former Afghan member of Parliament, told an American audience in 2013, “[R]egarding… [the] consequences of the 12 years of occupation [by the] U.S. and NATO, unfortunately, [it] was more bloodshed, crimes, women[’s] rights [and] human rights violations, looting of our resource and changing of our country into mafia state… [M]ore than 90 percent of opium [is now] produced from Afghanistan, I believe opium is even more dangerous than al-Qaeda and war as it destroy[s] and spoils the life of Afghans… [who become] addicted… [M]ost of them are women and children.”
When they can, many Afghan men (and far fewer women and children) attempt to flee their native land. Over two million Afghan refugees have been exiled for decades, most living in camps in Pakistan and Iran. Some 213,000 made it to Europe in 2015, but are now being pushed all the way back, likely to join the million-odd internally displaced Afghanis. The U.S. has accepted several thousand Afghans since 2001.
In America, however, Afghans don’t exist. They are not seen or heard from on the teevee, certainly not in the recent presidential campaigning. Do they exist here unofficially, below the surface, bubbling up for change, in our consciousness and conversations? Or are they walled away from us, beyond our touch and power to help?
There is a profound difference between a racist rapist showman—and an interventionist neoliberal stateswoman. Still, both have helped build a wall we must dismantle, the one between “us” and “other.”
“I am convinced,” averred Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech exactly one year before his assassination in 1968, “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.”
Voices for Creative Nonviolence filmed Afghan children addressing the new U.S. president in 2009: “Need we ask any questions at all, since we are confident that whatever games are played in history… the LOVE and CONSCIENCE that sits in the kinder and less self-absorbed depths of every human heart can CHANGE the devious adults in the very same hearts and that this humane humanity can no longer be hidden? Can a grave hide death, the snow hide spring and the sky hide space?” (capitalization in the original transcript). Need we doubt seriously that the wall will come down, sooner or later, to let the round Earth roll free, and that we ourselves yet possess the power to take it down?
Great, great thanks to Kathy Kelly for educating me tremendously about what “human rights” might begin to actually mean.