I have been listening to a lot of interviews with candidates in the upcoming Afghanistan elections. They are hard to find, but there are actually several out there if you look hard enough. Then today one of them just popped up on the radio for me as if it had been requested. It was an interview with Izatullah Nusrat, a 42-year-old village elder from Sorobi, east of Kabul. He has an interesting story, and is a one man object lesson in American diplomacy.
You see Nusrat was a very pro-American Afghan years ago, when we decided to invade his country. He told his friends and neighbors that America was full of good and moral people who were coming to help. He knew about America, because he had once worked for a man that America supported in their bid to keep out the Soviets. America helped. We helped keep the Russians out, and now we would help drive out the Taliban.
Except we also once supported and trained the head of the Taliban, and so anyone with a bit of ability in ironic foreshadowing can see how this story is going. The man Nusrat once worked for is no longer a friend of America in holding off the evil red menace, but is today a warlord who we want removed. This makes him “one of the bad guys” in the post 9/11 Bush and rightwing written black and white only rule book. And all the people he associates with.
So in March of ’03, based on the hideous crime of having once worked indirectly for American interests in the region, American forces picked up Nusrat and shipped him to GITMO. Oh yeah, did I mention his 8o year old father? Obviously a major threat to America, he was picked up as well.
“When they took me to the airplane, when they shaved my beard, I realized that Americans are the most cruel people in the world, and they’re very stupid. Someone whose crime is not proved, so you destroy his whole life. And in the world you claim that you are the protector of the human rights, and you’re doing such actions with a human being,” Nusrat says.
Five years later we decided this once pro-American village leader was no longer a threat, and sent him home. So now he is running for a government position. His platform is pretty simple. America sucks, and is just one step above the Taliban. They need to leave.
There are a lot of things that can be said about this story. On one level it is an object lesson in our skill with resources. We took someone who could have and should have been an ally, a help in a battle against terrorism, and turned him against us. On a purely utilitarian view, we took a resource, an asset, and made that asset into a liability. For no good reason at all.
On a moral level there is a lesson about treating people as resources. About treating them as means to an end. Nusrat was treated as a means to make the Russians go away, and once they were gone, he was left again, with no purpose in the American scheme of things we ignored him, and his entire country. When someone else (the Taliban) found a use for him and those like him, he took up a new meaning for America. Object lesson. Get those bad terrorists. Ship ‘em to GITMO. Waterboard them. Show the bad people what happens to bad people. Or even good people. But people are not means to an end, they are their own ends in and of themselves.
And when Nusrat chooses his own ends for himself, there is another lesson. His own path is to be tired of the fighting and the violence. He just hopes we can find peace. He cites an Afghan proverb: “Blood cannot be cleaned with blood.”
No matter how much blood we spill in Afghanistan, or any where else, it is not going to wash away the blood from 9/11. Which didn’t wash away the blood from the lives America destroyed with sanctions and attacks in Iraq. Nor the blood from our support of Israel in its attempt to make war on the entire middle east. Which didn’t wash away the blood of the holocaust, or the blood from before that, or before that, or before that. All the way back to whatever bad blood was between Isaac and Ishmael, and that bad blood was likely from still earlier.
An eye for eye makes the world blind, and blood won’t wash away blood.
Thich Nhat Hanh pointed out that in Vietnam, both the American and Communist forces claimed to be helping the country, yet neither actually helped. “If either side has wished to help, they would have brought food, instead of bullets, and built schools instead of bombs.” We still have a chance, perhaps not to correct our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at least to learn from them, and start friends in the world rather than enemies.
We might even try it at home.