Drawing on her nearly 30 visits to Afghanistan, antiwar activist Kathy Kelly discusses the need for empathy and reparations.
by Nonviolence Radio Team, WNV Metta Center for Nonviolence, September 29,2021
Original audio here: https://wagingnonviolence.org
This week, Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook talk to Kathy Kelly, life-long nonviolence activist, co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and co-coordinator of the Ban Killer Drones Campaign. She discusses her extensive experience in and thoughts about Afghanistan. American intervention, she believes, was — and indeed, continues to be — entirely misguided, escalating rather than resolving the violent conflicts there. She offers some practical and clear advice on what good and productive involvement might entail, and provides concrete ways we might engage. She also pushes us to reconsider our preconceived ideas, both about the Taliban and ourselves; in doing so we can start to empathize, re-humanize and be less afraid:
First of all, I think we need to do what you and Michael have advocated in the Metta Center for a long time. We have to find the courage to control our fears. We have to become a public that isn’t so whipped-up into being afraid of this group, afraid of that group, that we will continue to bankroll efforts to kind of eliminate that group so that we don’t have to be afraid of them anymore. That’s one thing. I think it’s really important to keep on building up our sense of controlling our fears.
A second thing, very practically, is to get to know the people who are bearing the consequences of our wars and our displacement… My young friends in Afghanistan were emblematic of people who wanted to reach out to people on the other side of the divide. They talked about a border-free world. They wanted to have inter-ethnic projects.
Only when we truly look at Afghanistan, when we see it and its people in all their rich complexity can we come to a better understanding of what they want and need. Only by actively listening to individuals and groups on the ground will we learn how we might be able to join them in finding ways to resolve conflicts and rebuild. And all this depends on a firm commitment to nonviolence, genuine humility and honest self-reflection:
…nononviolence is truth force. We have to tell the truth and look at ourselves in the mirror. And what I’ve just said is really, really hard to look at. But I think that it’s required to better understand who we are and how we can actually say, “We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry,” and make reparations that say we are not going to continue this.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to Nonviolence Radio. I’m Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. Good morning, Michael. Thanks for being in the studio with me today.
Michael: Good morning, Stephanie. Wouldn’t be any other place this morning.
Stephanie: So, today we have with us Kathy Kelly. For those of you in the peace movement, she really needs no introduction. Somebody who has completely dedicated her life to ending war and violence. She’s one of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness, later known as Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which closed its campaign in 2020 because of difficulty traveling into war zones. We’ll hear more about that. She is co-coordinator of the Ban Killer Drones Campaign, and an activist with World Beyond War.
We have her with us today on Nonviolence Radio to talk about Afghanistan. She’s been there nearly 30 times. And as somebody who is an American dedicated to ending war, hearing about her experiences and what’s going on there now from her perspective is going to be very helpful as we continue and deepen our conversations about Afghanistan that’s in the news today.
So, welcome to Nonviolence Radio, Kathy Kelly.
Kathy: Thank you, Stephanie and Michael. It’s always a reassuring thing to know that the two of you are working as well as you do to promote nonviolence and to try to better understand the consequences of our warfares.
Michael: Well, coming from you, Kathy, that is very reassuring. Thank you.
Stephanie: Kathy, where do you find yourself today? Are you in Chicago?
Kathy: Well, I’m in the Chicago area. And in a way, my heart and my mind are often – through email and social media, with – oh, I guess about five dozen young Afghans that I was so fortunate to get to know through visits to Afghanistan. All of them are in fairly precarious situations, and some more so than others. And thinking a great deal about what could even begin to be a nonviolent way forward for them.
Stephanie: Well, let’s just jump right into that then, Kathy. Can you speak to what is happening in your heart and mind, what is going on from your perspective?
Kathy: Well, I do feel a great deal of sorrow and regret. I mean, I live in comfort and security, that pure accident of birth, and yet I live in a country where a lot of our comfort and security has been enabled by an economy whose top crop is weapons. And how do we get those weapons marketed and sold and used, and then sell more? Well, we have to market our wars.
And, you know, the idea that many people, while mainly they just forgot about Afghanistan, would, if they gave it a thought – and I don’t mean this to sound judgmental — but many U.S. people thought, “Well, aren’t we sort of helping the women and children over there?” And that really wasn’t true. There were some women who made gains, unquestionably, in urban areas. But you know, we have to ask ourselves, what if the United States hadn’t been dedicated to building 500 bases all across Afghanistan? What if we hadn’t saturated the areas around those bases – and really all throughout the country — with our weapons? What if the ordinance that we dropped through many, many bombings, and many which went totally unrecorded because the drone warfare didn’t – the CIA and other groups weren’t required to even keep lists of who it was that they bombed.
You know, what if the United States had entirely focused its considerable energies and resources on finding out what do Afghans need and then certainly helping rehabilitate the agricultural infrastructure because everybody needs food. So, all of those what-ifs come to mind, and a feeling of regret.
I’m very much reminded of an article that Erica Chenoweth, Dr. Erica Chenoweth – at the time she was in Colorado, and Dr. Hakim, the mentor for the group of these young Afghan friends. We don’t even name them anymore. It’s become so dangerous for them.
The two of them wrote that sometimes the most nonviolent action someone can take in an extremely violent situation is to flee. And so, I mean, just this morning, somebody who’s a pretty astute observer – we’ve known him for a long time in Afghanistan. He actually worked with the government as an aid to a member of parliament.
He said he can see that war is probably coming. More war in between these various factions. And so, what do you do? Well, so many have said, “I want to get out,” for their own safety, but also because they don’t want to pick up guns. They don’t want to fight. They don’t want to continue the cycles of revenge and retaliation.
And so, for those who have fled to places like Pakistan, they’re still not safe really. I feel sort of – I can’t help but feel some relief. “Well, at least you’re somewhat out of danger.” And then here we are in the United States where our tax dollars funded all of this chaos and upheaval over many, many years that was caused by warring parties. And the United States being the most well-heeled. And yet, we don’t feel a tremor necessarily. Anyway, that’s what’s been on my mind. Thank you for asking.
Michael: You are so welcome, Kathy. I’m having two thoughts with response to what you just shared. One is the latest thing you said, and I bet you probably agree with me – I bet on some level of our collective mind and our individual mind, that isn’t entirely true that we’re getting off scot-free. You know, there’s such a thing as moral injury. This is an injury that people cause themselves by injuring others, which registers deep in their mind.
The unfortunate thing about it – and this is maybe where we can be of some help — people don’t connect the dots. You know, a guy goes into a grocery store in Tennessee and shoots up all these people. And we don’t put two and two together that, you know, having espoused this policy that violence will quell violence. We don’t realize that we’re sending a message that hurts us in our own domestic world.
So, I guess that kind of got me to the other main point too, which is – what I kept hearing is the main principle — that there are really two forces in the world: the force of nonviolence and the force of violence. And the force of violence will tend to shift your attention to machines rather than people. That’s what I was hearing.
Kathy: Well, there is that requirement almost that you not see a person when you target a human being with a bullet or with a weapon.
You know, something that comes to mind, Michael, is that Timothy McVeigh, who was a soldier in Iraq had just been somebody – you know, he was a kid growing up in a small area. I don’t quite know where exactly he grew up. I think it might have been in Pennsylvania.
But anyway, he was just an excellent, as they say, marksman. He could hit the target really, really well. With popup targets, he got very, very high marks. And so, when he was in Iraq, at first he wrote in a letter to his aunt, and this is a direct quote, “Killing Iraqis was real hard at first. But after a while, killing Iraqis got easier.”
Timothy McVeigh went on to be the person who loaded up, I believe, a truck with explosives and attacked the Oklahoma Federal Building. And I always thought who trained, who taught Timothy McVeigh to believe that killing people could be easy? And Timothy McVeigh was punished, certainly. But you’re right. We’ve punished ourselves.
And we’ve now got quite a large number of young people who have spent enormous hours playing video games and targeting blobs, you know, blobs on the screen. Then Daniel Hale releases the actual documentation. He so bravely did that. He was an American analyst in Afghanistan, and later working for one of the security companies.
He realized by the U.S. documentation that they’ve created themselves, nine out of ten times during one five-month operation he was part of, the target turned out to be a civilian. Not the person they thought the person was. And so he releases the information. He’s now serving 45 months in prison – years in prison.
And so, what was the last U.S. attack, seemingly, in Kabul? It’s actually most likely not the last. A man was chosen as the target. His name was Zemari Ahmadi, and he was a father of several children. He lived in a compound with two of his brothers and their family. He had been going around Kabul to drop off people – because he had a car, and he could help them with that favor and pick up canisters of water for his family and finish last-minute tasks because he had already been chosen to get one of these special immigration visas and come to the United States.
The family had their bags packed. And somehow, because he was driving a white Corolla, the U.S. drone operators and their advisors thought, “This guy is picking up explosives. He’s gone to an Islamic State in the Khorasan province safe house. He’s going to go back to one other transaction at a compound that’s related to them. And then he might go to the airport and attack people.”
They came up with this fantasy. None of it was true. Because all they can really see in their drone footage, camera footage, are blobs and fuzzy dimensions. And so, then they fired the bombs, thinking there’s only this guy and the person he’s talking to. And Ahmed Zemari had a tradition, where he would pull the car into the driveway – and really, owning a car in Afghanistan in a working-class neighborhood is a big deal.
When he’d pull it into the driveway, he’d let his older son park it. All the little kids would get in the car. It was just a thing they did. And so, that was the last thing they did. Seven children. Three of them under age five. The others, four teenagers. Young teenagers were all killed.
Now, there was coverage of that. There were so many journalists that could get to the site and interview the survivors. But that sort of thing had just happened two weeks earlier. Another U.S. air attack had wiped out a clinic and a high school in Kandahar in Lashkargah. This kind of thing goes on constantly.
And so, now the Air Force, U.S. Air Force is seeking $10 billion in order to continue their, what they call “Over the Horizon” attacks against Afghanistan. But who knows about this? You know, very few people, I think, can see the pattern that’s been going on since – I sort of only date it back to 2010 myself. I’m sure it happened before then.
But the pattern is that an attack happens, whether it’s a drone attack or a night raid, and it turns out that they “got the wrong person.” So, the military, if it’s even noticed, will promise, “We’re going to investigate that.” And then, if it doesn’t slide off the news, if it doesn’t just kind of evaporate as a story. If facts do emerge, “Yes, you killed civilians. This could be a war crime.” Then somebody takes the fall.
In this most recent instance, they had to go to the top, General Lloyd Austin said, “We made a mistake.” General MacKenzie said, “Yes, we made a mistake.” General Donahue said, “Yes, we made a mistake.” But we need more than apologies. We need assurance that the United States is going to stop persisting with this policy of killing and bloodshed and torture and destruction.
We’ve got to see reparations, not only financial reparations, but also reparations that dismantle these wrongful and cruel systems.
Stephanie: Kathy, how do you think that people should go about those reparations, including financial reparations? And how does the Taliban play into that? How can aid get to people? Can you speak to that?
Kathy: Well, first of all, I think we need to do what you and Michael have advocated in the Metta Center for a long time. We have to find the courage to control our fears. We have to become a public that isn’t so whipped-up into being afraid of this group, afraid of that group, that we will continue to bankroll efforts to kind of eliminate that group so that we don’t have to be afraid of them anymore. That’s one thing.I think it’s really important to keep on building up our sense of controlling our fears.
A second thing, very practically, is to get to know the people who are bearing the consequences of our wars and our displacement. I think of Sherri Maurin in San Francisco and the Global Days of Listening based out of Olympia, Washington in some ways. But every month, for years and years – ten years I’ve organized a phone call so that young people in Afghanistan could communicate with very interesting people all over the world, including the two of you at times.
I think that’s important. And Sherri and others are now working so, so hard to help young people fill out the visa applications and to try to find ways to give very practical support to people who want to do this flight — which is, I think, in some ways the only or the main nonviolent thing to do.
So, one thing people can do is to be in touch with Sherri Maurin locally or stay in touch. I’m certainly happy to help anybody kind of buddy up, become a buddy to one of the people in need of help. The forms are complicated, and they’re difficult to figure out. The requirements change all the time. So, that’s one thing.
Then with regard to whether or not there could ever be a peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan, there’s a man named Dr. Zaher Wahab. He’s Afghan and he’s been teaching for many, many years in Afghan universities, but also at the Lewis & Clark University in Portland. He thinks outside the box. He uses his imagination, and he says, “Why not? Why not aim for a United Nations peacekeeping presence? One that would help to maintain some kind of protection and order.” Now, would the Taliban ever accept that? It’s clear, so far, the Taliban are using their victory leverage, I guess, to say, “No, we don’t really have to listen to what international people are saying.”
It’s difficult because I don’t want to recommend, well, then hit them economically, because I think that that will hit the poorest people economically. Sanctions always do that. They wallop the most vulnerable people in a society, and I don’t think they’ll necessarily really hit the Taliban officials. And, you know, they can raise money by charging taxes on every single vehicle that crosses any one of a number of different borders.
I mean, they’ve got loads of weaponry that they already possess because they took it from U.S. bases and other places they had left behind. So, I don’t recommend economic sanctions. But I do think that every diplomatic effort ought to be made to offer carrots to say to the Taliban, “Look, start to respect human rights and teach your people to use methods other than beating people bloody with electric cables. Teach your people to accept that you’ve got to have women in every capacity in society if you’re ever going to make progress.” Start teaching that.
And what would the carrots be? You know, Afghanistan is in economic free-fall and facing a looming catastrophe economically. And they’re in the fourth wave of COVID, with a very badly battered medical system nationwide. And they’ve got drought in at least 24 out of 34 provinces.
Being able to ride around in a pickup truck and brandish your weapons doesn’t enable you to cope with those kinds of problems which will unquestionably increase the frustrations of a population that might become extremely resentful, which they’re trying to govern.
Stephanie: And Kathy, those are such practical ideas. Thank you. I look forward to sharing them as well. Do you feel that the Taliban have been dehumanized by the Western media, by the global media? And is there a way to kind of break through that dehumanization and see why people join the Taliban in the first place, and what ways we can interrupt that cycle of extremism?
Kathy: Oh, Stephanie, that’s a really helpful question. And I have to monitor myself and my own language because I realize, even as you speak, there’s no such thing as “The Taliban.” That’s too wide a brush stroke. There are many different groupings that comprise the Taliban.
And your question of why do people enter into those groups in the first place, it’s true not only for the Taliban, but for many other warlord groupings, that they could say the young people who wanted to put food on the table for their families, “Look, you know, we’ve got money, but you have to be willing to pick up a gun to be on the dole to get any of this money.” And so, for many young Talib fighters, they didn’t have a whole lot of other options in terms of being able to grow crops or cultivate flocks or rehabilitate the agricultural infrastructure in their area. You know, opium is the largest crop being produced right now and that would bring them into a whole network of drug lords and warlords.
Many of the young Talib fighters are probably people who would benefit from being able to learn how to read and all of the people in Afghanistan would benefit from being able to learn each other’s languages, Dari and Pashto. I’m sure that there have been images filled with hatred built up, such that there are Pashtuns who think all Hazaras are second-class citizens and not to be trusted. And Hazaras have built up images of all Pashtuns as being dangerous and not to be trusted.
My young friends in Afghanistan were emblematic of people who wanted to reach out to people on the other side of the divide. They talked about a border-free world. They wanted to have interethnic projects. And so, they distributed blankets to people who were in need during the harsh winters, as they did every winter. I mean, they saved lives, I believe, with these heavy blankets.
They made sure that the women who were paid to manufacture the blankets were part from the Hazaric grouping, part from the Tajik grouping, and part from the Pashto grouping. They really worked hard to make sure that they were being respectful of all three different ethnic groups. And then the same with the distribution. They would make it a point of asking mosques that represented these three different ethnic groupings to help them figure out how to equitably distribute those blankets. And they did the same thing with the kids who came to their street kids’ school and the families that were helped through that.
That was a small project, and it was enabled by the generosity of many, many people, including many in California and many in Point Reyes. But you know, meanwhile the United States government has poured billions, if not trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I think in the aggregate they’ve widened the gulf between different groups and exacerbated the likelihood of people getting weapons and aiming them at each other.
You’re so right to not accept the idea that there is another big blob called, “The Taliban.” We have to sort of step back from that. But then also kind of squint almost and try to see the humanity of the so-called enemies.
Michael: Yeah, seeing the humanity — once again, Kathy, as we know very well, that just changes your field of vision completely, changes your perspective. You start seeing different things. I know one group came up with some grant money for, I believe it was Afghanistan. It was a while ago; gave them the money in the expectation that they would grow needed food crops, and instead, the people grew flowers.
So, they asked, “Why did you do that?” And they said, “Well, the land has to smile.” We have to, you know, bring back the positive in some good life-affirming form. It would be so easy if we changed our mental framework, as I say, from, how can we pour more of the same oil on the same troubled waters? Or, where do we find a different kind of oil? That’s what Voices of Creative Nonviolence and the Metta Center have been working on so hard, to raise the banner of nonviolence and immediately the violence falls into perspective.
Stephanie: Now Kathy, you’ve been to Afghanistan more than 30 times?
Kathy: That’s right.
Stephanie: So, let’s talk a little about your journey as a human being and how that experience has changed you. I also want to give our listeners a sense of what it’s like to be in Afghanistan. And not just in Kabul, but I’m sure you’ve gone into the provinces outside. Can you paint a picture of Afghanistan for us and the people?
Kathy: Well, you know, I have a friend, Ed Keenan, who was a member of one of our earliest delegations to go and visit Kabul. And he very humbly wrote an essay saying he felt that he saw Afghanistan through a keyhole. You know, that’s really true for me.
I know one neighborhood of Kabul and was just thrilled on a few occasions to go to Panjshir which is a beautiful area where the Emergency Surgical Centre for Victims of War had a hospital. We were guests at that hospital for a week. And then on a few occasions, kind of as a field trip, some of us were able to go to be guests of a former agricultural worker. He was killed. He and his family would welcome us in the Panjshir area. And I visited people in Bamiyan. And then just on occasion, the outskirts of Kabul, maybe for a village wedding.
But anyway, it was very enlightening to go into villages to the small extent that I did because some of the grandmothers in Bamiyan, told me, “You know, the practices that you hear about – that the Taliban maintain toward women were going on for centuries before there were ever any Taliban. This has always been our way.”
So, in the villages, in the rural areas, some women – not all, but some — would not notice a great difference between the rule of Ashraf Ghani and his government and the rule of the Taliban. In fact, the Afghan analyst organization has said that some people in areas where they sort of embedded themselves and just tried to see what’s it like living in an area dominated by the Taliban. Some said to them, “You know, when it comes to issues of justice to resolve disputes over property or land, we prefer the Taliban courts because the courts of the government over in Kabul,” which must seem, you know, very, very far away, “are so corrupt we have to keep paying for every step of the way, and we run out of money. And justice is meted out depending on who’s got more money.” So, that’s probably something that has affected people’s lives, whether they’re men, women, or children.
When I would go to that working class area of Kabul, in more recent years, once I got into their household, I didn’t leave. Whereas once we would stay for a month or a month and a half, our visits got shorter and shorter, like ten days would be more typical because it began to be more dangerous for our young friends to host Westerners. It brought a lot of suspicion. Why are you connecting with people from the West? What are they doing? Are they teaching you? Are you adopting Western values? Those were already sources of suspicion before the Talib overtook Kabul.
I would say that the altruism, the idealism, the empathy, the leadership skills, the good humor that I found amongst the young people that I was so fortunate to visit, it was always, always a very renewing experience.
I can understand why an Italian nurse I once met (his name was Emanuele Nannini) he said he was going way, way up in the mountains with a big backpack on his back, and he was delivering medical supplies. It was going to be his last time going because his four-year tour of being with the Emergency Surgical Centers for Victims of War was ending.
People knew that he was going to be leaving them and they turned out – they walked four hours in the snow in the winter to be able to say goodbye and thank you. And he said, “Aw. I fell in love with them.” I think that’s the experience that so many have had. Again, you could ask Sherri Maurin. You just fall in love with so many wonderful, good, and kindly people who meant us no harm.
I remember my young friend saying years earlier to me, “Kathy, go home and tell the parents of young people in your country, ‘Don’t send your children to Afghanistan. It’s dangerous for them here.’” And then he added very sadly, “And they don’t really help us.”
So, there was always a sense, I think, on the part of the young people and some of the families and the young people that I met that they didn’t want to harm people in the United States, but they didn’t want people in the United States to keep sending soldiers and troops and weapons into their country.
And I remember when that massive ordinance air blast, the strongest, largest weapon – conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal short of a nuclear bomb, when that hit a mountainside, they were just shocked. They thought – you know, because people were calling it, “The Mother of All Bombs,” in the United States — and they just were utterly befuddled. Why? Why would you want to do this?
Well, it turned out that inside that mountain was a network of places to store weapons, and kind of keep a secret guidance capacity for United States militarism that had been built by the U.S. military many years ago. The U.S. military knew it was there, and they didn’t want the Taliban to use it or other warlord groups to use it, so they blew it up.
But you know, I never heard such vigorous messaging about the value of abolishing war as I heard from these young people in Afghanistan. They were constant in sending that message.
Stephanie: And can you paint a little bit more of a picture too of what it’s like to be in that neighborhood in Kabul? You have to go out, how do you get your supplies? How did you overcome fear of potential violence?
Kathy: The scarcity of supply was always very real. I remember being there one time when the water ran out. You know, gone, through, over. And fortunately, the landlord took responsibility to dig for a well. And fortunately, after some time, water was hit. And so, this crisis of no water was somewhat alleviated.
There were so many accidents inside the different households that the young people lived in floods and cave-ins, and the latrine situations were often quite primitive. Every time I went, literally every winter when I was in Afghanistan, the entire household would come down with some kind of respiratory infection. And three times, I myself had pneumonia. I mean, I didn’t have the immunities that they had built up, and I’m old. So, people always faced health risks.
The air quality was so horrible in the wintertime because in the poorer areas people can’t afford wood. They can’t afford coal, so they started to burn plastic bags and tires. And the smog would just create an air quality that was so terrible. I mean, literally, if you were brushing your teeth you spat out black saliva. And that’s not good for people.
I’m amazed at the resilience of my young friends being able to manage through these harsh cold winters. There’s no indoor heating, so you know, you put on all your clothes, and you shiver a lot over the course of the day.
I was also just so impressed by their readiness to bundle up, go up the mountainside, and visit with widows who had been pushed up the mountain, basically. The higher up you go, the less water is available and so the rents go down, and you’ve got women living on a shoestring. And the only way they can feed the kids is to send a couple of them down to the marketplace to scour, you know, the floor of the market for scraps of food or try to get some enrolled as child laborers.
And so my young friends, in a way they were doing surveillance, a very good kind of surveillance with their notebooks and their pens asking women who are the only adults in a household. There’s no man to earn an income. The women can’t go out and work. They’ve got kids.
They’d ask them, “How many times a week do you eat beans?” And if the answer was, “Maybe twice,” if they were mainly eating bread or rice, if they didn’t have access to clean water, if a child was the main income earner, then they’d take that survey sheet and kind of put it at the top. And they went to those people and said, “Look, we think we can at least help you get through the winter. Here’s the stuffing to make a heavy quilt blanket. Here’s the fabric. You sew it up. We’ll come back and collect it. We’ll pay you, and we’ll give them away for free to the refugees in the refugee camps.”
And then others – my young friend who’s now in India — he would take me to the place where he volunteered with the . He was a volunteer teacher, and these kids loved him. And he himself copes with having muscular dystrophy. It’s not so severe that he needs a wheelchair. He can still walk.
I mentioned empathy. He has just tremendous empathy for other people who are dealing with circumstances beyond their control in some ways. And I just saw that again and again. So, when I see kids saying, “Could another country take me?” I think, “Oh my gosh. Canada, the United States, the U.K., Germany, Portugal, Italy.” Any other country would – should be jumping for joy to have these young people enter into their country, just as we should welcome every Haitian who wants to come here. And acknowledge, we’ve got plenty to share. Plenty of work to go around. And if we are worried about money, take the $10 billion away from the Air Force and tell them, “You know what? We’re not going to be able to fund your Over the Horizon capacity to kill people.”
Stephanie: Kathy, I’m thinking of when Biden’s spokesperson, in response to those images on the border with the Haitians, said that they’re horrific and that there’s no situation in which that would be an appropriate response. While I applaud that statement, it seems so rational and so humane, I think we could take that logic and also apply it to the bigger question of war. Is there any situation in which that seems like an appropriate response in 2021?
Kathy: Oh, yeah. Certainly. You know, there are many, many, many families of Haitians here in the United States who themselves had a hard time, no doubt, crossing borders. But they would be ready to tell us, “Here’s how you can welcome people into our communities.” And I think we need to look much more at the grassroots capacities that communities have and free those capacities up.
I mean, I’m positive that there are communities all across the United States who can remember when the Vietnamese communities entered into their cities and were just in awe of the industry and the intellectual acumen and the goodness that so many of those refugees brought into our communities. I sure saw it in the uptown area of Chicago.
So, why would we want to just presume that somehow we’re a sacrosanct, superior group, and we can’t be invaded by people who want to come into our country? For goodness sakes, this country was the home of a native population that was massacred by the founders and their followers, initially. Massacred because of settlers that were hostile toward them. And then every immigrant group that came over to the United States generally came because they were fleeing militarists and persecutions in their countries.
So, why not have more empathy? Why not say everybody in, nobody out? Take the money out of the military and take the weapons out of the toolkit and be able to find ways to become beloved all around the world so that there wouldn’t be hostility. We wouldn’t be seen as menacing a force.
Stephanie: And it seems too, the way that you’ve described the people in Afghanistan and their generosity to you as a guest, that’s something that Americans can learn from Afghanistan.
Kathy: Well, certainly that sense of nonviolence encompassing a serious readiness to share resources, a serious readiness to be of service rather than to dominate others. And a very serious readiness to live simply.
You know, again, I want to stress that when I was in Kabul, I didn’t know anybody who owned a car. I could so readily see why this man, Zemari Ahmadi, was considered, you know, the go-to guy in the neighborhood. He had a car. The fuel consumption of Afghans compared to the rest of the world in terms of damage to the environment is miniscule. People don’t have refrigerators. They certainly don’t have air conditioners. Not so many cars. A lot more bicycles.
People live very, very simple lives. No indoor heating. People take their meals seated in a circle on the floor, and they share those meals with whomever might be coming in the door. And actually, this is very sad, but after every meal you’d see one of our young friends put any leftovers in a plastic bag, and they’d bring them over to the bridge because they knew that living under the bridge were people who are among the millions who had become addicted to opium.
And sadly, another reality of war was that although the Taliban initially had eradicated opium production, in the 20 years of U.S. occupation, in spite of billions being poured into counter-narcotics, the opium product has zoomed upward. And that’s another way that it affects people in the United States as well because with the volume of production of opium coming from Afghanistan, it lowers the price of opium and that affects people from the U.K. to the U.S. and throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Michael: Yeah. Kathy, thank you so much. The same thing has happened in Columbia, by the way. We go in there and bomb these fields and try to eradicate cocoa and end up having exactly the opposite response. I wanted to share with you a couple of things. I was at a meeting in the U.K. one time, a long time ago, really, and this question of what we’re doing in Afghanistan came up.
There was a woman in the audience who had been to Afghanistan, and she was crying her eyes out. And it really, of course, affected me very deeply. She said, “You know, we’re bombing these ‘mountains’ and to us, they’re just mountains. But they have systems for bringing water from the mountains down to the villages that are hundreds of years old. And this is a kind of collateral damage that we don’t take into account.” So, that was one thing.
And the other is simply this. I’m remembering something that Johan Galtung said, that he had interviewed a lot of Arabic people about terrorism. He asked, “What do you want?” And you know what they said? “We want respect for our religion.” And it would cost us nothing. And the same is definitely true for the Taliban.
Of course, they have practices which no one can respect. But the basis of it is that when you disrespect people for something that’s so intimate to them as their religion, they’re going to behave worse. It’s just, “Okay, we’ll do it more.” “We will better the instruction,” as Shylock says. We’d have to do something counterintuitive and reverse that psychology. That’s what I’m thinking.
Kathy: I think also we need maybe to recognize that the dominant religion, I believe, in our country today has become militarism. I think a lot of the rituals that take place in houses of worship, in a way, are smokescreens, and they prevent people from seeing that we really place our faith in the ability to dominate other people’s resources, control other people’s resources, and do that violently. And because we have that or we have had that dominance, we’ve been able to live quite well — maybe with too much consumption, with too much control of resources because we expect to get other people’s precious resources at cut-rate prices.
So, I think, you know, our religious practices have been as injurious to other people as those of the Taliban. We may not be flogging people publicly in an outdoor space, but you know, when our bombs – these, for instance, when a drone fires a hellfire missile, can you imagine that missile – it not only lands 100 pounds of molten lead on a car or a house, but then the latest version of it, it’s called the [R9X] missile, it sprouts, almost, like six blades. They shoot out like switchblades. Big, long blades. Then imagine a lawnmower, the old-fashioned kind. They start to rotate and they cut up, they slice up the bodies of whomever has been attacked. Now, you know, that’s pretty ghastly, isn’t it?
And imagine the Ahmedi children. That was the end of their lives. So, we have very bad practices. And nonviolence is truth force. We have to tell the truth and look at ourselves in the mirror. And what I’ve just said is really, really hard to look at. But I think that it’s required to better understand who we are and how we can actually say, “We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry,” and make reparations that say we are not going to continue this.
Stephanie: Kathy Kelly, we have just a few minutes left and I wonder how you’re feeling about Afghanistan really not being at the forefront of people’s conscience for so many years until the United States pulls out. You’ve been interviewed on Democracy Now and National Catholic Reporter. You’re all over the news right now. People want to talk to you. What do you think we have to hear to not let this go away when the headlines stop pointing it out? What do we have to do?
Kathy: Well, it’s certainly true that more attention was paid in the last three weeks than was paid over the last 20 years to Afghanistan. It’s such a huge question, but I think the stories help us make sense of our reality.
And so, when you bring it down into the local community college or the closest university, can we ask the tenured professors and the chancellors to make concern about Afghanistan part of their curriculum, part of their extracurriculars. When we think about the houses of worship, the synagogues and the mosques and the churches, can we ask them, can you help us create real concern for people from Afghanistan?
Can we help bring refugees to our community and learn from them? Can we have people who will buddy up with and be a communal resource for kids that are stuck in Afghanistan right now? Or for people that are really in dicey situations in Pakistan? Can we turn to our local food cooperatives and ecological groups and permaculture specialists and say, “You know what? These kids in Afghanistan love studying permaculture. Can we make connections in that way and just keep on connecting, connecting, connecting?”
You know, I’ve asked my young friends in Afghanistan, “You want to think about writing your story. You know, maybe write an imaginary letter to somebody who was a refugee from another circumstance.” So, maybe we can do the same. You know, correspond and share stories. Thank you for asking that important question as well.
All of your questions have been – it’s like going on a retreat. I’m really grateful for your time this morning. Thank you for listening. You two always listen.
Stephanie: Thank you so much for joining us today. And on behalf of our listeners, thank you very much, Kathy Kelly.
Kathy: All right. Great, thank you. Goodbye, Michael. Goodbye, Stephanie.
Michael: Bye-bye, Kathy. Until next time.
Kathy: All right. Until next time.
Stephanie: We were just speaking with Kathy Kelly, one of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness, later known as Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She’s a co-coordinator at Ban Killer Drones Campaign, an activist with World Beyond War, and she’s been to Afghanistan nearly 30 times. She has an incredible perspective.
We have a few minutes left. Michael Nagler, please give us a Nonviolence Report. You have been doing some deep reflection on moral injury after our last interview with Kelly Borhaug and I hope that you can speak a little bit more to how those thoughts have been developing in the next few minutes.
Michael: Yeah. That’s another of your series of good questions, Stephanie. I’ve written an article, and I’m preparing to write more. The article is called, “Afghanistan and Moral Injury.”
My main point is that these are two of several very large, unmistakable signs telling us, “Go back. You’re going the wrong way.” The Afghanistan one refers to the fact that since 1945, the United States has spent – get this – $21 trillion. Just imagine what we could have done with that. $21 trillion on a long series of wars, none of which was “won” in the conventional sense. Reminding me of somebody who said, “You can’t win a war any more than you can win an earthquake.”
The other part of my article, “Moral Injury” is on a very different scale, but even more telling in a way, what it does to a human being to participate in an injurious system and do injury to others.
We’ve always thought that, you know, “Ha-ha. It’s your problem, not mine.” But even from neuroscience nowadays, we can show that when you injure another person, that injury registers in your own brain, and if we would take that into account, that you cannot injure others without injuring yourself. It’s not just a moral truism. It’s a fact of brain science. Though there are moral forces in the universe, that side and also the fact that as a way of solving problems it doesn’t work anymore. We really will be motivated to find another way.
So, I’m going to highlight a group that really seems very, very hopeful to me. It’s a big organization, like most organizations today that are making this kind of difference, it’s collaborative, so many other groups like Training for Change and so on are a part of it. It’s an outgrowth of Occupy, and it’s called Momentum.
And what I particularly like about it, because this is something that I think we’ve been missing for a long time, is that they’re not just organizing, but they’re very, very good at helping you organize for a particular purpose or a particular issue. But they’re also doing training and strategy and they’re working that out very scientifically.
That’s an easy one to look up: just Momentum. It’s a very attractive website and everything about this group has struck me as very encouraging. Especially the fact, and we are here at Nonviolence Radio this morning, that they do mention prominently at significant places that nonviolence is going to be adhered to in everything that they do. So, that’s Momentum.
In addition to the article coming out, “Afghanistan and Moral Injury,” I wanted to mention that at the University of Toledo on the 29th of this month, September, there’s going to be a showing of our film. There also was a showing recently in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Triumphant Film Festival. I think they must have somewhere some record of everything that was shown.
So, what else is going on? Gosh so much. We are just at the end of Campaign Nonviolence Action Week which ended on the 21st, the International Day of Peace, not coincidentally. And I may have mentioned this before, but this year there were no less than 4300 actions and events of a nonviolent character taking place around the country.
Coming up pretty soon, October 1st, the day before Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, at Stanford University our friend Clay Carson will be having an open house where we can learn more about a very interesting project they’ve started called, “The World House Project.” So, go to the MLK Peace and Justice Center at Stanford and look for the open house and carve out that time on Friday, October 1st.
Stephanie: Also, on Friday, October 1st we’ll be doing another screening of The Third Harmony film with Ela Gandhi who was on Nonviolence Radio two weeks ago. That will be in celebration of International Day of Nonviolence, and that will be all the way in South Africa. But it will be available online.
Michael, we didn’t mention that September 21st was International Day of Peace. The Metta Center is associated with the United Nations through ECOSOC. We have special consultative status. This world body is working on issues of peace and nonviolence. We’re happy to help support that.
And there’s this kind of special time between September 21st which is the International Day of Peace and October 2nd, which is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, also the International Day of Nonviolence, that a lot of important work can happen, hence Campaign Nonviolence and why it’s so special for us to have somebody so dedicated to ending war on our show today, Kathy Kelly.
We’re very grateful to our mother station, KWMR, to Kathy Kelly for joining us, to Matt Watrous for transcribing and editing the show, Annie Hewitt, to Bryan Farrell at Waging Nonviolence, who always helps share the show and get it up there. And to you, our listeners, thank you so much. And to everybody who helped think of ideas and questions for the show, thank you very much. And until the next time, take care of each other.
This episode features music from DAF Records.