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[Right on! Sis. Nadrat. As the Qur'an says of the people of paradise:"taarifu fi wujuhihim nadrat un-na'eem" ("you will recognize in their faces, the brightness of celestial bliss." 83:24)

(A Second Look at the Statues which were blown up)

By Nadrat Siddique

In 1987-1989, I visited the Afghan refugee camps of Munda Pul, Jalozai, Akora Khattak, and Pabi, near Peshawar, as well as others near Chitral. Conditions were bad in the camps, and almost every refugee to whom I spoke expressed the common sentiment of wanting to return home to their beloved Afghanistan, where everything was better. At that time, most of these refugees were at least somewhat confident that they would indeed one day return. Today, there remain 2 - 3 million Afghans in refugee camps. What remains of the beautiful homeland to which they dream of returning, is unrecognizable after three months of U.S. bombing, far beyond the war-ravaged product of ten years of Russian imperialist war, which yet exhibited some signs of infrastructure. Todays Afghanistan is reminiscent of Cambodia in the horrors which have been visited upon it by both U.S. and U.S.S.R., completely devoid of infrastructure, and incapable of supporting its population. Indeed its landscape has been so disfigured by war that returning to it is a dangerous if not unlikely proposition.

Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are guilty of war crimes against Afghanistan. The country is in dire need of re-building. One obvious way to rebuild the country, without reducing it it the status of perpetual slavery to the World Bank and other cut throats, is for the parties responsible for its destruction to pay reparations. In an epoch purportedly governed by International Laws, Geneva Conventions, War Crimes Tribunals, and United Nations mediation, why then are reparations not in the offing?

One of my most vivid recollections of the camp is of one Friday (in the summer of 1988), when I attempted to attend the Juma prayers at the little mud mosque in the camp. I was peeved because I was excluded from attending the prayer. Women didn't go to the mosque for prayer, my hosts apologetically told me--to dispute this was to invite accusations that one was communist. Only communists advocated such outlandish things as "women in the mosque." Finally the Friday prayer was over, and the men should have been on their way back home. But, for some reason, the mullah's voice droned on. I was getting impatient. And he was reciting names. Children's names. The list was long--I counted fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen....twenty-three children were named. How nice, I thought, he must be reciting the names of all the children who finished the Qur'an, or who had won some Islamic contest, like they did at the posh mosque I attended in White Oak, Maryland.

Suddenly there came a sound of sobbing from the neighboring compound. Then further away, in the distance, a wailing became apparent. Sensing my confusion, the eldest of the household, who had stayed home from the Friday prayer due to illness, came to my rescue: "The imam is reading the names of the children who have died in the camp this week," he told me solemnly. "Zamana kharab ast,"--it is a bad time--he said, echoing the words of dozens of refugees whom I met. It was a particularly difficult time for the children, he continued, growing up in the refugee camp. Beautiful Afghan children--dead from malaria, T.B., hepatitis, diarrhea, rickets, or generalized malnutrition. The refugee camp was no longer a refuge, but a mass grave for the children of the mujahideen and the mohajireen.

The children were trying to memorize their lessons for the day, as I sat trying to learn my Dari lesson. It was very hot and humid as we sat in the courtyard outside the "bedroom," a single mud structure which functioned variously as sleeping quarters, living room, and storage area. We sat underneath the shade created by some overhanding branches thrown over the mud house as a makeshift roof, the sweat dripping from our backs and from our brows, our backs tingling with heat rash. Large buzzing, biting flies kept settling on the children as they tried diligently to recite their lessons. I kept shooing them away, only to have them return a few moments later. But the children kept at their lessons with admirable persistence. A few yards away, a baby slept on a small mat on the ground in the courtyard where we were studying. Her mother worked hard kneeding dough for the afternoon meal a few feet away in the makeshift kitchen. When I looked again, the baby's body was covered with flies. Horrified, I jumped up and shooed them away. The baby, Malalai, became to me a symbol of Afghanistan. Sweet, naive, innocent, with no animosity for anyone, she is preyed upon by the American and Russian parasites who wish to drink her life blood, in the form of oil, natural gas, and mineral resources or as a transit point for these.

Afghans love their children. In a country full of widows and orphans, it was next to impossible (at the time of my visit, although this may have changed due to the desperate conditions arising after the U.S. bombing) to locate and Afghan child for adoption, as even those who had lost parents were immediately taken in by their extended family. Truly it is a society in which the aphorism "it takes a village to raise a child," comes to life.

In 2001, when the Taliban were approached by the United Nations representatives who wanted to refurbish the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province, they asked the U.N. reps. if they might take a fraction of the money to feed hungry Afghan children. The U.N. response was a point blank "NO." No money to feed the children who cannot sleep at night because they are so hungry, whose viscera risk permanent damage from malnutrition; whose entrails are running out of them in fatal diarrhea--but plenty of money to repair statues. Just as in the U.S., the dogs and cats of the rich have more access to everything from tooth paste to surgery than do the children of the poor in most Third World countries.

In response to this categoric denial of their humanity, and anguished at the impending death of tens of thousands of Afghan children, the Taliban, angry and frustrated, decided to destroy the Buddhist statues. The mentality which cavalierly dismisses the impending death of Afghan and Iraqi children is the same mentality which cuts school lunches for impoverished children in America's inner cities, and evicts welfare mothers for the misdemeanors of their family members, while funding ventures like, in the words of Gil Scott-Heron, "Whitey on the moon."

Recently, an expatriate Afghan sculptor was given much kudos in the U.S. press when he announced his intentions of returning to Afghanistan to refurbish the largest of the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in Bamiyan Province. He melodramatically told the tale of his escape from Afghanistan, and how he had tearfully smashed his own sculptures himself before fleeing the country, so that the Taliban might not get their hands on them. He declared that he would not restore the smaller statues so that the nation might never forget the barbaric nature of the Taliban. Immediately, numerous organizations jumped to his assistance with promises of major funding.

Let's think about this for a minute: the original statues have already been destroyed by the Taliban. Much of the country is starving, due to the combined effects of severe weather, war, and apathy on part of the world community. But millions of dollars are going to be spent on making a copy of a Buddha statue, whose value was in its antiquity, never mind the five million Afghan people who face starvation. Clear as mud, huh?

Recently the U.S. press lauded the first celebration of Now Ruz (New Year) in "Free" Afghanistan. For the first time since the Taliban's rise to power, the people could finally dance, prance, and, yes--drink in the streets with complete abandon. The media seemed to overlook the minor detail that Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, and Now Ruz, haram under Islamic law, is a pagan holiday (its origins are Zorastrian) not celebrated by most Afghans. Ramadan, on the other hand, is recognized and celebrated by the vast majority of Afghans. Indeed the importance of this holy month, central to Afghan tradition, was recognized by the U.S. government--with some of the heaviest bomb tonnage dropped on a country in modern history. Sort of like bombing New York or Washington on Christmas Day. As for the liberating celebrations of Now Ruz, I'd venture that most of the folks celebrating that holiday might be Karzai's homies, part of the democratic government that George Dubya "put in."

It has been ten years since the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, and not a word about reparations for the incredible war crimes committed by the Soviets in that country. Why aren't the Soviets forced to pay reparations to a people against whom they perpetuated every possible atrocity, from the near universal distribution of landmines, to killing, jailing, and torture of the civilian population, and widespread use of chemical and biological agents?

What of U.S. violations of international law in Afghanistan: bombing and decimation of whole villages and cities; destruction of hospitals, relief centers, and food supply lines; cold-blooded murder of 4,000 Afghan civilians by U.S. estimates (with independent local media estimates placing the civilian death toll as high as 60,000), and more landmines to add to the existing Soviet ones. For that matter, the U.S. has to date presented no evidence to the World Court at the Hague, against Osama, the putative puppeteer behind 9-11. And if there is no such evidence? Or put more bluntly, what defines a war criminal?

Does none of this not warrant reparations? Or perhaps reparations, like holocausts, Nobel Peace prizes, and suffering, are the domain of one and only one privileged group.

In the camps, and in Afghanistan itself, the imam is reading a longer and longer list of children's names each Friday--dead not just from malnutrition and diarrhea, but from daisycutters, cruise missiles, and fresh American landmines to accompany the Soviet ones.

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Nadrat Siddique

If you blow out the candles in my eyes
If you freeze all the kisses on my lips,
If you fill my native air with lisping curses,
Or silence my anguish,
Forge my coin,
Uproot the smile from my children's faces.
If you raise a thousand walls,
And nail my eyes to humiliation,
Enemy of man,
I shall not compromise
And to the end
I shall fight.

--Samir Al-Qassem

2002-06-08 Sat 17:49ct