Afghanistan, Socks, and a Moral Compass


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“After a couple of rounds of snow shoveling this weekend, I am looking out my study window as still more beautiful precipitation continues to fall in my part of New England, gracing tree branches, power and phone lines, roofs and what were lawns this past summer.

The Sunday papers have been read, with news that the U.S. economic system was even more rotten than we had thought, more layoffs and economic hardships to come, more Taliban offensives in Afghanistan, more conniving and warfare in Iraq, the comic relief of growing global demand for shoes manufactured by the Turkish company that made the now famous oxfords hurled at our war criminal president (more than 250,000 pairs ordered in the last week!)….”

Author: Joseph Gerson, Director of Programs for the American Friends Service Committee in New England
Published in: Huntington News Network (home page: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/), and in The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin
Date: December 23 and 24, 2008

For the full article:
Afghanistan, Socks, and a Moral Compass
(721 words)
by Joseph Gerson

After a couple of rounds of snow shoveling this weekend, I am looking out my study window as still more beautiful precipitation continues to fall in my part of New England, gracing tree branches, power and phone lines, roofs and what were lawns this past summer.

The Sunday papers have been read, with news that the U.S. economic system was even more rotten than we had thought, more layoffs and economic hardships to come, more Taliban offensives in Afghanistan, more conniving and warfare in Iraq, the comic relief of growing global demand for shoes manufactured by the Turkish company that made the now famous oxfords hurled at our war criminal president (more than 250,000 pairs ordered in the last week!) the New York Times editorial page devoted to how to restructure but not reduce the military budget, and the end of Carol Chomsky’s loving and creative life, and with it her hard struggle with cancer and Noam’s loving travail.

But, what I am thinking about as the snow falls and Chanukah and Christmas approach, is a note I received a week or so ago from a friend in Japan, which also included notes from a mutual friend, “Mariam” in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Last spring and summer I was privileged to attend conferences in Germany and Japan, each of which included a representative from RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. In both cases, they traveled under assumed names, and taking pictures of them was strictly forbidden lest they fall into the wrong hands and the very worst befall them. In Afghanistan, when they go out on the street to attend to family needs or work to affirm women’s rights — a revolutionary act in that nation — they have to wear burkas.

“Mariam” was quite pregnant when I met her in Hiroshima, and she was clear and fearless in saying that fundamentalism of all kinds — including that of the United States’ war lord allies and the foreign forces occupying her country – is the real enemy, the primary sources of violence and injustice. “Protection” from U.S. and NATO troops was not, she said, helpful, and she feared the consequences of Obama or McCain sending in more U.S. and NATO troops. Foreign forces would have to leave her occupied nation so that Afghans could deal among themselves with their very real conflicts and issues that make their lives so difficult.

Then, earlier this month, a note came from my Japanese friend and colleague Emi, who was “Mariam’s” principal host in Japan. Along with it came two notes from “Mariam.” As Emi explained, she did not receive any e-mail from “Mariam” in the fall, which she chalked up to “Mariam’s pregnancy and childbirth. However, one of Emi’s colleagues was traveling to Kabul, so she sent a small package for “Mariam” with her friend. Contact was made, and “Mariam” managed to meet this Emi’s friend in a hotel, where the gift was received.

In one of “Mariam’s” notes, she explains that her infant daughter doesn’t sleep at night, and it is all too easy to see that, as can be the case anywhere in the world, “Mariam” is nearing the end of her tether. “Mariam’s” notes go on to thank Emi for the pair of socks which she sent for the baby. “Mariam’s” life is so hard, and she writes that she sometimes blames herself for bringing such a beautiful and innocent child into such a brutal and unjust world. Emi, who is a leading figure in the Japanese peace movement, she writes, serves as something of a life line. She tells Emi that when she thinks about her and others like her it gives her hope and strength.

“Mariam” goes on to thank Emi for the “gorgeous gift” she sent. The socks, she writes “were the most useful…Nobody can find socks for babies here in this age. I wash them every night and dry them near the heater for the next day.”

And there’s one more thing: “Mariam” has named her daughter Eman, which means bringer of peace and happiness. “Mariam” calls her by her nickname, Emi.

Through this holiday season, this time of snow and war, and probably for years to come, I’ll be holding “Mariam”, the two Emis, and those socks very close as friends, a wound, and a moral compass.

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs for the American Friends Service Committee in New England.