What is happening in Afghanistan should concern us all. Greed, ideology, and revenge have come to their only fruition: death by falling from an airplane in running from violence toward a false hope. Seven people – a magic number, not able to hold on to a dream provided by a magic kingdom. Confronted with such an image, we might look for wisdom from something a little more authentic, a little more “down-to-earth”. Newly educated and educating Afghan women and girls are unique: they have struggled to live authentic lives for which they can claim responsibility. After all, falling from the side of an airplane during take-off is a situation where the question of responsibility seems wildly out of place. It is just tragic.
When a Nobel Peace Prize recipient writes, coming from an experience so closely resembling the one we now fear for Afghanistan women and girls, we should all read. It is particularly valuable for those of us not familiar with the on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan; we need the insight that the news cannot provide. Malala’s guest essay for the New York Times needs to be paid attention to closely because it offers us this, and we need to dig deep. Let’s consider the following key points she makes: the fears for Afghan girls and women are legitimate; they must know something different than a life defined by men with guns; neighboring countries must provide for their care and their education; their voices must be heard; they need to receive their promised future; the country may be deprived of doctors, engineers and scientists.
First, their fears are legitimate. It may go without saying, but they are afraid that they will be stopped from going to school, from going outside, from having a voice, and from acquiring the skills they need to achieve their dreams. Given the trajectory for self-determination in the West, these seem to be some of the most vital values of human life. And these fears are legitimate. Once a taste of authentic living has been acquired, it is terrifying to be faced with the threat of its loss.
Second, they need to be cared for and educated in refugee camps in neighboring countries, and this can be linked to Afghanistan having the professional expertise it will need in the future. Remarkably, no expression for permanent relocation in other countries exists. It seems that if we are to follow the voice of Malala, Afghan women and girls want to live into their promised future in alignment with the needs of Afghanistan. This is no expulsion, only a temporary exile. The desire to achieve dreams and contribute to their home must remain connected.
Third, they do not need to have their lives defined by men with guns. If we hear anything in Malala’s article, this is it. A history of wars fueled by ideology and greed has made violence a part of everyday life. The history is well-known: a 19th-century reality as a buffer state between competing British India and Russian Empire forces; the 1980’s Soviet-Afghan War fueled by competition for Afghan’s incredible poppy fields, and the 2001 US invasion which has led us to this day. The violence that forms the backbone of the living memory of the Afghan people cannot be the way that Afghan people frame their lives. She writes, “The Kalashnikovs carried by the Taliban are a heavy burden on the shoulders of all Afghan people.” It is time to cast off the burden of violence – but importantly, cast off the very things that the violence has entrenched – the weight of ideology and greed.
Fourth, and finally, she wants Afghan women to claim the lives they have been promised. For the collaborators with the US invasion, you and I included, we must be very clear about what this promise is. Is it the promise of a US-style liberal democracy? Or is it the more universal promise of a life that authentically self-determines for the benefit of self and home? My guess is that Afghan girls feel promised the latter. My guess is that we all hold on to the promise of authentically self-determined lives that benefit our self and our home.
This story can be symbolized by the existence of an educated set of Afghan girls and women. In them, we all see our own striving for authentic lives. We want to claim an authentic life that contributes to not only our own well-being but also to the well-being of our homes. And we know that relationships governed by ideology and greed only produce violence. We, too, know that story. We, too, know how close we are to the thorough and complete violence that awaits our ways of greed and ideology. The Afghan girls and women are not unique in their dream, nor that it seems something only available in the future. The Afghan girls represent this wish for all of us. Afghan girls and women must be a priority now. We all need to make this a priority now. Because as we have seen, the future is coming earlier than we have anticipated.