by Martin Murie
(Swans - August 10, 2009) In this letter from Quetta, written on November 14, 2001, Tiziano Terzani adds new complexities to the Pakistan/Afghanistan situation. It assumes that Bush will invade Iraq very soon and it goes on to build new layers on the already dismal picture laid out in his preceding letters.
On our journey we [two medical students who met by chance] decided to steer clear of all that was official, to avoid the trap of following set routes prepared for the spin-doctors and the luxury hotels being used by the international press with their daily briefings, press releases and opinions of ex-ministers and retired generals. Instead, we decided to follow the logic of the only thread still capable of weaving the odd moment of genuine magic: chance. Thus I went from one chance encounter to another. With the help of students I travelled hundreds of miles, from one corner of the country to another. I spoke to dozens of people. I was present at the largest gathering of Muslims in the world apart from the pilgrimage to Mecca, and eventually provoked an order for our arrest from the Home Secretary for Baluchistan, who sent his commandos to come and flush us out of the small town of Chaman on the Afghanistan border where we had vainly hoped to spend the night unobserved. (1)
Tiziano decided, on the advice of Abu Hanifah, to go to Lahore where he witnessed a huge gathering of Muslim men, the tablighi, not a woman in sight. The tablighi are not preachers to convert the infidels; their goal is to be among fellow Muslims. They travel through Pakistan, do not seek publicity, their leaders do not grant interviews. They are among the masses, teaching the virtues of a simpler form of Islam, a return to the days of the Prophet, a defense against Westernization. Somewhat paranoid -- we can understand that!
I went for a first stroll to get my bearings and discovered I was near the city hospital where civilians wounded in the American raids on Kandahar arrived daily. It was here that I got to know 'Abdul Wasey,' 10 years old, Afghan, hit by a Cruise missile, 'fractured leg,' as the handwritten notice hanging on the peeling wall behind his dirty, dusty bed said . . . Abdul had been playing cricket with friends in a park when they were hit. The other seven died.
Tiziano arranges to go to a small border town, Chaman, where he submitted an application to go to Kandahar the next day. But he wasn't allowed to spend the night in Chaman. The police found him and the two medical students. After kicking the students a few times and "a bit of diplomacy on my part," the police let them go. On the way back to Quetta they came to the Khojak Pass where the car got a puncture. A ten-minute stop and Tiziano exclaims that the stop,
. . . gave me the most majestic, unforgettable vision of Afghanistan and the absurdity of what the West with the U.S. at its head was trying to do to us. The sun had just set, and a pale half-moon began to turn silver in the pastel sky above a range of mountains. Sometimes pink, sometimes violet or ochre, barren but somehow alive, they were like the waves of a sea frozen by eternity.
Tiziano offers two conclusions:
"The only way to resist is by stubbornly choosing to think with our own minds and above all feel with our own hearts."
And: "In my opinion it would be far wiser for Europe to signal its dissent now, speak with one voice rather than letting its individual governments play their several roles of satellites to Washington, and like a true friend and ally help America find a way out of this snare."
I have quoted at length from this long letter because Tiziano's own words are from the tortured lands, unadorned. He was there. The words and the way they are put together remind me of Ernie Pyle's reports from the front lines in World War Two.
A brief look into recent history: The War Against Fascism ended and the United Nations was formed. Already misleaders in God Bless America were grumbling about extreme danger from communism, Soviet style and domestic, paving the way for the Korean War -- domino theory -- and Vietnam -- more domino blather. Then there is Reagan and Granada. Then Bush I invades Iraq and Panama. Then Clinton meddles in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Then we get Afghanistan again, under the tragic simplification uttered by Bush II, "You are either with us or against us." Then Iraq again in 2003, and while we were once more invading that nation, we put armed forces into Haiti. Somewhere along the line, The Bay of Pigs, our feeble attempt to invade, by proxy, Cuba. We can easily and truthfully say that we have been on a war footing since the Japanese Emperor's troops attacked Pearl Harbor. Sixty-nine years, going on seventy. When will we ever learn?
I've left out the list of CIA ventures against Iran and other as-yet-undisclosed sneak attacks on sovereign nations.
This Saturday Alison and I go to the antiwar demo, new posters in hand:
THE ONLY WAY TO STOP WAR,
ACHIEVE SINGER PAYER HEALTH CARE
SAVE THE EARTH
Oh, the Talib with the new computer was an official in the Afghanistan consulate, in Quetta, Pakistan, who was in charge of passports.
1. Tiziano Terzani, Letters Against The War: Letter From Quetta: The Talib with the computer, 4 October, 2001. See Swans complete posting of "Letters Against The War," Swans.com, September 8, 2008 (republished June 1, 2009). (back)
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