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Interview by Cristina Mirra and J Jill
Afghanistan told by Dr. Hakim who left the tranquility of Singapore to help the Afghan people to rise again: 18 years of war, 100 million landmines, 40% of the population illiterate.
Could you share with us your vision of Afghanistan as you see it presently?
On most days in Afghanistan, I’m thinking, “Humans shouldn’t have to live this way.” Sadly, I see Afghanistan as an example of how foreign and local governments should not organize society. Afghans have a proverb which says, “The river is muddy from its origins.” The current foundations of Afghan society are a ‘muddy’ copy of the profit-driven and militaristic practices of elitist global systems. Afghanistan’s environmental, economic, socio-political, educational and healthcare systems are unsustainable and breaking down. The US/NATO ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, waged since 2001, was a pretext, with Afghanistan ranked the worst on the Global Terrorism Index 2019 and civilian casualties reaching record numbers.
Afghans joke that, in different years, their country has been number 1 in various areas: ‘terrorism’, corruption, heroin and marijuana production, highest number of drug addicts, infant mortality, maternal mortality, largest unemployed workforce, largest protracted refugee population in the world, most air polluted city in December 2018, most depressed people, one of twenty countries most vulnerable to climate change.
So both the soil and the people of Afghanistan have suffered psychological violence and are hurting. Surviving war and poverty is a demanding daily obligation, which has imposed a heavy toll on the people’s relationships with one another. Afghans have to cope with cyclical revenge, distrust, psychological stress, grief and anger.
For many, life in Afghanistan is untenable. So, they flee. They leave to seek refuge.
But, I have hope in the estimated 64% of the Afghan populace who are below 25 years of age. Like young people across the world, I’ve seen how they choose to heal, and to live differently. The Afghan Peace Volunteers who interact with one another at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre in Kabul readily and resiliently begin their journey towards nonviolent relationships and practices.
What are the fundamental issues and problems that exist in today’s Afghanistan?
The three major crises which the Afghan Peace Volunteers are trying to address in their voluntary work are:
- Climate change and destruction of the natural world : water crisis including drought, malnutrition, food insecurity, de-forestation, desertification, depletion of healthy soils and carbon sinks, the future of destructive extraction industries minerals including copper, iron, uranium, rare earth elements and fossil fuels.
- Elitist-driven inequalities, including economic and socio-political inequalities: poverty, rising GINI coefficient of inequality gap, endemic corruption, farcical government of armed, religious narco-warlords who serve themselves while ignoring and trampling on “the 99%”
- Militarism and war : international use of unaccountable violence, violence which can sometimes be psychotic, turning people from all sides of the conflict into hated, dispensable objects. Afghans sometimes describe this de-humanization as, “We’re being killed like flies.”
The fundamental issues and problems of Afghanistan and the world share the same human roots are
a. Our dysfunctional relationship with money and power.
Money has replaced food, water and shelter as the basic human need, so we are less concerned about consuming nutritious food or protecting water resources than we are about getting money.
We search for significance and meaning in life, but get distracted by the alluring ‘feel-good’ decoy of status and power, believing as individuals and as societies that attaining status and power makes us ‘successful’ human beings, when in reality, this artificial status and power places us above fellow human beings in fundamentally unequal and un-natural relationships.
In Afghanistan or impoverished, war-torn countries, this dysfunctional relationship is further complicated by the strong will to survive through acquiring money and power, often violently.
b. Our dysfunctional relationships with the natural world and one another.
Industrialization, urbanization, materialism, commodification, digitalization and other developments have steered us away from our relationships with and care for the natural world and one another.
You have organized the youth of Afghanistan from refugee camps of yesterday to the Afghan Peace Volunteers of today. Can you describe that journey, the hardships and achievements?
Afghans and internationals I have met in this journey have turned my life upside-down, in that I have been encouraged to focus on the essentials of life, to be the sensitive as all of us can be, and to love passionately.
I have experienced threats, psychological violence, corruption, distrust and the breakdown of family and societal ties. At various times, these challenges had ‘broken’ me, but from my ‘broken-ness’, I look for healing, clarity and composure.
I have learned from everyone about the importance of relationships, and wish to direct my life ad passions through working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers and members of the human family to further develop the science and humanities of relationships. We are developing the Relational Learning Project and Relational Learning Circles, and the next project will be an Encyclopedia of Relationships. We’re now working to establish an Institute of Nonviolence in Kabul, through which we can further develop Relational Pedagogy.
I began taking care of my emotions. I distrusted emotions because I grew up in the common ‘males-shouldn’t cry’ belief but now I can express them the way I want. I’ve seen how frail and strong we can all be. Like in Eric Fromm’s quote, “I am the criminal and the saint”.
I learned not only to think outside the box, but to live outside the box: an Australian doctor who also working among Afghan refugees in Quetta, Pakistan had this advice, “You not only have to be flexible. You have to be fluid!”
I no longer feel a need to measure achievements. Being able to walk with the Afghan Peace Volunteers along a saner path in the midst of an Orwellian, heavily militarized world is fulfilling enough.
What elements in Afghan community do you appreciate most? What are Afghan people like?
I appreciate their ‘raw’ humanity, their resilience and the value they place on relationships.
Afghans are survivors. Their survival instincts have been honed by decades of war, and while it keeps them alive, the pitfalls of this drive to survive is that some Afghans can develop a misplaced sense of entitlement, and an ugly competitiveness.
Afghans have suffered psychological violence and hurt, so can empathize, comfort and be in human solidarity with others.
You have begun The Relational Learning Project which offers participation and connection with interested educational, advocacy and activist groups around the world. Can you give us a brief outline of the project and what you hope to achieve with the data collected?
The focus of the Relational Learning Project is to encourage the pursuit of deeper and more meaningful relationships across the world.
The Project has two components:
- A “Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices” online Survey, which will provide data on how participants across the world are relating with the natural world and the human family.
- One-hour online conversations through Relational Learning Circles. The Survey will provide data on how participants across the world are relating with the natural world.
For example, the Survey data will include participants views on including nature’s rights in a country’s laws and their views on gender differences in income. These data can help activists in their advocacy, and encourage everyone to examine and improve their environmental, economic and socio-political relationships.
The Relational Learning Circles provide a more personal opportunity for learning by conversing and relating with participants from different parts of the world.
What strategies do you use to continue striving for peace and justice in so difficult a world?
Nurture resilient, supportive and loving community relationships. Love through nonviolent relationships is the ‘super-power’, the unseen ‘fusion atomic power’.
Individual and community healing and self-care, including care for our emotional and psycho-social health. Small, local and concrete alternatives need to be intentionally and passionately established to give avenues for another world to be ‘born’. No alternative is too small or too insignificant. No light is too little in darkness.
We continue telling each other: Never give up! Plans, programs, and even life itself often don’t work out in Afghanistan. But when things don’t work out, it shouldn’t be because we gave up.
We continue telling each other of having timeless patience. Many of the Afghan Peace Volunteers say that they are working for future generations as they don’t expect to see results in their lifetime.
We continue telling each other that we should have fun and play in our activism. This energy could be called joy. I personally tend to give this insufficient priority.
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