Our Journey to Smile

A Crisis of Values, in Afghanistan and beyond ; The global financial crisis, American healthcare and the Afghan war‎

A sub-zero cold has already arrived, in the early Afghan autumn

It’s the impenetrable cold of the distance, the distance of the heavens

It’s the incongruent freeze of disparities, the disparities in all we’ve learnt

It is our hearts crying miserably, while warmth loses to force and mammon.

a crisis of values

Watch Faiz talk about a crisis of values in Afghanistan and beyond

Underlying the global financial crisis, the local American healthcare challenge and the international Afghan war dilemma is a global crisis of values.

“It’s human nature, unless somebody can find a way to change human nature, we will have more crises.” Alan Greenspan, about the financial crisis.

Whereas we cannot change human nature, for the betterment of humanity, can’t we re-think our values?

This is not a self-righteous shout from an ivory- tower heart. This is a self-critical call from a grieving heart.

If there is any trace of pride, it would be pride in the human dignity I’ve found in Afghans who are coping un-demandingly with a mess, in which they are dying. Dying people are seldom haughty.

These are also not unique thoughts because we all instinctively recognize that this crisis of our ‘hearts and minds’ is carried by fellow human beings ; the US/NATO and Taliban leadership recognized this crisis of ‘winning hearts and minds’ and issued new codes of conduct.

These are ordinary non-partisan thoughts that arise out of an involved humanitarian concern for my Afghan friends, as well as for American and international colleagues.

“Voice of Conscience : I want to declare to the world, although I may have forfeited the regard of many friends in the West and I must bow my head low; but even for their friendship or love I must not suppress the voice of conscience.  There is something within me impelling me to cry out my agony. I have known humanity. Such a man knows exactly what it is. I do not mind how you describe it. That voice within tells me, “You have to stand against the whole world although you may have to stand alone. You have to stare in the face the whole world although the world may look at you with bloodshot eyes. Do not fear. Trust the little voice residing within your heart.” Ghandi

So, here goes my little voice.

The world has a crisis of values that needs to be cogently addressed if all human beings are to have decent and dignified human lives.

“What we face is above all a moral issue…” Ted Kennedy

I speak of it as a hope for the future because in the harsh, mad reality of today, not all human beings have decent and dignified human lives. In fact, some hardly live. I know. I live among Afghans in Afghanistan.

Our Crisis of Values

We practice excessive greed for Money, increasingly for dirty, monopolistic money.

In our crazy pursuit of wealth, we seldom think of the harm we cause, or are likely to cause, to others.” Ghandi

The global financial crisis.

Those too-big-to-fail monopolies are still enjoying bonuses paid for by taxpayers.

The rich are systematically made richer, and they see that as their entitlement, their unbridled right to have even more.

The wild, free-market that is protected for the pharmaceutical, insurance and other profiteers has prompted Michael Moore to call capitalism ‘evil’. When I work in the fields with my Afghan farmer friends and am aware that the farming isn’t even subsistence level for some of them, I can see how Michael is not exaggerating.

If ‘dirty’ fraud is suspected, point to the bottom-less bottom line, and we get moral approval, with a pat on the back.

We practice excessive greed for Power, increasingly for militant, dominating power

Our politicians lie and would say and do just about anything to win the vote. And we? We vote for them.

Our practice of such greed for militant power makes“ the U.S. army place too much emphasis on combat while paying lip service to working with civilian agencies and Afghans. The real problem is that almost all of these U.S. army generals are ‘War Fighters’, “ writes Henthorne, an American and the senior adviser to NATO’s Civil-Military Co-operation Centre of Excellence in the Netherlands.

It’s become a real-life video game similar to the board game of Risk. Roll out the military-industrial complex, fight and win! At all cost.

Militarism seems to be the ONLY alternative to dealing with ‘terror’; what happened to the inventive brilliance of Man in going to the moon or Thomas Edison’s spirit of trying 1000 different ways to give us light?

‘Terrorism’ is an expression of angry, hateful enmity in a vacuum of relationships. We all know instinctively that we CANNOT remove enmity through killing, especially killing en-masse, but we kill anyway, as we uncreatively believe that there are NO other ‘good’, ‘necessary’ and ‘winnable’ alternatives.

There is a certain high-school teenager pride in announcing that America is, once again, the number one weapons dealer in the world. Super-powerful mass distribution of destruction, hooray!

If war crimes are suspected, we declare the high morality of our armies, objectively investigate ourselves or rescind from the International Criminal Court, just in case.

We disregard human life.

Death means nothing, as long as we’re not the ones dying.

Death is no respecter of persons, but we prefer to, even in the Geneva Convention and in peace circles, differentiate military from civilian deaths. A dead person leaves his corpse, and in war often a mutilated one, and corpses do not have stamps which say military or civilian. As a doctor, I’ve been in morgues, where life is gone from life and all is silent, but where we still retain respectful regard for the corpses. What has silenced this affirming human regard?

Nowadays, after we’ve made corpses of the ‘evil’ or ‘innocent’ others, we have to argue about the number of insurgents or civilians we ‘successfully’ killed, squabbling and claiming truth over their dead bodies.

In May of 2009, Unknown News estimated that at least 753,118 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimates. Cut it by half, if we disbelive statistics. Try saying “ I wished you had a decent and dignified life but I regret that you couldn’t have it ” 376,559 times over.

In the light of this almost complete disregard for life, we can see why many believe torture is relatively acceptable, with Dick as their chief, sweetened by Bible verses.

We shouldn’t predominantly feel angry witnessing this disregard. We should feel immensely sad.

We disregard human relationships.

There is an ever growing opinion, even if it is difficult to accept, that the climate of distrust, of fear and threat, that exists between The West and The Rest –as Roger Scruton puts it in his insightful book by the same title- is due more to non-existent relations or to reluctant will to understand beyond the proper cultural or religious schemes, than to real and seemingly insurmountable cultural and religious differences. It is due to wrong patterns of relations, based mainly on arrogance, challenges and reciprocal malfeasance; and also to literature, interpretations and experience of respective cultural and religious codices, that are exclusive rather than inclusive. H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore

Do you personally know any ordinary Afghan living in Afghanistan, whose average life-span is 43?

Besides conducting civil and global wars, what other methods of international relationship-building do we focus or spend disproportionate billions on?

We are uncaring.

“From the American perspective, we build you a school whether you want one or not,” Henthorne explained. “You may need something else, but we don’t care.”

We fail the ‘do-unto-others-what-we-want-them-to-do-to-us’ test.

Where is the Good Samaritan-love for humanity or the brotherhood of Muslim peace?

Practically, it seems that we are only meant to imagine or dream about the Merciful and Compassionate God or love for your enemies or turning the other cheek. In deadly contrast, unequal vengeance is love, a love for justice and Enduring Freedom, and rendered incapable of questioning for fear of treason, unequal vengeance is our love for country and for God.

Please pray tell us, Rick Warren the blesser at Obama’s inauguration, or the Grand Mufti of Egypt, where in our Purpose Driven Life is this human concern?

We are untruthful and self-deceiving.

“Multiple-personality disorder is a coping mechanism,” he said, speaking about the whole generation of men who grew up in jihad. “A young man who lost his father, his home, he looks to become the cleverest, the most criminal, the lion. In the jungle, there are no values but self-preservation. There’s no law. And this character learns to lie even to himself.” Dr. Azam Dadfar, the Afghan minister of higher education and one of the few psychiatrists in the country trained in psychoanalysis, Karzai in His Labyrinth by Elizabeth Rubin

We would rather strategize based on myths and mysteries.

I have to agree with Henthorne again, after 7 years of living with Afghans and dreaming now in their Dari language, that we understand very little. “We claim we have tons of culture classes for our soldiers and even for our civilians, but we really don’t have a clue,” Henthorne said.

We are rigidly absolute.

We and our methods are the only right ones, and we insist that we are right all the time! We have lost the ability to listen and empathize. I cringe when I see well-meaning foreigners ‘talk down’ to locals the same way the more educated locals ‘despise’ the foreigner.

Why have we lost the human dignity to say, “We could be very wrong.” ?

We are un-necessarily fearful.

In an instance too many, our elite in government and media hold onto and propagate such fear that we would kill others or watch the killing in silence, just so that we will somehow, someday, feel safe, for ourselves and on our kingly own.

What can we practically do or are we doomed?

In a letter to the New York Times in 1945, Einstein quoted recent words of Franklin Roosevelt: ‘We are faced with the pre-eminent fact that if civilization is to survive we must cultivate the science of human relationship – the ability of peoples of all kinds to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.’ Well, Einstein continued, ‘we have learned, and paid an awful price to learn, that living and working together can be done in one way only – under law. Unless it prevails, and unless by common struggle we are capable of new ways of thinking, mankind is doomed.’

A strategy based on values isn’t weak; we just haven’t struggled together enough and we’re no longer inclined to ‘new ways of thinking’.

A strategy based on values is a strength closer to our human selves and therefore has all the force of our natural laws.

A. Set systemic limits on money and power

1. Establish a United Nations Body/Watchdog of Financial Regulators who would creatively regulate the free-market, mainly to limit the monopolies

A BBC World Service poll has found that most people want their government to take more control over the regulation and running of world economies.

Presently, in our not too democratic world, individuals and superpower countries are calling whatever shots they want. They shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the markets alone ; they should be part of a world-wide body. And all countries must have an equal vote.

Because we should refuse to believe the un-democratic thought that the Wall Streeter has more human worth than the Afghan shepherd boy.

2. United Nations must recover the purpose in its charter for the cessation of wars.

“We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,.. And for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors…have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”
Preamble, Charter of the United Nations.

So must America, being the superpower leader of the day.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy ….. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Congress 1821.

Those who would have America return to the most fundamental, the most essential, of her founding values with regard to foreign policy should see Afghanistan as the starting point for a renewal of those values. John Nichols The Nation

B. Promote the science of human relationships on a wide scale

“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” Ghandi

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” Abraham Lincoln

“The big thing that the US has learnt [since 9/11] is that however we define the problem of US-Muslim relations, the solution is not to be found in the exercise of hard power.” Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted in the recent Joint Forces Quarterly: “We hurt ourselves more [with Muslim nations] when our words don’t align with our actions….Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”

Wide scale relationships will help establish a majority public opinion of the wishes of ordinary Mankind, which would then socially establish humanity’s shared values, and thus persuade the more extreme elements of human civilization.

C. Engage in community/grassroots, general public, non-violent actions on a wide scale

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Mother Teresa.

Restoring our warmth

We should confront these crises in the face and reform our values, and encourage a Reformation, an Enlightenment or the Change whose promise and hope swept Obama to power.

This global loss of values is now difficult to hide or disguise. It has become an intolerable strain. It makes us miserably angry .We can no longer cope.

Our conscience calls for a rescue of our moral fiber and therefore the very fiber of our civilizations.

When he became President, Obama had spoken of the need to restore America’s moral fiber. But it is the moral fiber of the whole world that needs a transformation.

Presidents or Prime Ministers and their teams alone cannot do that. The general public has to reclaim the moral fiber that can only be forged by ‘all’, a governance of the people by the people!

When the leadership and the public do not defend the basic values of morality, we become desperately discontented. We turn cold in our Afghan autumn of discontent.

How can we cope? How can we cope with the ‘cold-hearted’, ‘cold-blooded’ thought of saying to the destitute laborer with no bread to bring home to his waiting children, or the sick person dying of a treatable cancer, or the inconsolable mother of a dead foreign soldier or Afghan, “We’re sorry about this but our power, money, success and safety mean much more to us.”?

We can no longer cope because our shared inner values are originally ‘warm-hearted’ and ‘warm-blooded’ and can recognize the destructiveness of abusive power and greed, the pain of morbidity, and the grief of  a horrendous death.

What makes human beings angry is that these weaknesses in our morality are called free-market, democratic, fair and free. Gross lies, selfishness and violence take away love, truth and humanity and make us miserably angry.

They don’t sit well at all on our conscience; the self-absorption, the hypocrisy and the pride. We feel instinctively, “Life shouldn’t be this way, or at least, people shouldn’t be this way.”

We’re losing ourselves at all levels of society because, in these crises, even the defenders and pillars of a society’s values, principally the religious leaders (except for the few ‘voices in the wilderness’), submit to the warped values of the rich and powerful, hands down and mouths shut. Ironically, some of these ‘spiritually-inclined’ people have sadly become Mankind’s most sacrificial and patriotic profiteers, inquisitors and warriors.

This is not a clash of ‘civilizations’ finding unfortunate focus in a Global Great Game, in the fading, hammered waste of Afghanistan.

This is a crisis of values, finding unsustainable frustration in a Global Great Self-Deception, in the floundering, hammered waste of our hearts.

If we do not act conscionably now, this crisis may implode coldly like a dying star and leave a hurtling, black hole, a moral vacuum with no definitions. Devoid of life. Very dead.

If that happens, we should at least try retaining a vestige of civility towards the elite, because we know that even the superpowerful cannot alter such a profound moral death. Certainly not through billions of assets, dollars or otherwise. Certainly not through political partisanship, ‘bi’ or otherwise. Certainly not through more wars, of necessity or otherwise. No human is too- big- to- fail dying, once at death’s door.

Neither the elite nor the ordinary person should ignore the ringing call of conscience to restore our values. If we ignore that voice within us, we do so, in Mullen’s words, at the peril of ‘hurting ourselves’. Even if we don’t ‘hurt ourselves’, we could lethally ‘hurt many, many others’.

We then ‘lose that essential thing about ourselves’ that makes us humane and civil.

The Change we desperately need in this crisis of values has to begin with us, the ordinary people, individually and corporately.

We each need to break those barriers of world-wide human relationships, and choose and vote for the shared human values from those warm places of our hearts, where cold force and mammon cannot enter.

Perhaps then, together, for humanity, in love and truth and with creative civility and courage, we can paint the stars of the decent and dignified Afghan autumn night, the very same stars that inspire our common dreams. And find human warmth once again.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.

Martin Luther King, Jr

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
Albert Einstein

human warmth in an Afghan autumn

human warmth in a cold Afghan autumn