Thursday, May 24, 2007

Goodbye Afghanistan

According to a Canadian Press story of May 24, 2007, an Afghani legislator by the name of Malalai Joya has been banned from the parliament in Kabul for the remainder of the session for criticizing other MPs. Her criticism was harsh; she referred to some of them as “criminals, warlords and drug lords” and Canadian Press adds this explanation: “Many former commanders involved in factional fighting in the 1980s and 1990s now hold positions in parliament or government.”

The Canadian government’s position on our role in Afghanistan is two-fold: 1) to quell the insurgency so that security is assured for the people, and 2) to restore infrastructure so that necessary services are available to Afghanis. These are laudable goals, although the question of whether or not either is achievable given the escalating violence there is highly pertinent. A benchmark, I am told, will be the Afghani government’s ability to maintain security and to govern the country without outside assistance.

What happened to Malalai Joya is disturbing in light of these objectives. If the parliament we’re shoring up in Afghanistan does, in fact, include enough of the factional and criminal elements of that culture to make her ouster possible, then what exactly are we supporting over there? Isn’t it possible that we’re simply doing the dirty work of quelling the Taliban so that the war lords can again exercise their particular brand of tyranny without the Taliban’s interference? If the Afghani parliament were truly a government “of the people, for the people and by the people,” would Malalai Joya be on the outside looking in? Imagine a Canadian legislator being expelled from parliament for criticizing another MP. Who would be left on the hill?

We continue to cloak our efforts in Afghanistan in noble terms, and I feel for the soldiers who risk their lives believing that they are pursuing lofty goals. Historically, though, when one culture has entered militarily into another culture’s community, the result has been disappointing. Think Vietnam, Ireland, Nicaragua, Cuba, Palestine, etc. Does our government really think that thousands of years of cultural habit won’t reassert itself in Afghanistan whenever NATO leaves there?

The expulsion of Malalai Joya is just one more signpost of the future, I’m afraid. There are others. The incredible poverty of Karzai’s leadership is another. The man spouts platitudes, says all the right things, inspires no confidence in me, at least, whatsoever. That’s another signpost. And then there’s the incredible reluctance of our NATO allies to throw in on the dirty work there with our troops. Do they sense something we don’t sense, or are they just chicken?

But the most glaring signpost is the lack of progress on the security front. Afghanis are not impressionable children to be guided tenderly toward democracy by us. They know their country and their local communities. They have engrained loyalties and aversions that we won’t change. They have religious faith that is not ours and that we won’t change. The threads of cultural power and influence – suppressed for the moment by the foreign presence there—are known to them, not to us. When we leave there, they will do what’s locally practical, growing poppies for a living, supporting the local Taliban if that looks beneficial—the local war lord if it doesn’t.

Like the Russians had no future in Cuba (or Afghanistan), the Americans in Korea or Vietnam or Iraq, the Japanese in China, so we have no future in Afghanistan. We might agree to continue “assisting” the Afghan “government” for a specified time (to save face, primarily) and then leave, or else commit ourselves to policing that country for ever. We could also withdraw arbitrarily and immediately, by far the most practical solution, even for Afghanis.

©George Epp, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On faith, doubt and evidence

Suppose an anthropologist found some DNA evidence in a garment that had indisputably belonged to Christ. Suppose further that analysis of the sample showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ was the offspring of only one parent, a clone of his mother, if you will. What would change in your world as a result of hearing this? How would an evangelical atheist like Richard Dawkins live the rest of his life?

Would atheists seek to discredit the evidence? Would they propose that cloning was a procedure that had accidentally been discovered 2000 years ago, and was subsequently lost? Would they accept that Jesus Christ was what he and his followers said he was, the son of a virgin and, simultaneously, the Son of God? I wonder.

Would Christians jubilantly proclaim that they had been vindicated, and that their faith was now rewarded with the undeniable assurance that their gospel is the true Word of God? Would they finally have the confidence to proclaim the good news with the fervor of the early church? Would there be a new spring in their steps, new energy in their worship? I wonder.

Would young people, strangers, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus suddenly flock to churches? Would that result in such harmony worldwide that we would very soon forget that animosity had characterized the world before? Would peace break out? I wonder.

You’ll no doubt recall the story of the rich man and the leper, Lazarus, told by Jesus to the Pharisees. Both die and the leper ascends to Abraham’s bosom, but the rich man goes to hell. The rich man begs Abraham to let Lazarus rise from the dead and go to his relatives to warn them of the horror they’re facing if they don’t repent. “If someone from the dead visits them, they will repent,” says the rich man in his torment. But Father Abraham is skeptical: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead.” The whole story can be found in Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus said that his miracles—actually surprisingly few given his power to turn water into wine, heal leprosy, even raise the other Lazarus from the dead—were done so that his faint-hearted followers would have their faith bolstered. He said to his disciples before raising Lazarus: “Lazarus is dead. I am glad not to have been there; it will be for your good and for the good of your faith.” Yet, having witnessed this miracle, the same disciples remained doubters, especially after it appeared that Jesus had been defeated through his own death and burial.

People will deny, deny (or, conversely, maintain, maintain) in the face of apparently irrefutable evidence, if denial or maintenance appear to be in their interest. There are plenty of indicators in the earth’s crust, for instance, that our planet was millions of years in the making (Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Great Plains, Appalachian Mountains, etc.). Yet Christians of some fundamentalist stripes continue to declare that the Genesis account of creation is a history and that the Great Deluge had characteristics that reliably explain everything from the fossil records to the formation of the continents as we find them.

On the other side, it would probably take more than a rising from the dead to convince people like Richard Dawkins that the spirit of God is the Alpha and Omega of the universe. It appears faith is a choice, supported by evidence possibly, but not resting on it.

I wonder.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the tulips , , ,

Spring has to be the best time of year, at least outside my window. There is no match for the color of the tulips in our garden and around town, and the pink of the almond shrubs is a pink even a man can love.
The soil in our yard is heavily populated by earthworms, the shrubs and the lawn are home this spring to thousands of ladybird beetles. Bees the size of hummingbirds (hyperbole) have started to fumble the fecund blossoms, and the robins feeding on the lawn are fat with worms and bugs of every sort.
In the greenhouse, tomato plants are thriving and lettuce will be ready to eat in a week or so. Our first feed of asparagus was a real treat; amazing how close this wonderful vegetable follows the snow. Rhubarb is another early treat and the sour leaves (suhrump) are ready to go; I'm looking forward to a lot of summa borscht over the next while.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Nogales, Mexico

While in Carlsbad, NM, this past winter, we had an opportunity to take a bus through the city of Nogales, Mexico. As does Juarez, Nogales hugs the border with the USA and security is tight, especially for south to north movement, and there are steady streams of pedestrians going both ways. The two cities also have in common the multinational factories located in their suburbs to take advantage of cheap labour available there.
Nogales is growing by leaps and bounds, as they say. Apparently the opportunity for a job is attracting people from rural Mexico and the proximity to the USA may also make the town desirable to some Mexicans.
In response to this rapid growth, Nogales has constructed high density row housing (see photo below) but thousands of people have simply squatted in the hills above Nogales, thrown together dwellings by whatever means came to hand and now live there close to the Multinational factories. (See below) As our bus roared up and down the steep streets of the barrios, we marvelled at the ingenuity of the poor who have to look after themselves. At the same time, we were struck by the squalor and wondered what it would be like to grow up among the wrecked cars, in the dry dust of these hills.


Two residential areas in greater Nogales, Mexico