Following Yonder Star


Beneath our flat, here in Kabul, wedding guests crowded into a restaurant and celebrated throughout the night. Guests sounded joyful and the music, mostly disco, thumped loudly. When the regular call to prayer sounded out at 5:20 a.m., the sounds seemed to collide in an odd cacophony, making all music indistinguishable. I smiled, remembering the prayer call’s durable exhortation to live in peace, heard worldwide for centuries, and went back to sleep.

Through most of my life, I’ve found it easy to resonate with the ringing and beautiful Christmas narrative found in the Gospel of Luke, but less so with that jangling discord with which westerners are so familiar—the annual collision between (on the one hand) the orgy of gift-purchasing and gift-consumption surrounding the holiday and  the sweeter, simpler proclamations of peace on
earth heralded by the newborn’s arrival. I’ve found myself quite surprisingly happy to spend many Christmases either in U.S. jails or among Muslims living in places like Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and now Afghanistan. My hosts and friends in these places have been people who are enduring wars or fleeing wars, including, as in the case of U.S. jails, a war against the poor in the United States.

The Christmas narrative that imagines living beings coming together across divides, the houseless family with no room at the inn, the shepherds and the foreign royals arriving, all awakening to unimagined possibilities of peace, comes alive quite beautifully in the community with which I’m graced to find myself here in Kabul.

Five of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are spending winter months in the apartment here which accommodates their group as well as visiting guests such as our small Voices delegation. In recent months, the place has evolved into a resource center for learning languages and exchanging ideas about nonviolent movements for social change. I am filled with fond and deep admiration for these young people as I watch them studying each other’s languages and preparing their own delegation to visit other provinces of this land on the brink of civil war, meeting with other young people wherever they can.

I’ve often described Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers as having bridged considerable ethnic gaps in their steadfast aspiration to someday live without wars. It’s quite impressive, during this trip, to learn from them about how close several of them came to becoming armed fighters.

One young friend recalls having spent three weeks, at age 12, as part of a Taliban group. He had no choice but to go with the Taliban as a conscript. He was given a rifle, as well as adequate food, and assigned to be a sentry. “I loaded the weapon and I fired warning shots,” said our young friend, who is now 21 years of age, “but I didn’t feel good about it.” A village elder intervened, saying the new recruits were too young, and the Taliban released my friend and the other young teens.

We watched a film together in which another youngster, about seven years previously, had acted the role of the leader of a group of children imitating Talib fighters. Carrying sticks, the young actors had harassed a little girl over her determination that she would learn to read. Now we asked the young man, himself a Hazara, how he felt about playing a Taliban child. He acknowledged having grown up believing that anyone who was part of an ethnic group that had persecuted his people could never be trusted.

The father of another youngster had been killed by the Taliban. Still another describes how he watched in horror as Hazara fighters killed his brother.

Last week, the AYPVs welcomed a new friend who lives in a neighboring province and speaks a different language to join them and help them learn his language. Asked about NATO/ISAF night raids and other attacks that have occurred in his area, the new friend said that families who have suffered attacks feel intense anger, but even more so people say they want peace. “However, international forces have made people feel less secure,” he added. “It’s unfortunate that internationals hear stories about Afghans being wild people and think that more civilized outsiders are trying to build the country. People here are suffering because of destruction caused by outsiders.”

The air, the ground, the mountainsides, the water, and even the essential bonds of familial living have been ravaged by three decades of warfare here in Afghanistan. People living here have suffered the loss of an estimated two million people killed in the wars. 850 children die every day because of disease and hunger.

Amid excruciating sorrow and pain, it’s good to see people still find ways to gather for celebrations, even when the sounds seem curious and the dances seem, to some, forbiddingly exotic. Differences between insiders and outsiders become less relevant as people meet one another to celebrate.

Peace can surprise us when it comes, and that alone is abundantly sufficient cause for celebration in this season, wherever we are. Dr. King wrote that “the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice,” and we should not be surprised as new and growing movements around us reveal an unquenchable and ineradicable longing for simple justice. The killing fields that scar our earth and sear the memories of survivors beckon us to look and listen for new ways of living together. Massacres of innocents call to us to reject the easy and familiar and go home by an other way.

The desires to live more simply, to share resources more radically, and to prefer service to dominance are not unique to any place, season, or religion. Such desires may yet herald unions previously unimagined and a better world for every newborn, each one bringing an astonishing potential – as we do if we strive to fulfill it – for peace.

KATHY KELLY (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (www.vcnv.org). She and two companions are part of a Voices delegation visiting the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (www.ourjourneytosmile.com) in Kabul. She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.


More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South