Have visa, will travel [to Afghanistan]

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“Praise the Lord and pass the tree-seedlings [or other nonviolent equivalents of ammunition].” Finally, after a nerve-racking 2-week wait, I received my visa (and Passport back) from the Afghan Embassy in Washington, DC. Although I paid extra to have the visa request processed “within 24 hours”, I had not even received confirmation from the Embassy (despite 6 phone calls and an email over 4 days) that they had even received my application. Other friends from Chicago who are also part of our peace delegation received their visas a week ago.

Now I can concentrate my energies toward our intended mission: to stand in solidarity with the youth of Afghanistan and to plant trees with them in Kabul as a symbol of our desire for peace. If you are on Facebook, you can “friend” that group (search for Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers). They are hoping to have an International Day of Listening on March 19-21st (depending on your time zone) where young people from Afghanistan and Iraq will talk via Skype with other people around the globe; http://globaldayoflistening.org/Home.html and http://www.livewithoutwars.org/ are sites that have the details about this.

We will also participate in the candlelight vigil they have planned for the evening of March 21st which is both the first day of Spring and also the Afghan New Year. Our candles will be in remembrance of all the young people who have lost their lives in not only the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but also the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Palestine/Israel. Why don’t you get some of your friends together in your area and have your own candlelight vigil in solidarity with these young people and then send them a photo of you doing that?

Jim Haber, one of our delegation members and part of the Nevada Desert Experience suggests some of the reasons why we take the risks in traveling to a war zone:

Delegation members are responding to an invitation to support Afghan peace-making efforts by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and the Open Society Organization (of Afghanistan, not to be confused with the Open Society Institute started by George Soros; there is no connection between the two similarly-named groups). Afghans need to see, meet and know westerners other than those in military roles or who are protected by armed contractors. There are partners for peace everywhere, including in Afghanistan. These groups are courageously standing up, saying, “No!” to all the armed actors there, be they Taliban, War Lords, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or private security contractors.

This delegation is one in a long history of citizen-citizen diplomatic efforts, whereby we meet with other people from civil society to foster peace. As President Eisenhower said, “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.” It is popular in this country to dismiss the people of Afghanistan and other war-torn countries as full of unloving people (or why would there be so much fighting there), very different from ourselves, and to portray them as motivated by promises of riches in the afterlife for violence committed here, now. The presence of violent extremists is not unique to Afghanistan nor to Islam as history amply, and sadly, bears out. No Eastern or Western religion is devoid of supremist adherents. I expect to meet people who have lost loved ones to violence and who do not wish a similar grief on anyone else. There are people who come through violent situations everywhere who don’t want retaliation, who want to end the cycle of violence.

To better understand a situation, it is generally good to have some first-hand experience of it, to put someone else’s shoes on and walk in them for a day. Our stay in Afghanistan is necessarily brief, but I am sure it will lead us to correct some perceptions and reinforce others that we have from this vantage point. I want to put faces and names to people who too often are treated as pawns in geo-political fights. The various invasions of Afghanistan have never been out of concern for the people of Afghanistan. Rather, they have unleashed violent forces, both foreign and domestic, that have no regard for the lives of the Afghan peoples.

Some of folk who will be part of the delegation: Mary Lou Anderson, George Capaccio, Patricia Chaffee, Mary Dean, Elizabeth Deligio, Chris Doucot, Detlef Enge-Bastien, Christine Gaunt, Peggy Gish, Phil Glendenning, Clare Grady, Jim Haber, Martha Hennessey, Judith Kelly, Kathy Kelly, Patrick Kennelly, Ceylon Mooney, Simon Moyle, Donna Mulhearn, James P. Noonan, Jake Olzen, Martin Reusch, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, David Swanson, John Volkening, and Paki Wieland. Some are Catholic Workers, others have been part of Christian Peacemaker Teams, Iraq Peace Team, or other nonviolent campaigns.

I will fly Wednesday evening (3/16) from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, then to Dubai, and finally to Kabul, arriving Friday morning. (There is a 10 ½ hour time difference from Central Daylight Savings time.) Besides the tree planting and candlelight vigil, we hope to observe the AYPV inter-ethnic peace walk on March 19th and meet with various NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) working in Afghanistan. We also hope to meet with Dr. Ramazan Bashardost, a Member of Parliament and former Presidential candidate. Because of security concerns, we won’t be staying in the hotels where westerners usually stay but will rather “camp out” with sleeping bags in the office rooms of two organizations in Kabul. It is our hope to create durable relationships and deepening hope with the Afghan youth, NGO reps, and their friends.

Kathy Kelly, one of the founders of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) and organizer of our delegation has shared with us 3 goals for our journey: To learn more about Afghanistan and what Afghan people want; to build solidarity with indigenous movements working for peace, human rights, and a just end to the conflicts; and to use first-hand reports to catalyze opposition to US military intervention in the region. I will be available to speak to local groups after I return on March 25th.

Please pray for us -and especially the brave youthful peacemakers we will meet. And then, get out in the streets, contact your political representatives, and work for an end to this war!