While we may disagree with the Taliban and their policies, we must remember that Afghans have been subjected to different armies and civil wars in the last two decades.
There are a number of ways you can help the Afghans. Here are some ideas:
1. Ask Pakistan to open its border to Afghans seeking refuge
Pakistan recently closed its borders to Afghans. While Pakistan should be applauded for being the host to the largest refugee population in the world, it cannot refuse the poor and hungry on its border.
You can help by contacting the Pakistani embassy here in the US, as well as government officials in Pakistan to emphasize the importance of reopening the Pakistani border to the starving Afghan refugees. This can become a sustained campaign that includes letter-writing, protests in front of Pakistani embassies and other peaceful actions to give the message that Pakistan cannot turn its back on a neighbor that is so desperate and has already suffered so much.
E-mail Pakistan's prime minister, General Pervez Musharraf at CE@pak.gov.pk. Also contact the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC at 202-939-6200 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Ask charities to establish an Afghan relief fund
According to the United Nations, at least four million women and children are at risk of hunger and starvation in Afghanistan. A severe winter is fast approaching. This is why it is crucial that all of us establish funds for Afghan refugees.
Contact your charity, Masjid and church to establish a fund for Afghan refugees. If you don't find one start up your own fund, advertise it heavily and arrange for sending the money collected. Or if you know any Afghans in your community or Pakistanis who live in the area bordering Afghanistan, ask them if they know a charity who is helping refugees.
Muslim charities in America are coming under media fire. However, these charities must play a crucial role at this time when the UN offices for refugees are being attacked in Pakistan. Maybe our charities will be spared. So call Muslim charities, ask them to establish a fund, volunteer to support them.
3. Honestly express your opinion
A vast number of Muslims, while in favor of bringing the criminals responsible for the terror attacks of September 11 to justice, oppose war. In America, it is your right to express your opinions.
While 71 percent of Americans recently surveyed by the Pew foundation believe it is the right of people to oppose war, 94 percent support the current military action in Afghanistan. This sense of fair hearing and rights of free speech are what makes America great. However, do remember that we are all still hurting in disbelief of what has happened on Sept. 11. Remember no cause can justify terrorism. Those who kill innocents have no belief. So if you do speak against war, carefully listen to your own words. Don't sound as though you are justifying terrorism. Be extremely careful of the timing, occasion and words you choose to express your opinion. Word can heal and words can hurt. All of us must try to save lives. We must try to win people's hearts and build bridges, not destroy them.
In the US, military planners are thinking about how to exact retribution. To many people in the world, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the carnage of Sept. 11 was retribution. The war, therefore, risks creating even greater animosity and may breed more terrorists. We need to wage a war of winning people's hearts, a crusade of understanding, and a jihad of working together to isolate terrorists from the masses of people.
In America today, the peace movement has never been so isolated. With the government's emphasis on retaliation, most people have bought into the military onslaught. That's why peace groups who want other solutions than war are today the 'salt of the earth'.
4. Feel for Afghans and study their tribal customs
It may be difficult for some to feel for a country which is accused of harboring those who are responsible or at least joyful about the September 11 tragedies. But bridges of understanding must be built for world peace.
Afghans have sacrificed 1.5 million of their sons' and daughters' lives to liberate their country from the former Soviet Union's occupation which launched the demise of the Communist empire, America's enemy. But when they won the war, the world just left them in ruins. No one was there to help them rebuild their shattered society now mired in poverty and littered with millions of mines, which kill about 500 Afghans everyday.
Afghans are one of the poorest and hungriest people on the planet, yet they have pride and honor as great as the mountains of their land. They also have an unshaken faith in Islam and their tribal traditions. Understanding these aspects of the Afghan perspective are crucial at a time when Afghanistan is being demonized and its past heroic fight forgotten. This understanding may help all parties involved in dealing with Afghans properly.
Afghanistan is not all Islam. It is a mixture of Islam and tribal traditions that go back centuries. Here are some questions to ask and study:
a. What are Afghan tribal customs regarding "guest" "refuge" "hospitality" "revenge" and "honor"?
b. Why did Afghans sacrifice 1.5 million of their people in order to rid their country of the former Soviet Union's occupation?
c. How and why does their practice of Islam differ from other Muslims' although the basic beliefs are the same?
Probably the Afghan tradition of hospitality and honor played a crucial role in the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden who was considered a guest who helped the Afghans against the Soviet invaders and sought refuge with them. In Afghan tribal culture you never betray a person who has sought refuge with you whether he practices Islam or not. The only way a guest can be forced to go is if he has committed a crime. This is probably why the Taliban have emphasized the need for proof before proceeding with any action against bin Laden. These traditions have existed in Afghan culture for centuries.
Pakistani dissidents, terrorists, and sometimes criminals have always taken refuge in Afghanistan, even before the Taliban. During the reign of King Zahir Shah and later of President Dawud times, this practice forced the Pakistani government to get involved in complex tribal negotiations and provide proofs to get them back. These efforts sometimes succeeded but not always. The same process of giving refuge goes on between tribes as well.
British scholars wrote tens of books on these aspects of Afghan culture about a century ago. We wish the current policy makers would read these books for insight since Afghan culture is more or less still the same.
Although the Taliban are being described as students of Madrassas (Islamic seminaries), hardly any one of them is a graduate of these schools. They were attending these schools essentially for food and shelter. Being uneducated probably kept them closer to their traditional customs of "guest" "refuge" "hospitality" and "honor," despite all threats from America and negotiations with the Pakistan government.
In the last twenty years in the absence of a civil society in Afghanistan, these tribal traditions have become stronger as the core values guiding society. It is worth noting that the first incident which gave rise to Mullah Omar, the present leader of the Taliban, is when he took some of his villagers in a group to rescue some women who were kidnapped by a group of criminals. His success against them started rallying other people who were sick and tired of lawlessness around them, rallying together under the banner of "honor."
5. Dua (supplication)
There is no power or ability except with God. Make Dua (pray) for mercy on the Afghan people. May God give them peace which has eluded them in the past. May God guide us to be just and not support the unjust. May God bring peace, justice and forgiveness to this land ravaged by war, revenge and injustice for over two decades. May God save their children so they become better than their parents. May God put mercy in the heart of their Pakistani neighbors to help them. May God help them realize that forgiveness, not revenge can help them. May God unite them with truth so they can help each other build their lives.
"Flag of Afghanistan" by File from OpenClipart is by Andrew DunhanUser:Zscout370 - http://openclipart.org/detail/24112/flag-of-afghanistan-by-anonymous-24112. Via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Afghanistan.svg#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_Afghanistan.svg