Having just completed Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, the news of bombing in Kandahar arrives with even more pain than it might otherwise provoke. Hosseini captures the dislocation and deeply human struggle of life in Afghanistan through the fall of the Soviet-backed government, the Taliban years and the early days of the Karzai presidency.
The long-suffering people of Afghanistan continue to dodge bullets, dig their loved ones from the wreckage of bombs and deal with the carnage in hospital emergency rooms. Taimoor Shah’s account in the NY Times yesterday of the bombing of Kandahar reads like a scene from Hosseini’s novel. Shah writes simply and with precision: The bombing deepens the city’s sense of isolation and tips its people in despair (that) anyone has the power to halt the mayhem. In its brevity, it’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve read from Afghanistan. I recommend it.
The people of Afghanistan have endured violence and dislocation for at least three decades. It’s no wonder Shah heard voices of despair. How could they not despair? Between bombs and bullets, the geo-political positioning in Washington or Kabul hardly seems relevant. If you’re standing in crossfire, or digging your children from the rubble as one father who spoke to Shah, it would be demented to not feel anger or despair. It would be less than human.
And the Afghans who spoke to Shah spoke of their own sense of diminishing value, as if they are merely fodder for the bombs and artillery. For we who live far away in safety, their suffering barely captures our attention. Except for the families of U.S. military personnel, it could escape notice in this country altogether. But that would be tragic, for our common humanity is bound up with them. It takes no imagination for a father to identify with another whose children have just been buried in a collapsed building, nor a mother grieving a daughter whose life has ended in a violent cataclysm.
There are no easy answers to this intractable conflict. No way to sum it up with soothing words. As I write, I’m helpless to know what can be done beyond supporting those humanitarian organizations that are at work in the country, supporting the families of military personnel, and working with those who seek to find peace. So I have ideas, but I’m not there on the ground, and I don’t make policy. And given the depth of human pain, nearly all seem inadequate.
The act of writing these words, however, seems like a prayer, if prayer is calling to awareness the tragedy of the human condition and the recognition that when people suffer, the whole of the human family is wounded. Awareness places it before us, and God. Admitting frustration and helplessness in the face of the evil of war is a form of confession, a recognition that we cannot control the destructive forces that we and others set in motion. Humility before God and Creation isn’t weakness, it’s a step toward strength. And having confessed one is called upon to act, to change.
Hosseini has become an ambassador for UNHCR. The challenge we all face is to do what good we can in the face of intractable evil and great human suffering, and not be paralyzed by it, nor give in to the anger and despair. Rather, it is to use the energy that is contained in these emotions to create change, to ease suffering, seek peace and sow the seeds of healing.