Monday, October 5, 2009

Afghanistan, 2009 – Send in the Clowns

Is it time to seize the high ground and bring cultural resources to the Afghani people? Eight years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it is possible that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been made stronger by our presence. The U.S. President is hearing arguments for increased troop strength. Might this not be a good time to try something different to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people?
Send in the clowns! Instead of 40,000 more troops, send in the equivalent number of U.S. civilians armed only with their crafts – from dance to knitting. Why not an entire circus? Set up regional USO-type shows featuring a host of players who mix with the crowds so that the Afghans are part of the experience as well. We learn from them. They learn from us. The military chaplains could guide volunteer priests, imams, rabbis, and so on - who would interface with the local religious leaders – not to convert, but to conflate – as in blow together. Blow on a pipe of peace together; blow on a spiritual ember of good will.
When it’s winter in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda move to Pakistan. This may be our best opportunity to gain moral ground with the Afghanis, by making close contact between non-military Americans and the people of the cities and villages of Afghanistan. Bring educators; bring trainers. Bring movies and media. Send in U.S. cultural representatives, including those prepared to listen and celebrate the local customs and values. Send in the filmmakers to put the Afghanis on film that the people may have new sources of pride for the culture of their own ancient civilization.
Where would these resources be obtained? Think back to the overwhelming response to President Kennedy’s call for the Peace Corps. If President Obama were to make such a call for a “Culture Corps,” would he not get droves of “20-something” volunteers who are jobless in a tough economy? Such a cultural exchange would be win-win for those who could return with “service to Afghanistan” stamped on their resumes.
Send architects, builders, and poets. What we are about here is the rebuilding of the heart and soul of a nation. We are walking on hallowed ground. Air force planes that carry large numbers of troops and armament can transport an entire circus across the globe. Send musicians and hula dancers. They don’t have to be our best, but they must have a heart for a people that have survived and struggled for ages. Bring in the clowns - to share and to learn from the Afghani people. This will do wonders for U.S.-Afghan relations, and may help cut the need for more troops in the future.

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