Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his boldest and perhaps most defining speech. It alienated liberal allies in the North and the Northern press, plus many in King’s own civil rights movement, and prompted President Johnson to withdraw King’s secret service detail. Exactly one year later, forty-nine years ago on April 4, he was assassinated. He said, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems … Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” It was his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
Today, the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War I, billed as “the war to end all wars,” wars rage and conflict-fueled hunger crises have culminated in potential famines hitting almost simultaneously in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.
Three former UN officials with many decades of experience as diplomats recently wrote a blunt appraisal of the US role in undermining UN efforts and promoting wars, noting the President continues “embracing a toxic form of messianic nationalism” with exclusionary policies “illustrative of a regressive and Islamophobic outlook.” Yet in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) have been welcoming Voices US and UK delegates, one or two at a time, over the past several months. This followed a five month stretch where, for security reasons, the community was unable to receive visitors. I’ve been very grateful to be with them for the past two weeks.
On my first full day there, we traveled by bus to a small village where relatives celebrated the marriage of Abid and Zahro. They were married in the Herat province the week before. The wedding party was Disneyesque! Our group of women from Kabul sat with the village women in a large tent. Abid’s sisters and cousins, who wore brightly decorated gowns, looked exotic and beautiful. Young, and not so young, women took turns dancing and singing. “Wedding culture” remains quite popular in Kabul and throughout the country, but families experience severe financial strains trying to meet the expense, often with serious and long-lasting consequences.
“We cannot look the other way as military and economic warfare destroys lives, communities and cultures.”
For me, travel to a small village was welcomed as our movements have been restricted during recent visits in Kabul. The villagers tend almond and mulberry trees as well as grape vines. When the bus driver realized a foreigner was on board, the rate was suddenly doubled. The APV responded by saying, “OK. We’ll walk.” I was exhilarated, walking downhill alongside orchards with mountains looming on all sides. The bus driver soon found us and negotiated a more reasonable price.