We said goodbye to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers tonight. They’ll be in Panjshir tomorrow, and I will leave before they get back. I managed to hold it together, but not by much. We’ve all grown close over the past week.
Last week Hakim took us through their history, how they got started out of a youth workshop, and gathered young people from all different villages and towns. How they’ve experimented with different ways of expressing the wish to live without wars.
They are at very real risk of being killed for their work. Not just from the authorities, but from their fellow Afghans. And of course the US and ISAF forces, who seem to put everyone at risk. When they met with Malalai Joya last year she told them straight out: if this is the road they wanted to take, it would likely end in their death. If they were to proceed, they needed to know the stakes.
So when they sent a bunch of mobile phone pouches t
hey had made themselves, along with letters of love from Hazaras and Tajiks in the north to Pashtuns in the south, saying that they only wished for love to overcome their differences, they weren’t expecting a response, let alone a favourable one.
Yet one young Pashtun boy’s response summed up our own incredulity. “I can’t believe that such a love is possible,” he said.
I admit, I’m as cynical as anyone else about the prospects of unarmed love up against Hellfire missiles and religious hate. Really, what’s the competition? It’s a total mismatch.
So when I see young men – and rest assured, despite their youth, these are very much young men – insisting that love is the only way to end a war, I am shocked. I stand condemned by my own cynicism.
They know we in the West are cynical about its prospects. “To shock your cynical ears,” they say in one of their videos, “we humbly suggest that love is how we should ask for peace.”
Understand, these are no wide-eyed idealists. These are kids who have grown up knowing nothing but war. They have seen their fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and more gunned down as part of it. They have a deep and abiding personal investment in grief. Their commitment to nonviolence is not idealistic. It’s practical. They know that as Afghans, they can either continue contributing to the spiralling of violence, or they can end it here.
And that’s not without cost – not only to their reputations, or in terms of risk from others, but to the process of grieving and revenge that all of us are socialised into.
When we first arrived and were introduced, one of the youth made a similar comment to us as the Pashtun boy had made to them – something like, “I can’t believe you’re all here. We didn’t want to raise our hopes that you would come. Such a love is hard to believe.” And it wasn’t hyperbole – he was genuinely gobsmacked. But here was the evidence, right in front of him, that such a love does indeed exist. But without that love being embodied, who would know it?