While initially being for the war in Afghanistan after seeing how oppressive Taliban rule was for the common people, Greg's views quickly changed when he realized innocent civilians were being killed with no apologies or compensation from the US government. While saying "I'm sorry" doesn't bring back a loved one, Greg says our labeling innocents as "collateral damage" and not acknowledging their existence is the ultimate insult in Islamic culture. (see pg. 294). Instead we should honor their dead. He said it was ironic how we could have numbers of dead Taliban, but when it came to civilians the numbers were never concrete. Instead of making friends, this was the way to make more enemies.
"I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death" (pg. 292). A Taliban student admitted he didn't want to be a fighter, but he didn't have any job opportunities and the Taliban offered him $300 which he gave to his mother before joining the fight. After an injury, he was glad to leave the Taliban.
Greg told about the Gulf Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar financing madrassas in these poor regions and how they often would take some of the best students back to those countries to indoctrinate them in Wahhabi Islam, return them to their home villages where they were instructed to marry four women, "breed like rabbits" and produce generation after generation of intolerant Muslims. (These people are thinking long term!) Greg wanted his schools to counter these intolerant brainwashing schools by not teaching any fundamentalist Islam (e.g. Wahhabi).
Throughout the book, I was introduced to many wonderful Muslims and Greg pointed out time and again that the problem was not with all Muslims as the vast majority were peaceful. But after 9/11 he got hate mail for saying such things. Getting hate mail was a new experience for him.
I loved the chapter about "a village called New York" when he was in Pakistan when terrorists hit the twin towers on American soil. His village friends in Pakistan were apologetic and protected him from anyone who might try to hurt their American friend while on their soil. His Pakistani friend was sad thinking of Greg going back to the States because he would not be there to protect Greg.
Greg was in Pakistan after the Iraqi war started and was with one of his friends who was seeing scenes of war on the TV. His friend's shoulders slumped as he watched pictures of Iraqi women wailing as they carried the bodies of their children after they were crushed in bombed buildings. His friend's reply was telling.
"'People like me are America's best friends in the region," Bashir said at last, shaking his head ruefully. "I'm a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer?" Bashir asked, struggling not to direct his anger toward the large American target on the other side of his desk. "Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against American for the next two hundred years."
"Osama had something to do with it, too," Mortenson said.
"Osama, baah!" Bashir roared, "Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy's strength. In America's case, that's not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever." (pg. 310)
One of my favorite lessons of the book was when the village leader Haji Ali, a dear friend, finally sat Greg down one day after Greg was driving the people crazy trying to keep the school construction on task.
"If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways. . . . The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die," he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson's own. "Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We maybe uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time."
"That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I've ever learned in my life," Mortenson says. "We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their 'shock and awe' campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them." (pg. 150)
I like Greg's approach to fighting the "war on terror" with books instead of bombs. It seems like a more long-lasting, real solution than what our country currently is doing. Maybe all those billions should have been spent on building schools for poor children instead of destroying countries. As they say, "Hindsight is 20/20." Ahhh.