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Peace on Earth?

Stephen Gowans

peace on Earth? Rukia knows nothing of that. Sheís 39. Old enough to know about getting caught in the middle of a war between the Soviet Union and the US backed mujahadeen. Old enough to know about civil war between squabbling mujahadeen factions. Old enough to know what bombs dropped from B-52s can do. For one, they can shatter your arm and leave shrapnel embedded in your abdomen. For another, they can kill your children. Rukia knows. She lost all five of her children when US bombs flattened the Kandahar neighbourhood that was, until a few days ago, her home. Now itís just a pile of rubble, and blood, and bits of shrapnel that tore through flesh. Americans who want to feel good about the war sit in warm kitchens, eating toast, drinking coffee, their kids safely off to school, reading about Afghans dancing in the streets. Dancing in the streets? To Rukia thatís a lie. Like peace on Earth.

Rukia hadnít time to bury her children. Not with the bombs falling all around. She fled. Bleeding, a relative drove to her to a hospital in Pakistan. On the way, bombs fell close by. Washington says itís doing its best to avoid civilian casualties, but Rukia doesnít believe that either. "They're bombing anything that moves," she cries, remembering her harrowing drive to the hospital, remembering her five children. "They're targeting innocent people."

"First we had the war with Russia, then the Taliban came and now the United States is attacking us again and again," she complains. Peace on Earth? Maybe in songs that play endlessly in the background while we bustle through the mall, arms loaded high with Christmas presents. "Destroy, finish, terminate America," Rukia shouts through the pain of remembering five children America destroyed, finished, terminated. No wild eyed terrorist, not a mastermind who hates America because it loves freedom, just a mother. An eye for an eye. Your children for my children.

Allah Mohammed is not so different from most Americans. When two jetliners plowed into the World Trade Centre, killing nearly 4,000, Americans reacted with a mixture of bewilderment and fury. "Why do they hate us?" they wondered. And when they werenít asking themselves that, they were just plain mad. Thatís what Allah Mohammed keeps feeling -- bewilderment and anger. Allah isnít a terrorist. Not a member of the Taliban. Not a follower of Osama bin Laden. Heís just a farmer, who, until American warplanes flattened his farm, lived on the outskirts of Kandahar. Now he lives in a hospital, two of his fingers gone. The bombs claimed those. And they claimed something else: his brotherís eyesight. And they claimed his daughterís life. She wasnít a terrorist either. She didnít even know what terrorist means. So Allah lays in his hospital bed, crying mostly, asking over and over, "Why are they bombing us?" Every once in a while his jaw sets, his brow furrows, and he stares fixedly at the ceiling, and he lets seething, white-hot anger push his grief deep inside. In Washington, the president says Afghanistan must be bombed to make America safe from terrorists. The president is a liar. Or a fool.

Haji Khan is luckier. He got out of Kandahar before a B-52 bombardier could usher him, his wife, or any of his kids into an early grave. But that doesnít mean he doesnít have scars. He knows all about terrorism. Heís experienced it. And not the vicarious terror of watching the Twin Towers collapse in a billowing cloud of debris, but something closer to what the people inside the towers felt. Sheer, personal, terror. "It never ends," he explains, from a Pakistani refugee camp, on the border near Afghanistan. "It was boom, boom, boom, boom, and then boom again. It was like being inside a nightmare. Everyone was crying. There were dead people everywhere." Daisy cutters. Thatís the devil in this nightmare. Daisy cutters. An innocuous sounding name. Daisy cutters donít just explode, they produce a colossal, mind numbing, bone rattling boom, that flattens everything around. Hear the boom of daisy cutters over and over and you go mad.

Kandahar lost all its electricity at the beginning of November. Bombs knocked out the transmission towers bringing hydroelectric power from the power station at the Kajaki Dam. Weeks before the city lost much of its electricity when a distribution plant was bombed. Water pumps, which need electricity to work, ground to a halt, forcing the residents of Kandahar to rely on wells, already depleted by months of drought. Article 54 of the Geneva Convention prohibits any country from undermining "objects indispensable to the survival of (another country's) civilian population," including drinking water installations. "Why are they bombing us?" asks Haji Khan. Washington says it has no beef with Afghans. So why are B-52s and F-16s knocking out their electricity, destroying access to water, and killing their children? Haji Khan keeps asking himself that.

Richard Lloyd Parry had a glimpse into somebodyís nightmare. One hundred and fifteen somebodies to be exact. The Pentagon says he must be dreaming. It never happened. Still, heís sure it did. Parry, a correspondent for the British newspaper, The Independent, was in the village of Kama Ado, or what was left of it. Many of the houses werenít houses anymore -- just depressions in the ground, filled with rubble. Some were cracked open, like hard-boiled eggs, only a lot messier. A tin kettle, practically everted, burned cooking pots, bits and pieces of an old-fashioned sewing machine. Thatís about all that was left. And the tail end of a compact bomb, serial number 232687. One Saturday morning B-52s started dropping bombs on the people of Kama Ado. They came back the next morning. By Monday, what Parry called a large village with a small graveyard, had become a small village with a large graveyard.

Bibi Gul awoke one morning more than a week ago to find Tahir, her two year-old son, stiff, cold and unmoving. He had frozen to death. "The sky is my roof and the earth is my floor," she says bravely, sitting upon an old grey blanket, in a refugee camp near Herat. Bibi Gul is one of 800,000 Afghans who live in the camp. They canít live in their homes anymore. Theyíre gone. Just like Tahir. Heís one of 40 people who die in the camp every day from cold and starvation. Bibi Gul hasnít eaten in five days. Bibi Gul knows her pain will soon end. She too will become one of the 40.

Samuel E. Stayton had heard the taunts before. "You should all be killed," screamed a driver, as he steered his SUV through the intersection. Others shout, "war is good, and "war is the answer," and flip Stayton the finger. Like his Messiah, whose birth the season commemorates, Stayton doesnít think killing is the answer. So he has taken part in a vigil for the last two weeks, organized by a Quaker group, to protest the war on Afghanistan. Stayton and about ten others stand silently on the sidewalk holding signs. One sign reads," Justice, yes. Violence, no." Another says, "War is not the answer."

Last week, he stood on a sidewalk. All around the buildings and street lights were bedecked with Christmas ornaments. He heard a noise. Then he felt the sign he was holding vibrate. There was a little hole in the lower left corner. Someone had tried to shoot him.

His sign read, "Peace on Earth."


Steve Gowans calls himself a radical, but others just call him contrary and a pain-in-the-ass. He can be reached at sr.gowans@sympatico.ca.

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