A large crowd of Brooklyn residents filled the Park Slope United Methodist Church last night. It was one of the city's coldest winters in recent memory but that didn't stop people from turning out to discuss the escalating war in Afghanistan and its impact on the world, the country and, more immediately, on life in their own city and neighborhoods.
A large crowd of Brooklyn residents filled the sanctuary at the Park Slope United Methodist Church.
Initiated by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) and supported by Brooklyn For Peace along with a dozen or so of the borough's peace and justice organizations, the forum featured Congress member Jerrold Nadler and reporter Anand Gopal who had been embedded with the Taliban and had dispatched many reports from that beleaguered country.
The flyer for the meeting.
The meeting was opened by CBID chair, Lucy Koteen, who welcomed people and described the work of her organization, which is one of Brooklyn's most active Democratic reform clubs with a long history of progressive activism. She then turned the meeting over to Brooklyn For Peace's Vice Chair, Rusti Eisenberg, who introduced the two speakers. Eisenberg is one of the founders of Brooklyn For Peace and a professor of history at Hofstra University.
CBID Chair, Lucy Koteen, opens the Afghan forum meeting. Seated, left to right, Rusti Eisenberg, journalist, Anand Gopal, Congress member Jerrold Nadler.
BFP Chair, Rusti Eisenberg, introduces the speakers.
Representative Nadler read the statement he had made to Congress in opposing President Obama's announcement of escalation and took to task the notion that our country should use massive military occupation of foreign lands in order to deal with what even the CIA has said is "a hundred or so Al Queyda" remaining in Afghanistan. He deplored the fabulous expense of dependence on military solutions which, he said, is wreaking havoc on our ability to solve the huge problems we confront at home. In the long run, he pointed out, using military occupation of countries produces the opposite of what we hope to accomplish since it inspires hatred of the U.S. and helps to fill the ranks of extremist organizations aimed at doing harm to the United States.
Nadler -- these endless, expensive military adventures make it impossible to solve pressing problems at home.
As if to prove Nadler's point, the next speaker, journalist Anand Gopal, related an experience he reported on when he was embedded with the Taliban as a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. He had interviewed a young, teenage Afghan boy imprisoned for an attempted suicide bombing. The boy's experience, as related by Gopal, horrified the audience and was symbolic of the problems resulting from the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan ---
Walking home one day, the young man witnessed a crowd in front of his house or what used to be his house. It had been reduced to rubble from a U.S. bomb attack. Sifting through the rubble for a trace of his family of sixteen (all sixteen innocents had perished in the attack) he came across the severed head of his mother.This tale, which Gopal said is not uncommon, dramatically brought home the counter-productive results of the U.S. war. While the administration says its war is fighting terrorism and terrorists to make American safer, the horrific civilian casualties (the drone attacks that are glorified by the Pentagon are said to have a civilian-to-terrorist kill ration of 55 to 1!) are actually driving Innocent victims into the hands of the Taliban and other extremists and thereby making us more endangered.
This propelled the young man into a traumatized, almost catatonic state, and for days he wandered the town aimlessly, clutching his mother's head in his arms. No one could persuade him to let loose of the head and permit it to be buried. Finally, a village elder convinced him to relent and to take up arms with the insurgents in order to avenge his horrific loss.
The young man was thus thrust into the arms of the Taliban -- he was recruited to the bombing attempt only to land up in a Afghan government dungeon.
Gopal - Massive U.S. military action in Afghanistan only serves to build hatred of America and fill the ranks of the terrorists.
A dramatic high point of the evening was the presence of large numbers of guests from Brooklyn's South Asian community. Bobby Khan, activist and director of the Coney Island Avenue Project spoke, and while attacking the extremist elements in the Taliban, he also opposed the war for the misery and devastation it is bringing to the people of Afghanistan. U.S. bombs dropped from pilotless planes will not solve the problems of the Afghan people he said and said it is the Pakistani authorities and intelligence agents who are largely to blame for the spread of the Taliban's insurgency. He introduced one guest who had lost his young son to the Taliban's murderous attacks.
Bobby Khan (left) of the Coney Island Avenue Project brought guests from Brooklyn's South Asian community.
Guests from Brooklyn's South Asian community.
After the speakers, Lucy Koteen turned the meeting over to questions from the audience. Nadler, in answer to one question, made a passionate defense of civil liberties which, he said, are very endangered by the war atmosphere. Throughout American history, he said, whenver there has been war, civil liberties has been brushed aside and he said the same thing is happening today. A leading Democrat, he nevertheless decried the current administration's continuation of some of the more onerous authoritarian practices inherited from the Bush regime and said the Bill of Rights could well become a "dead letter" unless Americans stand up to defend it right now.
Doug Biviano, a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn's 33rd district in the last election, asks Congress member Nadler a question.
As the meeting adjourned, both Koteen and Eisenberg said that discussion is good but not enough. Right now, they said, it's only action and pressure from the grass roots that can save the day and end the war. Esienberg asked people to involve themselves in the peace movement, to join protests against the war and to continue pressure on Congress which will soon be asked for even more money to continue that war. Only that can help bring a quick end to the war in Afghanistan she said.
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