Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Conversation

One of the beauties of Windows and Mirrors, AFSC’s travelling mural exhibition about the human cost of war in Afghanistan, is the thought-provoking conversations that emerge from experiencing powerful artistic expression.

I was privileged to be present at the Windows and Mirrors exhibit opening in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina prior to the Democratic National Convention. Denny and JoAnn Fernald of Charlotte Friends Meeting had seen the mural exhibit displayed in 2011 and wanted to bring it to Charlotte during the Convention, knowing it would be an opportunity to reach a wide audience with its message of peace. They worked with a local coalition made up of many faith and community groups, and despite challenges (including the murals getting lost on the day before set up!), held an engaging opening program on September 1.

 As we were setting up the murals, a man walked through the exhibit not looking very pleased. It turns out that he works for the Defense Department in D.C., specializing in Afghanistan and has spent many years in that country.

He very politely shared his views with me: he feels that the U.S. is doing a lot of good in Afghanistan. Since the U.S. cleared out the Taliban, he believes that this has allowed for many positive developments, including girls being able to obtain an education. He was impressed by one feisty young woman he had met who would have been denied an education and likely been taken into custody-or worse-for her outspokenness under the Taliban. This gentleman feels that murals focusing only on the war does not give an accurate picture of what is happening in Afghanistan.  The American public knows so little about the country, he says, that this exhibit keeps viewers focused only on the war. He strongly encouraged me and others to visit Afghanistan and learn more about the realities for ourselves.

I responded by explaining that Quakers in general and the AFSC oppose violence in any form, whether it originates from the Taliban or from the U.S. military. I recognized that there are no easy answers, and that AFSC is also partnering with groups like Community Supported Film, a group that trains Afghan men and women in video-journalism and documentary film making so that Afhgans themselves can share their realities with the rest of the world. (Learn more here: http://csfilm.org/)

I agreed that the American public knows little about Afghanistan, and that what people do know is mostly related to the war. We hear about the drones and new technologies of war; we occasionally hear about the tragic loss of life of US servicemen and women—usually young people, often leaving behind families. However, the media rarely mentions the tens of thousands of Afghan lives lost to the bombs. This exhibit presents a view seldom seen in the mainstream, and encourages viewers to consider the horror of war through the lens of Afghan civilians.

This conversation with the Department of Defense man impacted me. We did not leave in agreement, but we had both shared respectfully, listened to the other point of view, and were able to see the humanity in each other. This exhibit gave us that opportunity.

AFSC’s work stems from the belief in the worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of nationality, political affiliation, legal status, and position on military action. The heartbreak of a U.S. mother who loses her military son is tragically equal to the Afghan mother who loses her child to a drone strike.  Darla Davis, one of the local committee members that helped pull the Charlotte exhibit together, reflected in her remarks during the program, “This exhibit tells the stories I want our children’s children to remember about the human cost of war.  It reflects our struggle to find ways to connect with one another in our common humanity and to love the world even in the midst of the tragedy of war.”

-Lori Fernald Khamala, AFSC, Greensboro, NC

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It is important to hear all sides of the stories and hear all truths. That is how barriers are truly broken.