Today my book Zen Under Fire is officially launched in to the world. Well, mostly it is being launched into New Zealand – but thanks to the magic of the internet you can order it from wherever you are (and have it delivered to most places).
Zen Under Fire is a book about my experiences living and working in Afghanistan. As well as sharing the details of my UN role, it is a very personal story of the effect that the high-stress environment had on me and my relationships. It’s a book that asks what it really means to do good, and how we can each find our unique role to play in making the world a better place.
It’s also a book about courage. Including the courage to be honest about who we are and what we need. Which is interesting, because putting it out into the world is taking as much courage as working in Afghanistan ever did. Courage is also the theme of the special course I’m creating as a gift to anyone who pre-orders my book between today at 1 March (read more about that here).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this week my thoughts are focused on Afghanistan. And so are my links.
Women’s gardens, art/activism + where to from here Afghanistan?
One of the questions I ask in my book is what harm has been done by framing the provision of basic services like health and eduction in the context of military and security interests. So I was really interested in this Australian article, which asks whether civil development programs in Afghanistan actually improve security?
I suspect I’ll write an entire post on this some time soon but my first response is that this article, like so much writing on this topic, seems to underestimate (or disregard) the risk posed to the civilian population when their schools and hospitals are widely acknowledged to be part of the broader US military strategy.
Just yesterday I was being interviewed by one of the most intelligent journalists in New Zealand and she didn’t seem to have given much thought, before our conversation, to the risk posed to civilians when NZ soliders get involved in projects like building bridges, schools or orphanages. We need to talk about this more.
Meanwhile, I was moved by this article (which is not new, but new to me) about the Kabul Women’s Garden. As well as the beautiful photos, what touched me in particular was the recognition, by Ms Karima Salik, the director of the garden, that the need for and success of the women’s garden is an admission of failure more generally for women:
“Women simply cannot go to other parks in Kabul unless chaperoned by male relatives, and often not even then; most parks, like most public spaces, are overwhelmingly male. You can’t change people’s ideas overnight. So we need to address the immediate needs.”
Someone else who recognises the challenges of changing ideas ‘overnight’ is Leslie Thomas, artists and activist – who says that advocacy is hard because:
“You’re trying to move people and policy, and that is like molasses. It takes a long time. You have to be patient. You have to be O.K. with failure. And you have to find comfort where you can. Even if it’s just in one person. You have to take solace in small moments, like changing an attitude, or somebody bothering to take the time to listen to someone’s story.”
Given that one of the deepest lessons of my work in Afghanistan – and of my book – is the value of “bothering to take the time to listen to someone’s story,” Ms Thomas’s words and work struck a note for me.
PS: am I the only person left who is actually surprised (okay, not so much surprised as disappointed) that this New York Times article on the “Beginning of the end in Afghanistan” barely mentions women’s rights or human rights, and fails entirely to mention the essential role of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in this transition process? Grrr.
Peaceful protest in Palestine
It’s not all Afghanistan. My other once-home, Palestine, has also been in the news.
Mustafa Barghouthi, doctor, member of the Palestinian Parliament and non-violence democracy leader based in Ramallah asks Can Peaceful Protest Free Palestine?, arguing “The power of nonviolence is that it gives Palestinians of all ages and walks of life the tools to challenge those subjugating us.”
I’m a total believer in peaceful protest, but can’t help thinking that Dr Barghouthi might also share some of the frustration expressed in this Economist article, which asks: ”What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?”
The best of the rest
Zen Mind, Yoga Body at the beautiful Upaya Zen Centre
The Inspired By awards - these are so lovely, check them out
New Green MP Jan Logie’s maiden speech - a ‘lefty feminist Lesbian, an ordinary New Zealander’ who knows we could do things ‘so much better’