Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

After intentionally publicized photos of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons, after leaked video of Saddam’s hanging, after the horrific fall-out from the horrific abuses Abu Ghraib, it seems possible that the current administration is making a thoughtful and measured decision to quietly put the photos and video of Osama bin Laden’s assassination away. I feel really relieved about this. On a selfish level,  I just in no way want to see these… I make it a point to avoid horror films or any visual graphic violence since my imagination is perfectly capable of conjuring up terrible things all on its own. I also understand that other people don’t feel this way, but I can’t condone the release of the photos or footage to our decidedly bloodthirsty culture. In the age where we demand instant gratification and where a quick Google image search can summon previously unimaginable horrors, adding to that rot heap seems of little value and the consequences could be manifold.

Certainly many people, from the administration on down, have made the point that we do not want to further inflame bin Laden’s supporters and I think that is certainly a component of this decision. But it is not the decisive component. Refusing to release the photos is refusing to administrate to the lowest common denominator, refusing to bend to the fringe, and acknowledging instead in some very small and totally inadequate but still important way that this is not good. I am grateful to the President for this decision, for the minimal acknowledgment that, in the words of Dr. King and so many others, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence.”


Somehow Dr. King’s words have the power to speak across history. I am by no means the first blogger to dig up this quote in reference to the events that were announced late last night, but I’ve been able to find no other words that better address the actions taken.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Only light. Only love. While it would be ludicrous to suggest that I feel capable of loving an individual like bin Laden, it is important to recognize that this is the ultimate goal we are striving towards. There is no victor in violence.

This is what author John Krakauer said of his former friend Greg Mortenson. Mortenson is the subject of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea or, by its full title, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time. The quick summary is that Mortenson is a troubled-adventurer type (think Into the Wild by the same John Krakauer) who happens upon extreme poverty in Pakistan while attempting to scale K2. His experience moves him to make a promise to build a school in an impoverished village and this promise leads him to inexpertly found a non-profit, the Central Asia Institute (CAI). From there, with  tales of failure, success, and Taliban-kidnapping interspersed, Mortenson appears to take up building schools across the region, especially for girls, as his life’s work. That’s the story, anyway. People love this story. It’s probably done a great deal of good. The amount of money that this non-profit has attracted because of this story is big potatoes in the development world.

Here’s an interesting summary, as much for the context as the content:

Recently, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft reported that “key anecdotes in Mortenson’s inspirational narrative—which launched him as a humanitarian folk hero, attracted $60 million in donations to his nonprofit Central Asia Institute, and personally earned him millions of dollars in book royalties and lecture fees—appear to have been fabricated” (Llyod Grove in The Daily Beast, 4/18/2011).

If only it was just that the stories were exaggerated. There’s the exodus of staff members from the CAI, Mortenson collecting exorbitant royalties and speaking fees,  the fact that the CAI’s books are bad and 60 Minutes’ reporters couldn’t find many of the schools that were supposedly built or trace the money (and there’s plenty enough to trace) that the CAI was supposedly dispensing.

Here’s the whole report, about 15 minutes of slash and burn on Mortenson’s reputation.

I read Three Cups of Tea in October of 2009 and, while the story was compelling enough, I didn’t like Greg Mortenson when I was done. I thought he came across as self-aggrandizing and cavalier. In his world, development seemed like a new adventure, cool, tough, and compelling in a sort of wild west way. It didn’t occur to me that he might be lying, but I was pretty sure that he liked coming across as brave and effective and independent. And who doesn’t?

It seems he was also lying. In light of that, I feel like I have to shift to acknowledge the great deal of good he’s probably done, anyway. As Krakauer said, “He’s not Bernie Madoff, let’s be clear. He’s done a lot of good. He has helped thousands of schoolkids in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has become perhaps the world’s most effective spokesperson for girls’ education in developing countries and he deserves credit for that. Nevertheless, he’s threatening to bring it all down, to destroy all of it, by his fraud, by his lies” (John Krakauer on 60 Minutes).

I sort of see Krakauer’s point backwards. It’s not that Mortenson has wrecked something that was fantastic by lying. It was always a lie and knowing the truth is better because it’s true, even if it’s a disappointment. It’s also easy for me to understand Mortenson as someone enjoying his access to celebrity and wealth and doing some pretty impactful good things and tweaking some stories (inventing others) to sell a few more books and justifying it all as consciousness-raising and feeling that he had earned it. But it is a disappointment to collectively fall for it and then find out that Greg Mortenson was not, after all, what we needed him to be.