how the world sees america

Turning Back from the Taliban

hanif2.jpg
Hanif Qadir at the Active Change Foundation.
Walthamstow - When America invaded Afghanistan, Hanif Qadir sent money to a Taliban-run charity for innocent women and children caught in the war. Then he decided to visit the battle ground himself.

He’d seen pictures of Afghan boys with their private parts blown off by the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance and children weeping over their parents' corpses. “All that to catch 22 people, who America can’t even prove caused 9/11,” Hanif laments. He is against the loss of all innocent lives, he says, Americans included. But departing East London, he half-jokingly warned his British-born family that if he saw America committing the grave injustices he expected, he might become a mujahideen himself and never return.

At the time -- between 2001-2002 -- Hanif saw the "war on terror" as a cover for a “crusade” against Islam. "Terrorism cannot represent any lone religion, let alone Islam," he says. Hanif read reports of a U.S. general saying, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol." Rumsfeld defended this as free speech, while Hanif listened to Bush repeat the "false dilemma," “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists." When he heard calls for a war “against evil” Hanif agreed; but the evil was America. And he was ready to get personally involved "helping the innocent."

“I like justice. I’d been in street gangs and fights most of my life" for it, Hanif explained. In his 30s, Hanif left the gangs to run a car garage that employed fifteen people. But “money didn’t give the type of satisfaction” a street fight did. "You miss something not fighting; you miss the crowd. You feel powerful when you know you can call your gang anytime.”

The boy of the English streets who didn’t learn Urdu until later life suddenly felt insecure, unhinged, "searching for meaning." And the global plight of Muslims provided one.

He left Britain for Islamabad, Pakistan, where his parents were born, and then traveled west to Peshawar. From there he took a van to Afghanistan, down narrow, windy roads toward the camps where victims of battle waited. But fate intervened. On his way into Afghanistan, a van filled with wounded men and boys came rushing out toward him. They were fleeing a battlefield massacre not too far ahead.

Among the wounded was a fair-skinned boy, "who looked about fifteen years old...just like my little son,” crying, head bleeding. The boy told Hanif how he'd been recruited from a village near Peshawar and then sent into battle untrained and unarmed, collecting bullets in his chest. This was not a real fight and it was certainly not the justice Hanif imagined. He turned back immediately.

“Good and evil” started to blur in Hanif's mind. He'd never met an American, and had never met a Taliban fighter. It was all Internet videos and word of mouth -- a mythical conflict, in many ways. But on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, real life stepped in.

Paradoxically, Hanif became less confused, not more. His mind refocused on his own son, on his family and community. Hanif "cleaned up" and "raced back" to England. Three days after his return, the son of a close family friend was stabbed in the face during a gang fight and died. Violence was at home too, in a way Hanif understood.

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Outside the foundation.
So he sold his car garage business and opened a community center called The Active Change Foundation to provide a haven for street youth. The center, located just by the nearest mosque, is frequented primarily by young Muslim men. But when fourteen people from this small part of town were seized in a anti-terror raid last summer, the "war on terror" came home to him.

He now sees his work as providing a haven for isolated, angry youth, who are at risk of turning toward terrorism. He understands them: how they seek purpose, how jihad justifies urges toward violence and turns their social ostracism into a badge of honor. It's easy to imagine a "holy war" when both America and Afghanistan/Iraq lie far away and when the struggle is framed bluntly as "good versus evil". It's possible to be against terrorism and "not with America" says Hanif. Cultivating the middle ground and admitting moral ambiguities could help, he says, though it may not be good for campaign sloganeering.

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Comments (37)

Steve Gregg:

I'm at a loss to see Hanif Qadir as an admirable guy. He sounds like a street punk who made good in business then went to Pakistan all hot for jihad until he saw the first drop of blood at which he turned tail and skedaddled back to nice, safe, comfy Britain where he couldn't get any of that nasty blood on him.

It seems he still carries a grudge against America and has yet to meet one of those Americans whom he seems to hate so much.

Ambiguous?:

Some things are simple. Using kids and pregnant women to launch terrorist attacks against civilians is not a moral quandary difficult to parse. Cutting off the heads of journalists for propaganda purposes is not a hard moral case to decide. While there are elements to the current war that are hard calls much isn't. Faux sophistication through moral imbecility makes one seem confused not complicated. I tend to check out on anyone who says Haliburton and Abu Graihb as if that settles some discussion or proves some incontrovertible moral deficit in the U.S.

Acknowledging that the U.S. has done some wrong and terrible things is not to say that we and our foes are all the same. U.S. soldiers summarily shot prisoners in WWII and we firebombed Dresden. I am not morally retarded enough to think that makes the U.S. as bad as the Nazis or that WWII is a morally complicated story. I find the same holds true today.

I just don't see the goals and actions of the U.S. being confusable with our enemies. I have heard the litany of mistakes and crimes that the U.S. and our soldiers have committed since 9/11 and they just don't compare in scale or intent to our enemies. While I know some folks want Cheney's head on a stick we have prosecuted most of the soldiers who have committed war crimes. Even the intent to do that separates us from the other side. It isn't a close call at all and I find other's inability to see this as strange.

Perhaps more importantly than one more Iraq war go round... I think that Saddam Hussein was not just known as a Tyrant in popular culture. He was also part of the great dream sequence in TH\he Big Lebowski and was wonderful as Satan's lover in The Southpark Movie. So, mass graves and other reality intruding acts aside he is much more of a "popular culture figure" than Uninformed Reader gives him credit for.

Andy:

Sounds like a small-time thug went to Afghanistan to fight with the big boys but got scared and ran home. If he wants to spin it as some epiphany or something then good luck to him. But I don't have a lot of respect for a guy who rips the West then flees to it for safety when things get hot.

uninformed reader #1Million:

It is so obvious what is wrong here. The American way of life has evolved into hatred and selfishness and only the few that posses higher intelligence can get past the carefully targeted propagana - aimed soley at making the top 1% rich and keeping us in our place. After 9/11 all of the forces in Iraq currently could have went on an offensive search for Osama and internally dismantle his network. BUT...they lied, faked a war with a guy known in popular culture as a tyrant and ran with it. Haliburton is rich and WE pay for it. Osama has more momentum in the reigion then he ever had AND he now has more allies in Iraq then he ever had. Why are Americans (as a whole, not those that think for themselves and use reason) so stupid?

Answer - Ask the same ignorant people that will run with the anti-patriotic rhetoric and ignore the entire base of the text. Kinda the enitre reason this thread is filled with such passionate text.

Its just easy to blame someone else and never, ever, under any circumtance - share blame.

All or nothing, right?

uninformed reader #1Million:

It is so obvious what is wrong here. The American way of life has evolved into hatred and selfishness and only the few that posses higher intelligence can get past the carefully targeted propagana - aimed soley at making the top 1% rich and keeping us in our place. After 9/11 all of the forces in Iraq currently could have went on an offensive search for Osama and internally dismantle his network. BUT...they lied, faked a war with a guy known in popular culture as a tyrant and ran with it. Haliburton is rich and WE pay for it. Osama has more momentum in the reigion then he ever had AND he now has more allies in Iraq then he evr had. Why are Americans (as a whole, not those that think fo themselves and use reason) so stupid?

Answer - Ask the same ignorant people that will run with the anti-patriotic rhetoric and ignore the entire base of the text. Kinda the enitre reason this thread is filled with such passionate text.

Its just easy to blame someone else and never, ever, under any circumtance - share blame.

All or nothing, right?

maj:

ICBM wow! now your something aren't you, come on vent your anger via the net, thats all you can do, but its people like H who are strong and try their best to prevent injustice,, you i'm afraid are of a different breed,,, a minority..... I bet your hero's are Stalin, Hitler, Karoditch and Sharon, and oh yes Mr Bush,,,,

kerry:

Hey Anju Chandel, Looks like you can't read properly, read it again and maybe you will understand it a lot better, its people like you who get the wrong end, and then spread hatred, i thought the Indians had been working hard at learning the english language,, read it again!!

perhaps you might read where it says this guy is working in the commnity to prevent other young men from going down the path he thought of,, dhuu!!!

Amar:

Gabriel, That'd be a tough pill for many to swallow!

Miriam Leitao:

What a wonderful article you posted about the ambiguities of this war. The post is a dense and complex analysis and at the same time written in a simple and easy way.

Anju Chandel, New Delhi, India:

Hanif seems to be suffering from the same illusion (sickness) that all Jihadists (terrorists) - including the potential ones - suffer from: that the whole world is against Islam and that people like him have been sent to the earth by Allah to save Islam - by killing humanity in the name of Jihad! ...

To Hanif: get your facts right, bhai! Otherwise, the day is not far when the world is not going to tolerate anymore of this nonsense (Jihad) in the name of religion. People like you are bringing bad name to Islam. ...

Just by blaming the US and the rest of the world for all your troubles is not going to help. Grow up and learn to take care of yourselves like the people in the civilized parts of the world.

Norrie Hoyt:

"He’d seen pictures of Afghan boys with their private parts blow[n] off by the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance..."

Shift to Iraq: The U.S. Military, sometimes under prodding, releases data on the number of amputations, post traumatic stress patients, etc., but never a mention, much less data, on the number of U.S. service people who have had their genitalia blown away or otherwise damaged.

This is a common war injury but we never hear of it. If the facts and statistics of this injury were known, the U.S. public might want us to leave Iraq sooner.

Norrie Hoyt:

"He’d seen pictures of Afghan boys with their private parts blow[n] off by the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance..."

Shift to Iraq: The U.S. Military, sometimes under prodding, releases data on the number of amputations, post traumatic stress patients, etc., but never a mention, much less data, on the number of U.S. service people who have had their genitalia blown away or otherwise damaged.

This is a common war injury but we never hear of it. If the facts and statistics of this injury were known, the U.S. public might want us to leave Iraq sooner.

ICBM:

Maj: I can only encourage the Palestinians, indeed all arabs, to kill themselves and spare everyone else the trouble. What is it for? Iraq is a bridgehead, Iran and Syria are next, even if a pacifist like Bush is elected.

Amar:

I'm at work writing up tomorrow's post on this community, and thought I'd throw out some of the key ideas from it here to see if you have any thoughts.

On America & Terrorism

- There is an interesting tension between gang culture – with materialism and sexuality – with the sort of asceticism proscribed by the ultra pious. But by making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, would-be bombers can justify certain worldly luxuries since they are preparing themselves for the next, foundation coordinators tell me.

- Many I spoke to believe Muslims committed the acts of terror attributed to them, but believe that non-Muslims or white converts instigated it. For example, there's a rumor here that before the 7-7 bombs, an American soldier who’d been in Afghanistan and converted came to the UK, talked with the bombers, and disappeared. The rumor is he taught them and urged them on.

On America and Crime

- A council employee told me that when people talk of 'gang culture' in British government, they do so they pretend that it’s an American import. This is "scapegoating pure and simple". If people can say gang violence is imported, it allows them to maintain a myth about their own national character. Blaming rap music is in vogue here, but people here at the Active Change Foundation consider it a highly dubious claim.

- Politicians push to under-report violent crime in the area. The official explanation is 'we don't want to cause panic' but the unofficial reason is they want to show improvement during their tenure and convince voters they got crime under control. Crime Prevention Strategists aren't given the authority to actually go out into the streets and resolve conflicts among gang members because the council fears a law suit or high health costs incurred by a wounded council worker.

So a hands-off culture can develop re: community development. But groups like ACF fill in where government sometimes leaves off -- patrolling at night not with police uniforms, but as elder, respected friends, cultivating relationships and building a stronger community, capable of roping in the disaffected. It's interesting how Hanif's life journey brought him round to this way of life. I'll say more in the next post, but figured I'd put this out here for those of you awake this late at night!

maj:

ICBM if you look back and see why their are kids fighting in Palestine,, look at the lies our governments are spitting out by the truck load,, you can't ignore what we the US are doing in foreign lands... and for what?

ICBM:

Noah: There was no Israel nor US when the muslims invaded Spain in the 8th century, nor was their an Israel or US when the muslims invaded Asia Minor and captured Constantinople in 1453, a Greek city for over 1000 years. Of course you are welcome to your delusions but do not be surprised if those who have had to fight muslimism do not share your desire for capitualtion.

Maj: Why don't you go to the Gaza Strip right now and utter your piosities about not using children for causes they do not understand?

damocles:

I am sorry that neither US nor Northern Alliance forces did not kill you. Please return to Afghanistan so that you end up like a Roman fountain.

maj:

Hey TSW you missed the point and thats why you are in these foreign land blazing your retoric. this guy is as many people outside your isolated state aware of the atrocities being done to innocent people in the name of revenge. you cannot be wrong and strong. Mr qadir has made the point that it does not matter what the cause is killing innocent people and sending childen to die for a cause they do not understand is wrong. why don't you ask some of the young men that return from your frontline

Anonymous:

Why hate Americans? Easy, so they have someone to hate and vent their anger upon for their sorry condition! It's an old trick used to deflect blame away from their own leaders, who are really to blame, and onto someone else (Americans).

Forgiven:

I think the truth that transcends this story's subject is the blurriness of life. We sit back and see video and internet chat about the workings of governments and organizations, not knowing what the reality is. So many have been conditioned to believe that life is like a video game, that the rules are hard and fast. (with us or against us, good vs evil). The truth of the matter is life is rarely black and white, it is mostly grey. We are all struggling to make sense of a world that sometimes seems to make no sense. Looking for a place to belong, something to believe in. In the west that is taken care of with characters that are not real, but merely figments and creations of false heroes. We package heroism just like we package cereal.The world doesn't have to be for us or against us, we need to accept we are not that important. The world will survive without our daily influence in their lives.

This man and thousands like him are the natural outgrowth of imperialism and the neo-con agenda. It is time for us to get past the name calling and demagoguery to what is really important. We spend so much time and effort demonizing each other that nothing of substance can be accomplished. This man and many like him are looking for someone or something above his common circumstances, something to believe in. The "war on terrorism" has provided the Islamist the ideal situation to recruit with, to fight the "new crusaders". Neither side represents God, just the common failings of men of wanting to control something...

I congratulate him for his recognizing the lies of both sides and for his wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. For him and others, helping other people is not responding to an infomercial or talking about an issue, but actually taking action. Bravo!

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth; from the laziness that is content with half-truths; from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth – oh God of Truth deliver us!— Unknown

http://thedisputedtruth.blogspot.com/

Tom:

I wonder if his zeal was refreshed after the subway bombings in London. Who was the enemy to blame following the attack on his own English soil? Seems his actions reflect the feelings of many Islamic moderates, instead of acknowledging the violent character of Islam they project their hatred on America.

Anonymous:

Hey Dan, you asked "Second, if the Taliban and Al Qaeda are so evil why isn't your hero W doing anything to find and kill them?"

Perhaps you've been missing the news reports about Taliban fighters being killed in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda being killed in Iraq?

Even the Leftists rags carry those reports.

Fate:

Hmmm, this guy made this bad decision at 31 years old, after years with a gang, enjoying the fight while believing in justice? I don't think this is your typical person nor typical muslim. He seems as lost as others who actually joined the fight, except he saw the reality and probably due to his maturity understood right from wrong better and got out of there fast.

There must be thousands of muslims who did not make the mistake of going to Afganistan, who sought out the truth of what was going on, read the papers, and decided that the Taliban should not be supported. Those are the majority of muslims who are going to reclaim their religion one day from the fanatical and the weak minded, which Mr. Qadir seems to be one of. I'm glad he realized the truth and is doing good things today to help other with confused minds. But we should not hold him up as an example of a typical or even good muslim, at least his decisions in the past.

And lets not take what this man did as good or what we hope other muslims do. His story reminds me of many stories I've read about gang members suffering a tragedy, leaving the gangs and then forming youth groups to help those like they were when young. Its good that they turned around in their ways but lets not forget the thousands who never made that bad decision in the first place. They are the real heros, the ones who can determine right from wrong, the real majority of people including muslims.

Gabriel Fry:

At the risk of engaging in reductive fallacies, does anyone else see the parallel between this guy and the Navy Seal who was on the front page of the Post the other day? Angry guy with poor impulse control goes to Afghanistan to kill people whom he identifies in terms no more complex than "the other team" and encounters actual human beings in complex struggle without clear Hammurabic judicial guidance, learns basic human ethical lesson that most people sort out as teenagers. They say it takes all kinds, but I think that kind is disproportionately represented in the current conflict(s).

Alyssa:

Dan,
I have never seen a post o this site by an American

Pleas give me a link to such a post

Thanks

noah:

Mike...Liberals do not support Al-Qaeda or the Taliban...but perhaps they seek answers as to WHY a significant portion of the globe seems to hate the U.S. instead of simply labeling that portion "evil".
Imagine the radicalism that would occur if an Eastern power came to North America and started dividing up the land into countries it could control so as to gain access to natural resources (the opposite occurred after WWI in the mid-east)...or imagine a large power put thousands of troops in the Vatican (see U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia--home to Mecca and Medina). Of course I do not condone the violence that has taken place but understanding leads to solutions while simplistic slogans lead nowhere.

dan:

"Where are all the Liberals who comment in favor of the taliban and Al Qaeda so regularly. My assessment: They cannot deal with the ugly realities that Taliban and Al Qaeda = EVIL."

Hey Mike,

First off...show me any examples of the liberals commenting in favor of the taliban or al qaeda. That's right you couldn't find any. So quit spewing forth your ignorance.

Second, if the Taliban and Al Qaeda are so evil why isn't your hero W doing anything to find and kill them? Of course, I'm not talking about Al Qaeda in Iraq (who we allowed to set up shop there), I'm referring to the ones just chilling in Pakistan with no threat of being captured whatsoever. You know the ones who committed 9/11. Maybe we oughta go after them ay? The fact that we ain't doing a damn thing to catch Osama is the "ugly reality". How does that make you feel? Proud?

Regarding evil....Do conservatives even care who we kill or do you just thirst for blood? Hasn't killing tens of thousands of Iraqis quenched your thirst yet? And is it evil to kill innocent people? I thought it was but hey I'm just a liberal right? I actually value life. Silly me.

TSW:

This is not really that encouraging. Here we have a guy who is still "not with America," who still does not appreciate the clear moral distinction between the U.S. and al-Qaeda, who apparently still doubts whether al-Qaeda attacked America in the first place, and who has fond memories of life as a violent street criminal. He was all set to fight against America in Afghanistan till he realized it was a lost cause that would likely get him killed. So all of the sudden he has a moral "epiphany." Touching. I'm glad that he is not - at least for the moment, until a more promising opportunity comes along - actively engaged in trying to kill Americans. But I still suspect we might be better off if Mr. Qadir had been ripped apart by an AC-130 gunship.

Gabriel Fry:

I think this guy illustrates an important point for students of counter-insurgency and guerilla warfare: people are more often motivated to fight against ideas than to fight for them. Leaders and ideologues are fond of declaring what they fight for, but for all practical purposes, soldiers are motivated by what they are fighting against. It's an uncomfortable reality for people who like to wallow in good/evil dichotomies.

Hoosur Daudi:

A good example of an old axiom by Sun Tzu: all warfare is based on deception. The difference being that the Taliban ideology is less palitable than that of the US to this westernized Muslim. I won't belabor this point, as we in the west are already divided enough in our views.

It is refreshing to hear/see rationale choices being made. Hopefully this guy will serve as an example/positive role model for others facing a similar dilemma...

Roachclip76:

What is worrisome is the reason he left. Not that it is exactly stated, but it seems to me the reason he was against the Taliban is because they were using people (children) to fight their war and basically sending them off to die w/o proper training. It doesn't really say that the Taliban ideology was what turned him off. Its not so much that people are against the US that bothers me, its that people are for a fanatical belief that says either "my way" or you die (whether american, shiite, iraq "colaborators", etc.). You can't reason with that and all you can do is fight to kill them all, contain them, or let them kill you.

Gabriel Fry:

Excellent piece. The recognition of moral ambiguity in international relations is crucial to adequate understanding. Would that it were distributable in pill form.

Mike McH:

Where are all the Liberals who comment in favor of the taliban and Al Qaeda so regularly. My assessment: They cannot deal with the ugly realities that Taliban and Al Qaeda = EVIL.

Mike McH:

Where are all the Liberals who comment in favor of the taliban and Al Qaeda so regularly. My assessment: They cannot deal with the ugly realities that Taliban and Al Qaeda = EVIL.

Maurice:

hooorah for an epiphany. You would have ended up as an "enemy Combatant" at Guantanamo Bay.

Maurice:

Hooooraah for an epiphany. You would have ended up as one of the "enemy combatant" at Guantanamo Bay.

Lisa:

It is refreshing to see the story of somebody who entertained the idea of terrorism and moved away from it. There is hope in community work, I feel, for people to be prevented from falling off the edge.

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