Currently there is a vicious civil war occurring in Afghanistan. The situation was created a decade ago when the various tribal elements of this country banded together to thwart the encroachment of the Soviet Union through its local puppet regime. Afghanistan was one of the last "killing fields" of the Cold War between America and the former Soviet Union. When the "superpowers" were pushed out the numerous local ethnic and tribal groups moved in to fill the vacuum of government. Unfortunately, as America, and now Russia, move on with their own self-interests "the killing fields" are still drowning in the blood of local villagers caught in the cyclical vice of revenge and counter-revenge, simply because they look "different" or worship Allah in a different tradition.
Dexter Filkins, a Los Angeles Times staff writer in his article "Afghans Report Massacre by Taliban," reports "that thousands of refugees have been pouring in to the border city of Peshawar, Pakistan. All are fleeing from the nearby Afghan region surrounding the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. These refugees say Taliban fighters focused exclusively on an ethnic minority known as the Hazaras, picked out by their distinctive Mongolian features. This particular tribal group practices Islam in the Shiite tradition placing them at odds with the majority of Islamic practitioners who primarily practice after the Sunni tradition. What creates a part of the tension is that both the Hazaras and nearby Iran practice the same religious traditions, therefore, this makes them suspect in the eyes of the Afghan majority." As I read the opening lines of the article I could not help but consider the historical maxim: "If looks don't kill, religion will!"
As Filkins continues to say, "Many refugees say they fled a city littered with corpses, some of them machine-gunned, others with their throats cut, others blown to pieces by missiles or grenades." Quoting a 42-year-old shopkeeper named Mohammed Rasool, Mr. Filkins paints a bleak picture in stating, "there were bodies in the streets in the city and in the markets. All of them were civilians. The ones with weapons fled long ago." Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Islamabad, Pakistan, informed the Times staff reporter that the Taliban might have killed as many as 6,000 Hazaras in September alone!
Putting Names and Faces to the Tragedy
The author of the article then turned to some gripping personal accounts with names and faces. Mr. Filkins brings to light the experience of Abbas, a 30-year-old engineer who uses only one name. Mr. Filkins graphically quotes Abbas as stating, "while working in his shop about 10 a.m., 15 pickup trucks full of Taliban soldiers rumbled down his street. One of the Taliban fighters summoned the Hazara male elders of the Lachapan neighborhood to a nearby Shiite mosque. When about 30 men gathered in front of the mosque, the Taliban gunners opened fire. I saw the old people get shot, and I ran! After that, everybody was trying to escape. The shooting went on for five hours."
Abbas continues to share the plight of the moment through Mr. Filkins words as he states that, "as he darted down the alleys and back streets of Mazar-i-Sharif he passed dozens of bodies of fellow Hazara. You see with the regular Hazara army already evacuated, that left only civilians. The Talibans didn't touch the other people-the Uzbeks or the Tajiks, they only killed the Hazara." Mr. Filkins concludes this portion of his report by saying that, "the Taliban army is primarily composed of Pushtuns who have been battling the Hazara ever since the superpower withdrawal."
So often, we are seemingly "bull-dozed over" with the amount of horrific events which occur on a daily basis in our world. Unfortunately, we become numb, even saturated, with the sheer volume of human carnage. The current reality of Christ's prophetic warning on the Mt. of Olives regarding "wars and rumors of wars" can simply cause us to steer away from any news, and thereby forgo some of the inspiring one-on-one moments that do occur out there in the middle of catastrophe.
A Hero Without a Name
It is to this rewarding point of human relationship that Mr. Filkins leads us as he goes on to recount the story of an engineer too afraid to give his name for fear of reprisal. The writer captures the voice of the engineer when he states: "they killed children, ladies, everyone. When they entered the village, they went after everyone who looked like a Hazara. He gathered his wife and four children and rushed to the home of a Pushtun friend. When Taliban troops came looking for Hazara, his friend told them none were there. The family hid in the friend's home for 20 days, listening to the gunfire and screams outside. I am very grateful for my friend. Among the corpses he recalled passing on his way out of town was that of the local shoeshine man. His throat had been slit. But most of the bodies were unrecognizable, for after a few days you can't tell who they are. The dogs had begun to eat them."
That was the end of the article echoing the tragedy and voices of a far off place in Afghanistan, but where his report ended is where my thoughts began and challenged me as to what would I have done, better still what will I do in the future? The Pushtan man who opened his door for a friend fleeing for his life and the safety of his family caught my imagination and made me think deeply.
I am a husband and a father with three lovely daughters. I could only imagine myself running down a street with my family, seemingly with the whole world not only turned upside down, but against me. No doors opening, all windows shutting, all friends who had been friends now no longer there when I needed them most. All of this because I am different. I know where I want to go. I know where my good friend lives, but will he still be my friend, now, when I need him the most, or perhaps he too will cave into the insidious pressure of communal hysteria?
And then, the moment comes. I am there. That one precious door opens! One man, in one village, in one country gone crazy who steps out and risks his life for my family. What was he thinking about? Didn't he realize his entire family could be killed and his extended family exterminated? What an example, and I don't even know his name. I can only know he was a Pushtan tribesman who looked at his friend and said "come in, you are welcome and I will care for your family." I shuddered, considering the power of the moment and the gravity of the simple words "come in."
All sorts of thoughts came to mind. I thought of Anne Frank, the little Jewish girl in Amsterdam with the ever-so-large diary, and how she must have felt having been given safe lodging for the moment. My mind ran to Oskar Schindler and his "list"-a list that meant life, to the Jews within his care. I thought of how many times this "open door" must be occurring in Bosnia between Croat, Serb, and Muslim. I then began to think of Rahab and her courage as she hid the Israelite spies. My thoughts trickled down through the centuries to some of her ancestors who were turned away in another town because there was "no room at the inn!"
Prepare Today for Tomorrow's Trials
I come back to the realization that you don't find your values in a trial. You take those values into the "fire" with you. It is today that I prepare for tomorrow. It is today that I appreciate the sanctity of life within each human and recognize they are a potential child of God. They may not "look" like me, or even "believe" like me at this moment, but I had to ask whether I would have opened my door at a moment when the whole world was going crazy.
Second Timothy 3:1 warns us: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves." Couple this passage with Matthew 24:10-12: "And then many will be offended, and will betray one another and will hate one another. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
Do we hear the message of "this is the way" through this nameless hero's courageous example? Imagine a time in the future when every man and woman, every village and city, every country and nation will open wide their door and live out the godly passage of Isaiah 35:3-4, "Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, 'Be strong, do not fear!'"
You and I, as Christians, are to have that forethought now, as we live out the values of the God's coming kingdom in today's world of anxieties.