Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

An Unhindered Hope

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

An Unhindered Hope

Article excerpt

AN UNHINDERED HOPE Making Friends Among the Taliban: A Peacemaker's Journey in Afghanistan, by Jonathan P. Larson. Herald Press.

IN EARLY AUGUST 2010 , 10 aid workers were murdered, execution -sty le, in the province of Badakhshan. in northeastern Afghanistan. Among them were six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton, and a German. all part of a medical mission. It was the deadliest attack on aid workers the country had seen.

Dan Terry, 63 , an American humanitarian " 'ho, "'ith his fami ly, had called Afghanistan hOllle for more than 30 years, was among the dead.

What compels a person to risk his or her life in a foreign land so riddled with conflict? For Terry it was simple- he was called to a lifc of peacemaking and servicc.

A friend of Terry's since chi ldhood, writer Jon athan Larson draws us into Terry's passionate character and the vision he shared with friends in Afghanistan: rec-onciliation and dialogue. "In the end, we're all knotted into the same carpet," Terry was fond of saying. From a swath of interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, both Western and Afghan, Larson has assembled "oral narratives," sharing with us the exhil-arating life of a generous and gentle man, heroic but humble.

The best advice I received as a human-itarian aid worker in Afghanistan was from a leader cut from the same cloth as Terry: "Make no assumptions" and "listen first." We too often accept media carica¬tures of the other, labels that shut down discourse and clamp offpossibility and hope. Challenging this, Terry insisted on the unwavering potential of each person he met. "Categorical enemies' have res¬cued me... again and again," he once wrote to friends.

This approach, while considered naive by some and cavalier by others, helped Terry form unlikely but effective partnerships, such as with members o( the Taliban, whose code had wrought so much suffering on the Afghan people. He would work with individual Talibs who cared for the lI'ell~being of their communities and wanted to help improve lives. In his dealings with Taliban administrators or village leaders, gunmen at checkpoints or subsistence farmers, Terry found the common ground, at times securing lhe release of hostages or bringing enemies together around a common cause. He believed there was no barricade that could not be crossed, no problem that could not be ncgotiated.

But not eve ryo ne appreciated this. Colleagues criticized him for his alliances with the Taliban, while his superiors grew frustrated by his lack of adherence to proper process and procedure. …

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