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Good evening from Ankawa:
It has been a tough week here. What has been a relatively stable part of northern Iraq has now been rocked by three violent incidents this week in government facilities, resulting a few days ago in the death of one Christian man who is part of the larger community where I work. Worse, the perpetrators of these attacks were very young, identified as "high school students" 18, 17 and 16 years old apparently thoroughly brainwashed, influenced, directed by an older "imam" who was arrested a few times but released even after his home and mosque were searched and weapons were confiscated at least twice.
I will include links to news reports if you want to read more details below- but the wider picture here is that the "training" of these acolytes was a success and many report there are numerous "sleeper cells" ready to launch not only in Iraq and neighboring countries but in other parts of the world. The fierce loyalty, devotion and faithful following are mostly young men, although there have been a number of increasing violent incidents with young women and girls as well.
Thousands of children who grew up exposed to violence, deprived of their parental love in most cases, inculcated by fear, abuse and exploitation; praised for taking extreme risks, denigrated for "cowardice" and caution by those they looked up to as models of "men" and mentors: are living in societies in places around the world just waiting for the chance to prove themselves "worthy" of their "call to action" by those who have trained them. Many will go to their deaths believing they have done so for God's sake by whatever name they have learned for a Divine being who guides their fate.
Certainly some of the parents, teachers and religious leaders fervently believe they have brought these children up on "the right path" and that such a death by doing what they were taught to do is a "noble death". Media sources will proselytize these ideas and capitalize on the fascination of their audience for viewing risk, violence and death, especially of the young. Media will swarm like vultures on the carrion of dead youth, of those in the prime of their life with so much possibility and physical health, attractiveness, talent cut down by the ruthless scythe of death...which stops for no nationality, age, gender, religion or status when it comes for it's harvest.
I am not only writing about military, political and religious agendas for youth here. Sponsors for sporting events, adventure and/or explorer feats, space, IT and science experimenters also gleefully participate in these arenas using our youth for the circus of media surrounding novel achievements pushing boundaries.
Of course this is a wonderful feature of being young, that life is open to so many possibilities, that energy is there for risk, adventure and discovery as well as for reward. But guidance and leadership toward these goals, these pursuits, these "missions" still needs to be part of the elders responsibility. Reminders by those older, who have much more life experience, of the ultimate responsibility of each of them (of us) to a higher force for permission to complete these explorations in any realm - is an integral part of healthy human society. Without this accountability youth are led astray, go down wayward and sometimes dark, nefarious paths. Then too soon their unique gifts, capabilities, possibilities are dashed, smashed, crushed and erased by death...often a death they could not have imagined or expected.
Those of us who are in positions of influence as parents, teachers, mentors, models have an additional responsibility to reflect on our own motivations for pushing those in our care, our classes, our employ. Is it our own ambition, greed, lost opportunities that cause us to press our own children, our students, our followers our employees? Are we doing so for them, for a higher, noble purpose....or for monetary gain, for transitory fame or for personal vengeance?
Most media report only the cursory responses to the deeper, important questions of motive. They will spin, distract, distort and disseminate for popularity, for clicks and commercial gain rather than for the TRUTH. There are a few exceptions but these are not in the main stream media. You have to do the searching.
For those who have gone through the portal of death this week, especially those who had not yet reached adulthood, for their grieving families, communities and for those responsible....I ask for your thoughts and prayers. Remembering those who I knew, loved, taught and worked with personally-such as those at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in August 2016, those children kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by violent extremist and criminal networks here - and around the world-and for those who sacrificed their own young lives for those they loved- such as my son Denali did for his father, I will remember and keep them in my heart and prayers. Their lives, brief as they may have been, and their deaths; are our cautionary tales for those left behind and those coming up to their adult years.
Included this week is a poem that I read at my good friend, Lisa Marie Akbari's memorial service in Kabul in 2015, and one which has been recited and sung at many funeral and memorial services throughout the world. Lisa's presence was very strong when I had to choose a non-denominational text for her service in Afghanistan. I believe she sent this as a message for me to continue our work.
I also attach a link to a beautiful rendition of this poem "Do Not Stand by My Grave and Weep" by high school students in New Zealand. I believe my son, Denali would have appreciated the beauty of these singers, of this music and the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
These few days from July 26-28 were the days five years ago in 2013 when Denali suffered and died on K2 in the Karakorum mountains of Pakistan. I felt his fall, his agony and his death vividly in my own body and mind at the time. I can still recall those feelings but I know Denali would not want those he loved to only remember his pain. He would want us all to emerge and move in the life we still have while somewhere his remains and those of his ambitious father lie...buried.
Wishing you and yours peace and safety.
Links to news articles mentioned above: