Book charts new approach to Muslim world |

Book charts new approach to Muslim world

John Colson

George Bush says his “surge” has dampened the level of violence in Iraq, but his own generals don’t seem to be able to stay on message with him and concerns about the future of the country continue to rage all over the world.

The Democrats who want to step into the White House and become the most powerful human being on the planet seem unified in their condemnation of Bush’s policies in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and everywhere else, but they don’t seem to know quite what they’d do to actually improve things in the region besides calling for the troops to begin coming home.

Dittoheads on the radio, such as a loudmouthed imbecile named Mike Savage, revile anyone of the Muslim persuasion, and I have to assume his 10 million listeners (he’s just behind Limbaugh and Hannity in the ratings game) share his views.

The propaganda machines continue to stoke the fires of hate and suspicion among the various combatants in the world’s culture wars ” Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews ” providing endless opportunity and profit for the military-industrial complex that makes the weapons that one day might kill us all.

And, as one of my favorite authors liked to say, so it goes.

But there is a voice of reason making snuffling noises as he patters along the trails in this forest of despair. His name is Greg Mortenson, and he’s come up with a plan that makes far better sense than anything involving guns and bombs and vitriol and hate.

He builds schools.

That’s right, he builds schools (along with water systems, vocational training centers, medical clinics and other facilities) in small villages tucked into the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s the same terrain being fought over by the Taliban and al-Qaida, the Pakistani military and, occasionally, U.S. Special Forces.

It all began in 1993 when he failed to summit K2, the second-highest peak in the world perched on the border between China and Pakistan. He got lost as he stumbled his way out of the Karakoram Range toward civilization, but was rescued, fed and brought back to health by the villagers of Korphe, one of many tiny hamlets tucked among the raging rivers and creeping glaciers of the area.

Noticing that the children of Korphe had no school, he decided to build them one to repay their kindness, and so began an odyssey that has led to the creation of an organization called the Central Asia Institute. At last count, CAI has built 58 schools, hired and trained scores of teachers, constructed water systems where none existed, and gone a long way toward reversing the accepted regional doctrine that women should not be permitted to go to school and seek careers or independence.

Mortenson, with journalist David Oliver Relin, wrote a book about his work and his experiences, “Three Cups of Tea,” which is a New York Times best-seller and was recently read by the entire town of Carbondale under its “One Town, One Book” program.

Mortenson came to Carbondale to give a talk, raise money and spread the word about a different way for the West to relate to the world of Islam, and about a program called Pennies For Peace, in which school kids raise money by gathering pennies. He attracted hundreds of people, filling two auditoriums for two different events on a Tuesday night.

With a quiet determination, this huge teddy bear of a man has won over the hearts and minds of tribal leaders, urban hustlers, even Taliban warlords. His insistence that the communities themselves do the work using materials supplied by the CAI has had the happy result that the schools remain standing and protected even when other Western-based facilities are demolished by rampaging anti-American mobs. That’s because the communities have taken “ownership” of the schools and the program, and seen how it can help their children rise out of the grinding poverty, illiteracy and ignorance that have historically been their lot in life.

This is how we should be waging the campaign against terrorism. I doubt if Bush or Cheney or Gates or Rice have read the book (well, maybe Rice has, though she sure wouldn’t admit it publicly), but they all should. As should everyone else, and then check out the websites ” and ” and maybe write a check in support.

Then maybe, just maybe, we can dig our way out of this bloody pit dug for us by conventional thinking and warmongering.

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