Saturday, December 13, 2008

Building Bridges: Thoughts on world security from an American living abroad

The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai have given me pause to consider why the world is becoming a more and more hostile place. Despite aggressive counter-terrorism measures being put in place across the globe, world security continues to seemingly decline. The boldness of this last attack to send heavily armed street infantry into several public places and murder, take hostages, and disrupt the financial center of India for several days was especially discouraging, because it confirms that there are a growing number of terrorists ready and willing to engage in these suicide missions. Since all that has been going on, I got a few concerned notes about my well-being here in Kenya.
First, let me assure you that I am in an extremely quiet community in rural Kenya, that is not on any list of potential terrorist targets. I do occasionally leave the relatively safety of Kijabe, but so far, the most threatening thing I have encountered has been some harassment by a few unkind policemen on highway checkpoints.
I must say though, that East Africa is subject to some security problems. In particular, social-political conditions are slowly deteriorating in nearby Somalia. After 18 years of civil war, and fighting, the nation is falling under increasing control of Islamic Fundamentalists much like the Taliban in Afghanistan. Ethiopia recently announced that it is pulling its forces out of Somalia after a long occupation to assist with policing the nation. So with this withdrawal, almost certainly there will be even further degeneration of law and order, opening the door for al-Qaida, and the like, to increase their activity there. So with the recent turn of events, one can’t help but get a bit nervous being in a nation that shares a border with an increasingly unruly, ungoverned, and dangerous state.
But what happens between Somalia and the surrounding countries is beyond my control. I can’t do anything to prevent an attack, right?

Actually maybe, I can.
I care for many Somali patients here in Kijabe. Because quality medical care is generally unavailable there, people come all the way from Mogadishu and further to our hospital when they are sick. They ride past many hospitals in Nairobi to get here. Given our excellent reputation in the Somali community for professional, comprehensive, compassionate, and affordable care, they come to our little rural mission hospital instead of the big fancy hospitals in Nairobi. I have learned quite a bit about Somali culture in my brief time here. They are predominantly Muslim, but have a large amount of variability in how they express their faith from the devout and deeply religious to relatively secular individuals who only maintain the cultural aspects of Islam without any spiritual investment. What I have learned about these Somali patients is that they are like most Africans, in that they are very appreciative of my efforts, even if I fail to help them. But I also see an incredible amount of suffering evident in their lives. While most come in for the typical health problems affecting East Africans, many of the patients are coming to see me for sub-acute injuries resulting from gun shot wounds suffered in this nearly lawless nation. And even those who have non-traumatic health problems are often presenting with end-stage disease from their condition being neglected for so long in Somalia. And beneath their suffering, I also see a lot of frustration with their circumstances. Even though, they try desperately to maintain optimism toward life in general, it is clear that the outlook for Somalia appears bleak at this time. And a people with no hope is a fertile environment to cultivate terrorists.
For young men growing up without any hope of realizing their dreams or making an impact on society though some constructive means, the alternative is to join forces with an organization that seems more effective in voicing their frustrations, even if the voice is through violence. These are young men with the same energy, creativity, and intelligence that could populate universities and industry, but with little infrastructure to direct their energies positively, organizations like al-Qaida are able to captivate the imagination of these frustrated youth. They brainwash them into scapegoating Western society, Jews, Christians, or some other target for being at fault for their circumstances. They then teach them the very un-Islamic idea that hatred and violence is the righteous means to be heard in the world. Of course, it seems ludicrous that anyone would fall for such propaganda, but when you see the desperation and suffering that these people endure, then it is not that hard to fathom. In a country where nothing is stable enough to encourage self-improvement, education, community development, or home building…the only remaining endeavor is to contribute to the malevolence.

Now this may frighten you to be reminded about what is happening in many nations around the world. It is natural to fear violent and ruthless gangs that are gaining more recruits in distant countries. But fear is a dangerous emotion…it often causes us to do things that are unproductive. Like a child who fears a needle even though the medication is for his own good, fear must be managed with foresight and wisdom, or else one becomes a slave to it. The appropriate response to terrorism is fear, but we must not overreact and do counterproductive things that only make more attacks inevitable. Fear may cause us to “wage war on terrorism” in a way that only exacerbates the problem. We have seen the futility of attempting to exercise military might to bring order to these lawless nations. I’m not saying that there is no role for military intervention, but victory cannot be achieved merely by trying to crush the terrorists with physical force. Victory is achieved by supporting anti-terrorist governments and stabilizing communities so that the terrorists are eradicated from the inside out. But if we as Western society allow our fear to dictate our response to terrorism, and we go into foreign lands with guns-a-blazing to kill the terrorists, we will incur some substantial collateral damage to the innocent, which only creates more animosity against the West and therefore more terrorists.
Some would advocate not having any presence what-so-ever in these terrorist “hot spots”. But that is an even more “yellow” response than using brutal military force to get rid of terrorists. By ignoring the oppression and suffering of the common man in places like Somalia, we offer no protection to those who would want to maintain law and order, and resist the terrorists. If these men and women are abandoned by the West, then how will they stand against the heavily armed terror networks, and moreover, will they want to rid their countries of terrorists if they feel the West has become apathetic to their suffering.  

The fearful response of trying to build “higher walls” around the West to protect ourselves just does not work. It only further supports the ideology of the terrorist that the West is unsympathetic to the suffering of people outside of its borders. But if these nations see that the West remains interested in their welfare (and not just protecting its own foreign interests), then the peace-loving citizens of those countries will root out the terrorists from their own countries. We have to maintain our presence, and even increase our presence in places like Somalia and Afghanistan…not with might, but with support of social infrastructure and political freedom/democracy. We must increase our presence in these countries to serve them. Helping restore order and productive society is the only way to defeat terrorists.

Building higher walls out of fear is not the key to security and peace…the key to world security is building bridges out of love. If the people of Somalia and other unstable nations see Westerners supporting them, and standing along side them to help alleviate their suffering, then there won’t be a crop of disgruntled youth to be cultivated for terrorism. But if we ignore their suffering, and allow their society to erode (or worse…if we seek to profit from the erosion), then there will be a bountiful harvest of hopeless frustrated young people to continue undertaking suicide missions and wreaking havoc in our streets.

So what does this have to do with you and me? It has everything to do with you and me. Never underestimate the influence that we as individuals can have on world problems.
First, we must use our political voice to support “bridge-building counter-terrorism” and support politicians who share in this way of thinking. We must not allow the war-hawks and fear-mongers to spread propaganda that supports military force as the solution to world security. These politicians are often serving the special interests of the defense industry, and are more interested in selling guns, tanks, and missiles than bringing about world peace. We can engage in direct political action to protest militarism, and to support keeping our borders open to the world. We can campaign for like-minded politicians, and most importantly we can exercise our right to vote.
Second, we can give financially to relief organizations that are doing the work of restoring civility to the most unstable parts of the world. Now this may seem like an unrealistic statement in our current economic climate, but I assure you that even during a recession, Westerners still have plenty of financial excess compared to people who are not able to access clean water, health care, or a safe place to sleep. Our current economic woes have put many people on the fringe of financial security, but there are still millions of individuals who have the financial resources to help meet the needs of the world’s poorest individuals.
Thirdly, if we have the means and the opportunity, we can serve our brothers and sisters in these far off countries directly. Not everyone needs to quit their job, and move to Kabul to open an orphanage, but many individuals can make a personal impact in these countries. It’s an enriching experience to travel the world and live and work with people different from ourselves whether it be for 10 days or 10 years. Here at my hospital in Kenya, there are several groups that organize short medical mission trips to the large Somali refugee camps in North Eastern Kenya, as well as medical mission trips to the country itself. Every patient who is treated on these trips, is one more individual who will associate a Western face with goodwill and love. I know that not everyone can travel abroad and engage in relief work, but many of us can support individuals who do so.
Just the opportunity for our hospital to care for so many Somali patients has built a bridge between our hospital and the Somali people. We have earned a reputation for caring and helping in their community even though Kijabe hospital is known to be a Christian mission hospital (staffed by many American/European/Australian physicians). I am reminded of the first Somali patient I cared for at Kijabe hospital. Hassan presented with a diabetic foot infection in his right leg. The infection was drained, and the medical service worked hard to control his blood sugar and prescribe the right antibiotics, but the infection grew worse and he required a below-knee amputation of his leg. That is when I came into the picture fresh from America. I did the amputation, and cared for him as he recovered. On the day he was discharged, Hassan demanded I come see him in the middle of the day. He wanted to have his picture taken with his doctor, and say thank-you one last time. I was awe-struck. I felt like a butcher who showed up, and cut off his leg, but Hassan saw me as an angel of mercy. Hassan and his family don’t share my faith or my language, but an act of service was able to build a bridge across our cultural gap and make us friends. When the proponents of terror come spreading their propaganda that Christians or Westerners are evil, Hassan and his family will know better, and this little bridge of love does so much to break the back of hatred, misunderstanding, and terror.
So, any opportunity we have to serve the world’s most hurting people is not only an opportunity to do something moral and right, it is also an opportunity to stabilize the world from terror threats. This is not just the president’s job, or the U.N., or G8. The responsibility belongs to us all. We all have something to lose by ignoring the oppressed, but we also have so much to gain by reaching out across the cultural divide to meet someone else’s needs.

Will this approach to terrorism expose us to some danger? The answer is yes, it will. Several relief workers were killed just last month in Somalia. But in comparison with the number of men and women who have died on military missions trying to catch a handful of terrorists, insurgents, etc, this is nothing. In the end, fewer individuals will die if we take the courageous route…the loving route to fighting terrorism. It cannot be defeated with hate and fear…that’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. We have to win the hearts and minds of the people living in desperation. This cannot be done with bullets and bombs. This is accomplished with clean water, food, books, medical supplies, teachers, nurses, schools, orphanages, hospitals…this is accomplished with love.

Yours in building bridges,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.


At Sun Dec 21, 10:10:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Hi Chad -

You have such wonderful insight and maturity. What a blessing and angel you are! I couldn't agree with you more. In response to your November 27 post, I included my 17 Sacred Words - "Allow me to be a blessing to you and allow yourself to be a blessing to others". They seem to be imbedded in your heart. Praise God!

Love and blessings,



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