On Afghanistan: Compassion and Action through Storytelling

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

The main character in my novel "Self Storage," Flan, has a neighbor from Afghanistan who wears a full burqa. Flan is intrigued by this neighbor, but the woman is intensely private and keeps to herself; when their lives finally collide and Flan understands the urgency and danger of her neighbor’s situation, Flan has to decide whether to reach out with compassion or turn away out of fear.

That’s what stories do. When we hear someone’s story, we have the choice to open our hearts, to reach out with compassion, or turn away, shut ourselves down. It’s especially important that we open our hearts and minds to the stories of Afghan women, that we listen to their pain and fear and hope. When we hear someone’s story, when we come to understand the humanity of the “other”, that “otherness” fades away and we remember that we’re all part of the same human story, the same human family. How can we ever bomb someone after bearing witness to their truest, deepest stories?

Here within CODEPINK, book groups are forming around the country to read The Storyteller’s Daughter: One Woman’s Return to Her Lost Homeland by Saira Shah. As we read about Shah’s journey to Afghanistan to discover the land she only knew through her father’s stories, she brings those stories to life for us, introducing us to the Afghan people, showing what life is like beneath the veil, how life changed for women under Taliban rule. You can’t read about her adventures without being deeply moved, even changed. I hope President Obama, an avid reader, will remember to read personal accounts from the land he wants to occupy and attack; I like to think that opening himself up to the stories of the Afghan people will make him think twice about bombing civilian populations again.

My friend, the novelist and journalist Masha Hamilton has covered women’s issues in Afghanistan for various press outlets. She was moved to give Afghan women, who are so often silenced, a voice, and has created the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, an online school where women and girls in Afghanistan can explore and hone their voices as writers. She recently began to post some of their writings here and I am so grateful for the window these writings give me into the everyday lives of Afghan women.

Read these stories, then educate yourself further. Host a book club or a movie night to awaken your friends and family to the true Afghan experience. It’s hard for the women of Afghanistan to share their stories; we need to take it upon ourselves to move their stories forward, to amplify their voices. The more we learn about Afghanistan, the more we share that knowledge with our loved ones and our elected officials, the more we can make a difference as we work toward ending war.

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel, which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, and Self Storage: A Novel, a Target Breakout Book. She writes the national alert for CODEPINK: Women for Peace.

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