Friday, January 25, 2013

Making Friends among the Taliban: A Peacemaker’s Journey in Afghanistan

By IPN Staff

Making Friends among the Taliban: A Peacemaker’s Journey in Afghanistan is about Mennonite peacemaker Dan Terry, who spent the vast majority of his life among the people of Afghanistan. The author, Jonathan Larson grew up with Dan at a school for missionaries’ children in northeastern India, and spent his life working for the Mennonites in Congo and Botswana.

In August 2010, Dan and nine other aid workers were returning from a medical aid trip north of Kabul when unidentified gunmen refused Dan’s customary offer to talk, firing upon and killing the aid team. Larson talked with those who knew and worked with Dan in Afghanistan. Making Friends among the Taliban is an inspiring chronicle of adventure, friendship and love for people.

Instead of imposing his ideas of development upon communities, Dan immersed himself in Afghan culture to understand what locals wanted.

“It meant oblique conversation with the recitation of poetry and proverbs. It required powers of listening and observation of a rare order. It required unstructured time.”

One community created a comprehensive development plan with input from all residents: shepherds, insurgents and even veiled women. The goals included fighting widespread opium addiction, protecting environmental resources, improving health for mothers and infants and using idle time in the winter for peer-teaching literacy.

“Taken together, this was the syllabus of peace for what some have dismissed as ‘bandit country,’” Larson said.

Dan embodied the traditional Afghan saying, “An unarmed Pashtun is more dangerous than an armed one.” 

One of his companions spoke of how Dan reacted when a 14-year-old approach and aimed a gun at them. Resisting the others’ impulse to defend themselves, Dan “stepped out of the Jeep, his arms outstretched in a characteristic gesture of prayer and embrace, showing that he posed no threat. ‘Son, we mean you no harm’ he said in a measured, fatherly voice. With no apparent fear of the rifle’s muzzle, Dan walked directly in to the line of fire—in part, I am sure, to keep me from taking the kid out. Finally, he enfolded the young boy gently in his great wingspan…The boy began to shake with sobs and tears for having found safety in the embrace of a total stranger he had taken for an enemy.”

In another incident, Dan negotiated the return of equipment from a crashed American drone that a Taliban commander had obtained, ensuring the safety of a nearby village from further bloodshed.

One of Dan’s favorite sayings illustrates his life of living among Afghans. “In the end, we are all knotted into the same carpet.” Indeed, his faith and work could be summed up with the phrase written on his memorial stone in Kabul, “Above all, clothe yourselves in love.”

You can order the book, Making Friends among the Taliban, as well as the DVD, Weaving Life, about Dan’s life and work, from:

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