Dear Pastor Jones.
Thankyou for the wise decision to cancel the burning of the Quran. We live in Kabul, and we were not looking forward to the repercussions of such an event. As it was, your earlier intentions, and the wide publicity and awareness of your plans had quite some effect, and I thought I might let you know of those.
Yesterday, Friday, is the day when we expats traditionally get together as a group. Because security is bad in Afghanistan anyway, we only meet in a large group sporadically. Yesterday, we were to do this. Myself, and three others had been asked to do some music for the event. I am not much of a musician, but I was pleased to have been asked, and we had all practiced a lot. Our kids, in particular were looking forward to the gathering. It is not easy to have fun in Kabul: there are very few opportunities to get out. For example, there used to be a kind of cafe near to where we live. It shut down some years ago. There are some restaurants on the other side of town – about a 30 minute drive, but we don’t always want to go to a restaurant to get out, and with security concerns, often we are not permitted anyway. Then then is our kids school: it has a nice playground and a open grassy area. But it is the kids school, and as we live next door, it is not really an outing – and the kids spend plenty of time there anyway.
That’s it. There are no parks we can go to, no beachfronts to walk along, no malls, no shopping centres to speak of. No libraries, no riding our bikes in the street, no nice walks to take. If you want to walk, you walk around your compound. Or the school. There are no gyms, no recreation centres, no pools to swim at. These days, if we want to go out, it is limited to other friends’ houses, the school, the French restaurant and the community centre. Which is where we were to meet yesterday. Sadly for us, your plans to burn some Qurans meant that event was cancelled. No get together for us, or our kids, no music, no playing.
I would have liked you to have seen the disappointment on my daughter’s face, and in my son’s eyes. They were stoic – you have to be to live here, but we felt it keenly. The hard thing is to have so little to compensate disappointment with. Not only was the gathering cancelled, the potential for violence to erupt in light of your intentions meant we were on lockdown for the day. Lockdown means not leaving the compound. So we couldn’t travel anywhere till after 3pm. So we couldn’t offer a trip to…. well, there are not many options, but others houses, or the restaurant – no, we couldn’t offer those as compensation.
We played dominoes and cooked biscuits and later, our neighbours came over. It was a fine day, in the end. But each incident like that takes a toll on us. Simply put, you exercising your freedom restricts ours. I haven’t talked about the gross insult implicit in the burning of a Quran, nor how I have struggled to explain and apologise about that to my Afghan friends. They don’t really get the subtleties of your reasoning; they are puzzled by it, and hurt, and I suspect it has not warmed any of them to Christianity.
I guess you also know of the protests already held, and how one Afghan has been killed in these. Though that may confirm what you suspect about Islam, to my mind they were simply exercising one of their rights: the right to protest. Yes, it got angry – they were angry at you. But there is so much anger here already – corrupt leaders, disappointed people, promises lost, money wasted, people killed and wounded and let down and betrayed. There is so much anger, some days it just spills out. It will take a long time to drain this wound; so please understand that Afghans don’t need more incitement to anger.
Pastor Jones, I think we would be pleased to welcome you to Kabul, and help you see how we all live here. It is not easy, and we would like you to understand that – it is not easy for us, and a whole lot less easy for Afghans. But hopefully, the less that is done to inflame anger and insecurity here, the more freedoms we all will gradually enjoy.