It’s been thirty-six years since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. It’s been twenty-six years since their departure marked the start of the bloody civil war. It’s been nineteen years since the capture of Kabul by the Taliban army, and fourteen years since that terrible day in September that unleashed events leading to the Taliban’s removal from power.
That’s an awful lot of war for a country that’s barely the size of Texas.
My involvement with Afghanistan began when the news of the crimes of the Taliban hit the Toronto newspapers back in l996. Since then, I have been trying to understand what war does to people.
War is made by people living in safety who make the decision to take risks with the lives of others whose opinions on the matter are not even solicited. War is made by those who profit from the manufacturing of weaponry. War is made by people who are too lazy to put the creative work and compassion into coming up with a solution to their problems that does not involve murder.
I’ve seen the way bombs and bullets shatter human bodies and devastate families. I’ve learned what happens when the destruction of infrastructure leads to bad water, food shortages and the lack of medical care. And I’ve learned from refugees about how their lives have been derailed and reduced to Waiting — for food, for shelter, for documents, for peace.
Through all the tales of crime and chaos, there have been heroes — giants of courage — who, in big ways and small, put human decency above all else.
I’ve met teachers around the world who carve out little niches of safety and childhood for kids in need. I’ve met librarians who remind us that human beings are capable of creating things noble and sublime. I’ve met builders and farmers, health workers and home workers who go through incredible difficulties just to make the next day, the next hour a little bit better for those around them. I’ve met parents of dead children who take in children of dead parents, raising them with love and care.
And I’ve met children who cast aside the hatreds of the older generation and work toward building a world of radical kindness and beauty.
In today’s warfare, ninety-five percent of the casualties are civilians. This means that when we give our governments permission to go to war, we are giving them permission to kill people who are just like us — who complain about the weather, love their children and wonder what to have for dinner. People who have done us no harm.
Books can help us remember what we have in common as humans.
That’s what I try to do with mine.
The Breadwinner is an award-winning novel about loyalty, survival, families and friendship under extraordinary circumstances during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. Since the original publication of The Breadwinner in 2000, the series has been published in twenty-five languages and earned more than $1 million in royalties to benefit Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International.