Abdu was 6 years old when his father died. His mother struggled to make ends meet, supporting her kids with the help of her extended family, the mosque and what little she could earn washing laundry in the community. Abdu did his part, taking care of his younger brother and sister. Basic necessities like water, clothing, and food were difficult to secure, especially for a single mother raising three small children. As a result, the prospects for Abdu were slim, as most children in such an environment must quickly find a way to secure an income through manual labor to help the family. This is a tragic outcome for a kid who was blessed with a rare gift.
Abdu is a genius.
I look around at the headlines of the day. It’s frightening to see the world falling apart over the subtle differences between two very similar religions. The tragedy in Norway is just the most recent example. A massacre of innocent people and children at the hands of one twisted mans hallucinated visions of a world where Islam and Christianity coexist. Over 6 dozen murdered because of the fear of the spread of Islam.
Abdu was eight years old when Al Qaeda operatives arrived in Bonga. It was 2003. They were on a mission to spread their idealogy to Ethiopia. The objective was simple, they wanted to recruit and train budding jihadists. An Islamic school had been founded in Addis Ababa, a secret training ground for future terrorists.. From smaller towns they selected the brightest students, and offered their families something they could not– A great education, food, money and shelter. Abdu was the only boy selected from Bonga. He was chosen as one of the smartest young Muslims in Ethiopia following a test administered to many locals.
The news today is inundated with harrowing headlines.
“14 dead in car-bombing in Pakistan. Taliban suspected.” This daily recurrence washes over my mind as I scroll down. I can’t help but be reminded of Joseph Stalin’s infamous quote. “One death is a tragedy. One Million is a statistic.” these deaths have lost their personal touch to tragedy, becoming a small part of a larger narrative. They are just numbers now.
Then this from a few months ago: “twelve dead in riots in Northern Afghanistan.” The victims were innocent Nepalese and European guards of the United Nations Building. The riots were in response to Terry Jones, the pastor from Florida who threatened and then followed through with his promise to burn the Qu’ran. It’s frightening what globalized media has done to our global community. The most vile and ignorant of my fellow Caucasians have become the easy propoganda archetypes for radical islamist groups. Terry Jones and Anders Behring Breivik are the West. While Osama Bin Laden is the most identifiable muslim.
These were the kind of people Abdu learned about as he grew up. For six years he lived, studied and trained as a student in an Al-Qaeda training school. In the meantime, he mastered English, and two dialects of Arabic on top of the three languages he already knew. He studied computers and electronics. His education was top notch. However everything was taught within the parameters of radical Islam. America is the enemy. Christianity is the enemy.
Our continued presence in the Arab world, while representative of a moral assymetry, only provides ammunition for terrorist groups. Are there more terrorists before or after our invasion of Iraq? Over one million Iraqi’s have died since our invasion. Those deaths created more terrorists than they killed. How many young men have lost brothers, uncles, mothers and sisters? How many of them can blame the US for those losses? Right now, students are learning about Terry Jones and Anders Behring Breivik in schools just like the one in Addis. Ammunition added to a growing list of grievances. The recruitment of terrorists is getting easier. Mutual fear and hatred is growing.Our enemies extend to our own subconscious. Islam and Christianity should be forces of good rather than evil. Both religions were revolutionary in their ideals, with beliefs that shattered the cultural norms that preceded them. In fact, the Qu’ran and the Bible both hold great respect for women. It is only in practice that these morals were corrupted by men.
Three years ago, US Special Forces discovered the training school in Addis Ababa. It was raided, and shut down. Abdu, after spending eight years being brainwashed into a life of targeted hate, was free. Abdu returned to Bonga where he faced a dilemma no 13 year old should have to understand. Were his Christian friends his enemies? Was what he learned the foundation for his future?
The trajectory of this chasm is alarming. Christianity vs. Islam. The massacre in Norway, 911, the USS Cole, riots in Afghanistan, Pastor Terry Jones. Eventually we know where this leads, as history has been witness to this struggle. We saw it in Western Europe: Catholicism vs. Protestantism in Ireland. A prolonged disagreement, forged over the smallest of differences, where each act of revenge preceded and followed another one until the question of how it started becomes obsolete. Each side claiming to be a victim, while they each act as the culprit. This is the arc of our most recent conflict, only on a much larger scale. Unfortunately this is the world we inherited. We now have ownership of our inheritance. What do we do?
We can look to the past again for some guidance. Robert Kennedy, referring to the civil rights movement once said the following worlds, which were retold by his brother Teddy during Robert’s funeral. The relevance in these words today is eerily evident:
“Our future may lie beyond our vision but it is not entirely beyond our control…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation”
He continued, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that could sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
I have become friends with Abdu in my year in Bonga. He is the local IT expert. He teaches his English teachers English. He is the smartest person in Southern Ethiopia and he is only 16.
Abdu also told me that everything he was taught was a lie. How could Christians be the enemy? His best friends were Christian. He loves America. He is grateful for the education he received but summarizes his time there like this,
“I learned hate for six years. But I look around and all I feel is love.”
A tiny ripple of hope.