The turmoil this week on Wall Street is a stark reminder that trust is the glue that holds together our society. Credit markets didn’t just dry up by themselves – banks first had to stop trusting each other. And they did so for good reason – banks were trying to hide their losses from bad loans. And millions of bad loans didn’t just fall out of the sky – consumers who trusted banks to offer them a loan they could afford were misled. Now there isn’t even enough trust in the system for people to trust politicians to fix the mess.
For me, this trust issue extends to America’s role in the world. How much do we trust our government to transform situations that breed terrorism? Though I respect the efforts of soldiers who try their best to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have never trusted men with guns to transform a society. The world looks very different when you’re holding the gun. Many solutions of the sort needed to battle the poverty and injustice that erupts into strife around the globe require an insider’s perspective. Luckily, GlobalGiving has found some of those insiders and helped them reach out directly to individuals, like you.
Recently, I had the rare privilege of meeting Sakena Yacoobi. She is an Afghan doctor who founded half-a-dozen programs to empower the poor, especially women, in Afghanistan. Since 2002, she’s raised $125,000 through mom&pop philanthrophists and has put 350,000 girls into schools with that money, among other things.
In our meeting, Sakena spoke about the Taliban.
“The Taliban are not Muslims. There is nothing in the Koran to justify their rules,” she said. As a devout Muslim (fasting for Ramadan this month), Sakena was the first I’d heard say this but I suspect many other Muslims share her opinion. She didn’t hold her tongue about America either. “If you want democracy for us,” she said, “then you should want education. But you don’t want to spend money for it.”
She’s right. She is keeping an Afghan girl in school for few dollars a month, while our government can barely maintain order in Afghanistan spending $2.3 billion a month. (that is $2,300,000,000 a month!)
Starting in October of 2008, Yacoobi is getting some help. Several families of 9-11 victims have banded together and started a fund, the “Safer, More Compassionate World Fund.” This fund matches donations to many of the projects that work in terrorism hot spots to transform the conditions that are enabling extremists like Al Qaeda to attract new recruits.
Terrorists are not irrational homicidal maniacs. They are real people who find themselves in the worst places on earth, choosing between several bad options. Sakena herself said, “I see the people in the villages. To buy one bag of flour now costs them more than a month’s salary, and that only lasts two-weeks for a family of five. Then the Taliban comes in one day and flashes $100 or $200 dollars in front of them. You see what happens.”
According to Yacoobi, only two of every one-hundred Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are Afghanis. The other 98 are from Sudan, Chechnya, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere – hired hands from desperate lands. Many now are former “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” meaning that our “surge” didn’t end a war, it simply moved the battlefield.
The 9-11 families that started this Safer, More Compassionate World Fund offer a brighter vision: Our pennies pool into opportunities, which create alternatives, which mean fewer people working for Al Qaeda to support their families. Feeding opportunity to the poor is one more way to starve the well-funded extremists of support. And it will work regardless of whether the next battlefield lies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or beyond.
However, like a credit market, the Fund is placing a lot of trust on individuals to meet them half way and donate to these projects. Sharing prosperity is the means to a Safer World – and we all have to give much, more more now than we have in the past if that trust is going to eventually lead to greater peace.