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February 6, 2000
Lighting a flame for an Afghani Child

By Ahmed Amr.


In the winter of 1977, I was unlucky enough to experience the Blizzard of the Century in Buffalo, New York. A Buffalo winter can be a horrible and dangerous ordeal. I recall that a number of Buffalonians froze to death that winter in their cars on public highways. The New York State patrol had made a valiant effort to save every last one of them, but the Blizzard beat back their most heroic attempts.

It was small comfort to think that those who froze to death that miserable Buffalo winter knew to their last minute that someone was desperately trying to save them. They had every right to expect that the State and their fellow Buffalonians would spare no effort to rescue them. If their car radios were still working, they knew for certain that search teams were on their way. They might not get there on time, but they were making haste.

Freezing to death is an ugly, menacing and slow way to die. Even in middle age, one feels helpless reading Jack London’s portrayal of an unnamed man facing the agonizing prospect of a cold solitary death in the wilds of Alaska. London’s unsympathetic character in "To Build a Fire" leaves you rooting for his dog. Yet, you still want to reach out and give him a dry book of matches and tell him the boys are on the way with a hot meal and dry socks.

So, pity the Afghan tots in their squalid refugee camps, who are now facing the ordeal of a cruel Afghani winter in the midst of a permanent state of civil war. Eric De Mul, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Islamabad is now screaming at the world "The situation is desperate. Most Afghans have lost everything. They have hit rock bottom, totally destitute". (The Seattle Times, 2/3/2001). According to the report in the Seattle Times, 480 people — 220 of them children — died of cold in a period of three days. That is one Afghani freezing to death every 10 minutes, all through the day and all through the night.

How cruel fate can be. To know that Kofi Annan was aware you were freezing to death and is just now sounding the alarm. Perhaps he was busy at some cocktail party with Ted Turner, who recently leased the organization with the able assistance of Holbrooke and Jesse Helms. The Norwegians were the first to respond to Annan’s after dinner call with a million dollar emergency donation. You can always count on the Scandinavians to pitch in with a helping hand.

Kofi Annan is every bit as miserable as Butros Ghali. Just another high living "international" civil servant out to please his masters in the "New York Order". I remember when the Bosnians spit at Ghali on his visit to Sarajevo. As an American of Egyptian origin, it first made me wince. But, then I realized what small retribution it was for his constant obstruction of all attempts to end the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Annan is on record as admitting his complicity in not lifting a finger to prevent the slaughter in Rwanda. He is no doubt working on another apology for the Afghan tots and their mothers.

It appears abundantly clear that Ted Turner’s United Nations is not about to provide any relief for the Afghan refugees. Not that it should matter, but before Jane Fonda goes into an anti-Taliban rant, she should be aware that many of these refugees ended up in the Herat refugee camps, in an effort to escape the rule of the Taliban.

And where exactly are the shaky shieks of Araby. The oil money is good these days, how about a little charity to freezing tots in Afghanistan. Or would that discernibly lighten up their billfolds. And where is the Red Cross and why did it allow matters to get to this state.

You would think the New York and Hollywood types, who have made a cause of the fate of women under the Tailban, would be quick to provide shelter to freezing Afghani women who escaped Tailban rule to find themselves in the cold embrace of an uncaring world. Now, let me get this straight, you have concerns about Afghani women’s political rights and social status, but would not lift a finger to protect their right to life or their babies right to a warm sanction from the bitter cold. A fine way, indeed, to punish every Afghan for the sins of the Taliban.

It is time to dust off that Jack London book you still have on your shelf. Read again his graphic description of what it means to freeze to death. Have your kid read it. Then make that call to the United Nations and to the Red Cross and the Kuwaiti and Saudi Embassies. Forget the folks at the State Department. These policy mavericks think this is all a legitimate part of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Letting the Afghan tots freeze to death is part of the price America is willing to pay to bring Bin Laden to justice. The boys at State have already paid a half a million Iraqi lives to bring down Sadam. They never flinch at the size of such bills. Neither to they bother to consider the views of the Iraqi or the Afghani child. They are, after all, too young to have coherent views about such matters. The "big picture" would just confuse them, so let them die without an audible whimper.

You would think that a show of good will in "liberated" Afghanistan would be enough for the media crowd to be agitating for something to be done. Don’t count on it. Afghan tots are Afghans. End of story. End of Sympathy. Allowing these refugees to die from the bitter cold is the chosen policy option of the State Department and that is good enough for the media titans. Besides Americans have enough worries on their minds, with a faltering stock market and anemic retirement account returns in this most miserable of dot.com winters

Usually, when there is such a crisis, the Seattle Times will print a little box advising readers how to lend a hand or where to make a contribution. But no one is passing around the plate. Every Afghan is now considered a clone of Bin Laden. They were good enough to give the subject a little space on the second page. Thank god for small favors for tiny tots.

Even today, some college kid in Japan or Tunisia is reading a translation of Jack London’s "To Build a Fire" and just aching to pass the fictional unnamed freezing man a dry box of matches or invite him in for a hot meal. Would that the world would light a flame for a freezing Afghani child.