Archive for April 2007

Defending Honor, Distrusting Charity

April 10, 2007

Two news items in the last few days have a deep psychological connection. The first tells of a Dutch force in Afghanistan in one of its most dangerous provinces that is trying to win the struggle with the Taliban by concentrating almost entirely on reconstruction projects. They are armed men, but their strategy is to use arms only when attacked, and to pull back out of a fight if possible. This way the people will see that they are positively affecting their lives and not negatively. Once they begin to trust the Dutch, they will get rid of the Taliban themselves. But today we read of a Dutch patrol nearly getting wiped out in an ambush. They are told that everyone in the village is with the Taliban.

The next item is a description of a huge Shi’a rally in Najaf demanding that the Americans get out of Iraq. Never mind that the Americans toppled their oppressor and set up a democratic system that will allow the Shi’a to rule Iraq. They want them out and now.


Two reasons come to mind. First, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq feel dishonored by having their country occupied by foreign troops. (To them, it seems like an occupation.) The fact that they have to live with the situation is unbearable, no matter what its advantages. Second, most people, and especially people in the developing world, simply do not believe in the goodness and well-meaning of others. Whatever they say or do, the Afghans are not going to be taken in. These Dutch have something to gain that we will eventually learn to our sorrow. We just haven’t figured what it is yet. The Iraqis are even more sure that the Americans are up to no good. “They say they are here to project us. But who are they kidding? They are here to rob our oil or take away our religion or turn the country over to the Sunnis (Shi’a belief) or over to the Shi’a (Sunni belief).”

These are the realities. Outsiders can sometimes overcome them, but don’t bank on it.