That sentence started one of the most profound books I ever read in high school. Can you name it? It's from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and even today, as the world hurtles towards catastrophe, it remains a classic on so many levels. Though it was a work of fiction, Charles Dickens managed to convince all but the heartless reader that these struggles were life-changing for his characters.
Last summer, with great reluctance, I finally read Khaled Hosseini's masterpiece, The Kite Runner. I admit I was afraid I would be overwhelmed by the emotional demands the book might place upon me. After all, I am a person of conscience. I can't watch the news and not be horrified by the mind-numbing violence we are seeing around the globe. I grieve for the little children in Syria, caught in a conflict not of their making. I am disgusted by the inhumane treatment of Christians and others at the hands of those who would rule the world with a sword.
This morning, as I ate my oatmeal and drank my coffee, I turned the pages of The New York Times. And on page A6, I came across A Gruesome Message From the Taliban, an article by Rod Nordland and Jawad Sukhanyar. There has been a wave of kidnappings by the Taliban, aimed at the Hazara population, and recently the bodies of the missing began to be recovered.
What does this have to do with The Kite Runner? Author Khaled Hosseini made me care about Hassan, a member of that ethnic group. He put a human face to the struggle of the Hazara population by making Hassan come to life on the pages of his book. But more than that, Dr. Hosseini made the well-to-do Amir an unlikely hero, as he grew from child to man, not through years of aging, but through finding the courage to do what was right.
There's one passage in The Kite Runner that sums up the essence of the book for me. Here is what Amir says to the reader:
"I sat on a park bench near a willow tree. I thought about something Rahim Khan said just before he hung up, almost as an afterthought. There is a way to be good again. I looked up at those twin kites. I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today."
Dr. Hosseini draws us in with that simple lure. We want to know what happened in those cold days of 1975. We know it must have been bigger than life. We know it took place in Afghanistan. We know that Hassan was somehow involved. But consider the sentence:
"There is a way to be good again."
Only in a war-torn country like Afghanistan, where unspeakable violence and brutality sometimes seem the norm, can we, as readers, dread the concept of Amir being good again. What had he done to be bad? And who had been hurt by his actions?
As the tensions rise in the world and Islamic jihad spreads across continents, those of us with consciences are all like Amir. We may desire peace and justice with all of our hearts, but we have been put between a rock and a hard place by determined jihadists out to rule the world. Our biggest failings as human beings aren't that we are uncaring. It's that we fail to recognize the burning desire of these terrorists. What do they believe? They believe that their spiritual prophet will return to them when "The Great Satan" has been destroyed. What does that involve? It involves attacking any nation that does not accept Shariah law as implemented by them. They want it to be their house, their rules, and only those who carry the sword shall rule.
Coptic Christians led to their slaughter. Kenyans massacred. Children stolen from their homes and enslaved. Tourists attacked. Plots to blow up this or that. And now we begin to see the influx of asylum seekers flooding overwhelmed nations in Europe. (You'll notice I haven't even mentioned Iran....)
Fictional and non-fictional biographies can be powerful tools in changing hearts and minds. When we begin to step through life by the side of a sympathetic character, when we begin to relate to the everyday, ordinary struggles, especially in a war zone, we begin to understand the evil humanity can do. That's what books like The Diary of a Young Girl did to educate generations on the Holocaust. Through the eyes of Anne Frank, we experienced what it was like to hide from a brutal enemy day in and day out. Is that now what the children of Syria and other hot zones face as the safety of the world is threatened by this madness?
"There is a way to be good again."
Amir was forced to choose. Consequences pushed him to pick a side. Could he live with himself as a coward, hiding from the reality of what he knew, or must he do something to make a difference?
When you finally accept that the world is changing in dangerous ways, you too will want to be good again. The only way to do that is to understand how we got to where we are and how we can fix it. But to do that, we must recognize the mindset of the enemy. There is no peace through submission to a barbaric power. Every person deserves to be respected and supported as a human being; despite any racial, religious, and ethnic differences we might have, we all united by the reality that we are God's children, and as such, it is our duty to stand together for what is right, not because we choose to conquer the world, but because we choose to live in peace.
"There is a way to be good again."
Borrow it, buy it, but above all, read The Kite Runner. Do whatever it takes to make your heart and mind understand what we are facing. Do not bury your head in the sand and hope it will all go away if we do nothing. It won't. As Winston Churchill remarked about the Nazi regime:
"There are those who say, 'Let us ignore the continent of Europe. Let us leave it with its hatreds and its armaments, to stew in its own juice, to fight out its own quarrels, and decree its own doom. Let us turn our backs to this melancholy and alarmist view. Let us fix our gaze across the ocean and see our own life in our own dominions and empires.'
There would be very much to this plan if only we could unfasten the British islands from their rock foundations, and could tow them three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and anchor them safely upon the smiling coasts of Canada; but I have not yet heard of any way in which this could be done.
At present we lie within a few minutes' striking distance of the French, Dutch, and Belgian coasts, and within a few hours of the great aerodromes of Central Europe. We are even within cannon shot of the continent-so close as that. Is it prudent, is it possible, however we might desire it, to turn our backs upon Europe and ignore whatever may happen there? Everyone can judge this question for himself, and everyone ought to make up his mind or her mind, let me say, about it without delay. It lies at the heart of our problems.
For my part, I have come to the conclusion, reluctantly I admit, that we cannot get away. Here we are and we must make the best of it, but do not, I beg you, underrate the risks, the grievous risks we have to run. I hope, I pray, and, on the whole, grasping the larger hope, I believe, that no war will fall upon us; but if in the near future the great war of 1914 is resumed again in Europe, no one can tell where and how it would end or whether sooner or later we should not be dragged into it, dragged into it as the United States was dragged in against their will in 1917. Whatever happens, and whatever we did, it would be a time of frightful danger for us, and, when the war was over, or perhaps while it still raged, we should be brought face to face with the victors, whoever they might be. Indeed, with our wealth and vast possessions, we should be the only prize sufficient to reward their exertion and compensate them for their losses."
If you would like to read my review of The Kite Runner, I posted it at Goodreads and other sites:
My Kite Runner Review at Goodreads