Posted by : Halima Khait Monday, June 04, 2012

When I began reading Three Cups of Tea, I made a
prediction that I’d either love the book because it was about a man, Greg Mortenson, founder of Central Asia Institute, who turned his thoughts into action, or hate it because it was another story glorifying the Western World’s influence on so-called primitive cultures.

After reading it, I’m surprised that my reaction is simply lukewarm.

I accept Mortenson’s assessment of one of the possible causes of extreme Islam – lack of opportunity. He believed that by providing education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it would create opportunity. This opportunity would thereby prevent people from feeling the need to join groups such as the Taliban in order to be heard and get what they need. In short, he felt that a counter-attack against terrorism was respect. Provide communities basic needs - schools, clean water and the tools to create industry – instead of solely approaching them destructively.

“People in that part of the world are used to death and violence…the worst thing you can do is what we’re doing – ignoring the victims. To call them ‘collateral damage’ and not even try to count the numbers of the dead. Because to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and there is no greater insult in the Islamic world. For that, we will never be forgiven.” – Greg Mortenson
My least favorite feeling about the book stems from what remained unsaid. There are children right here in America that could benefit just as much from the aid Mortenson strove to provide for other countries. Although I don’t frown on any humanitarian efforts, I wish more people paid attention to taking care of their own before extending themselves. I just feel we’d be able to do more overall if we’re stronger as a whole.

Okay, so now that my opinion has been stated, I’d like to talk about my favorite story in the book. Jahan, the first graduate of the first school Mortenson founded in Pakistan came to him after she’d completed her studies in her village. When she began her studies, Mortenson asked what she envisioned for her future and promised to help her achieve her goals. She wanted to continue her education by studying medicine in a nearby city and then returning to her village with the knowledge. To convince Mortenson to help her make her dream a reality, she put together a written proposal detailing course load and cost of tuition and school supplies. The catcher was this quote:

“Here comes this teenage girl, in the center of a conservative Islamic village, waltzing into a circle of men, breaking through about sixteen layers of traditions at once: She had graduated from school and was the first educated woman in a valley of three thousand people. She didn’t defer to anyone, sat down right in front of Greg, and handed him the product of the revolutionary skills she’d acquired – a proposal, in English, to better herself, and improve the life of her village.”
If that’s not the fruition of opportunity, I don’t know what is.

Although much of the book focused on humanitarian efforts, Mortenson and Relin did a wonderful job capturing the political context of the conflict in Afghanistan. He described a visit to the Pentagon when he gave a speech about his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He detailed military officers with laptops under their arms speed walking down hallways – a world apart from life as he knew it from spending time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are simply out of touch, using cyberspace to try and fight a very real war.

And last but not least, I loved this quote Mortenson and Relin included from one of Pakistan’s Brigadier Generals, Bashir Baz

“Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home…you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance.”
So overall, there’s a lot of really great parts to this book and some that are far too detailed and drag on too long. On a scale of one to five, I’d give it 3.5. Not a must read, but definitely worthwhile.

2 Responses so far.

  1. do you think that white authors/movie makers know how we feel about the "great white hope" concept?

  2. I actually struggled with that thought when titling this post. I concluded that because it's a mainstream concept I've seen them allude to, they don't understand the magnitude of it, but they are aware of it.

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