January 2, 2009

A Boy's Eyes Are Opened Almost Too Late

Shakirullah was a good boy. He came from a good family. He lived in a rural village in Pakistan and wanted to please his parents, who in turn wanted him to be a good Muslim. Knowing that they were not trained in Islam, they sent him to a school that promised to teach him about Islam and the teachings of the Prophet and how to be a good man.

But it wasn't a regular school. It was a madrassah run by radical clerics. They taught Shakirullah (like a lot of tribal people, he only has one name) how to recite the Koran in Arabic, despite the fact that the boy didn't know any Arabic and didn't understand what he was reciting. When he finished memorizing the whole thing, they said he was "ready" and told him that he needed to strap a bomb around his chest and go kill Americans and British in Afghanistan, "because they were killing Muslims."

Quite fortunately for him, he was caught while he was being trained to drive a car. His American captors sent him to a detention camp. There, he reflected on his experiences and now he realizes that the mullahs deceived him -- and probably deceived his parents, too. He understands now that the Koran's true instructions are to not murder, to not suicide. Of the mullahs, he says simply, "They cheated me."

I don't know why this story of all the many awful stories of terrorism and war and violence and death should get to me in particular. Maybe it was the heart-rending picture of a boy whose head was shaved to be in prison, warming himself in a blanket as best he can, too shy to make eye contact with the photographer. There are shy kids like that all over -- kids who want to please their parents and do the right thing. In the process of asking authority figures what that was, how best to do that, he was tricked and came perilously close to being killed.

It makes me wonder about his future. He's from Pakistan, a country with a deeply troubled near future. Will he return home? Will he see his family again? Will they learn of his fate? (There isn't a lot of reliable internet service in the North West Province, as I understand it.) Will he remain a Muslim, or give up his religion, and if so, will he adopt another? One can imagine that after this experience, he would be deeply distrustful of religious authority figures. Particularly given his circumstances, he should be.

Maybe it gets to me because it's a "near miss" sort of story. If he was being trained to drive a car, which is not that difficult a skill for a teenaged boy to acquire, that meant he was probably very close to being sent in to kill himself and take out allied troops with him -- weeks, if not days. Had he not been apprehended, he would have been killed.

And maybe it gets to me because once he was removed from the influence of the clerics, he was able to see with some clarity what they had done to him. The brainwashing. The twisting of his holy text and the torture of his fundamental morality. The callous, cynical manner in which the people who had been trusted with his life, his soul, and his mind treated him like they would a shotgun shell -- a disposable, nearly valueless object whose only utility was to accomplish an act of violence. He, too, would have been a victim of terrorism, even as he became the vehicle through which it would have been accomplished.

The men who did this to him are monsters. If I believed in hell, I would say it was too good for them.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Bless his heart. I can't fathom how he must be feeling. This story brings tears to my eyes, especially after seeing his picture.Thanks for sharing TPL.