The basic assumption in the West is that the rest of the world is comprised of savages, barbarians and ignoramuses and that the West has the moral obligation to civilise them. Not least by bringing them to God, the West's God of the New Testament of course. Hence the missionaries of every shape and form.
THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 350 pp, 2007 Penguin paperback. Available at Asia Books leading bookshops, 495 baht
From the conquistadors to Mother Teresa, they spread throughout the planet, teaching the benighted peoples to read and write, the difference between right and wrong, to live the good life, to improve their minds, and in the process uplift the community about them.
In this pursuit, American Lutheran missionaries out of Montana brought their son Greg Mortenson and younger daughter to Africa, where they were soon fluent in Swahili.
The sickly girl passed away and the lad was more interested in scaling Mount Kilimanjaro than in the sermon on the mount.
In time Greg became a mountaineer, climbing mountains on every continent. The one that beat him was K2 in the Himalayas _ almost making it, but almost is another word for failure. Descending from yet another failed effort, nearly perishing from hunger and the cold, he stumbled into an impoverished village.
On no map, in the Karakoram range of Pakistan, Greg was restored to health by the kindness of its people, speaking a Tibetan dialect. To show his appreciation, he resolved to bring his saviours into the modern age, something Islamabad neglected to do.
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and co-authored by David Oliver Relin is a literary Paean to Greg, who returned to the States to found the Central Asia Institute. Lecturing, soliciting donations, he went to Pakistan's remotest areas to build schools for boys and girls. The bible was left behind.
During the 1990s, he built hundreds of schools in Pakistan's boondocks.
Inspired by him, there was no shortage of local teachers. At the turn of the century, Greg extended his good works to remote areas of Afghanistan. To his consternation, the US government spent tens of millions of dollars on projects of its own, which failed all too often.
With unlimited financial backing from the oil kingdoms, the Taliban also built schools _ madrasas _ teaching hatred of the West and the virtue of becoming martyrs in the jihad. The struggle for the hearts and minds of youth is under way and the extremists are counting on outwaiting and overwhelming their mortal enemies. Surely, Greg Mortenson needs official help.
UNBROKEN SPIRIT by Ferzanna Riley, 285 pp, 2008 Hodder paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 295 baht
A born survivor
Nothing is more reprehensible than child abuse, parents meteing it out notwithstanding. Children are too weak and insecure _ what if mom and dad abandoned them? _ to defend themselves. The line between justifiable punishment and abuse differs from one household to another, but physical and mental cruelty is unacceptable.
Within the domestic parameters, sociologists attribute child abuse to drunk fathers and neurotic mothers. No solution is ideal: authorities taking the child out of the home; the child running away; the child striking back, leading to his or her arrest; accepting the abuse stoically.
Since prehistoric days the father, because of his superior strength, ruled the roost. But in recent times, and only in some cultures, has he been pushed off his pedestal.
In Muslim society, for one, this will be a long time in coming. His commands are absolute. He must be obeyed.
In Unbroken Spirit, Ferzanna Riley recounts the true story of her unhappy, not to say miserable, upbringing. Other stories have been penned of Muslim girls/women in Pakistan lamenting at being virtual slaves in their homes, having no say about the course of their lives, wholly decided by their father.
What makes Unbroken Spirit stand out is that the author's father moved the family to northern England when she was only three.
Muslims, but not devout, Dad was a hardworking successful businessman. Upholding the family's honour was the parents' primary concern. Keeping the faith was understood. Urdu was spoken at home.
Of their seven children, he doted on his older daughter, who curried his favour and lorded it over Ferzanna and wasn't above taking credit for the good things done.
He had great mood swings, from kindness to violence. When he lashed out, often with no apparent reason, it was Ferzanna who received the blows.
She made clear that she didn't respect him and became his punching-bag.
Her classmates bullied her as well, but she learned to punch and kick with the best. She also learned and excelled in English. Ferzanna's scholarship record enabled her to go to university. Headstrong, rebellious, she got a British boyfriend.
!Ostracised by her family, abandoned by her lover when pregnant, torn between Pakistani and British cultures, she wed another Englishman and professes to have found happiness at last.
Ferzanna now works for an anti-child abuse organisation. She survived and has the scars to show for it.
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer