Saturday, April 23, 2011
A Storm in Three Teacups…
M. Salahuddin Khan, Author of SIKANDER Defends
Greg Mortenson, Author of 'Three Cups of Tea'
M. Salahuddin Khan
Today's National Review Online carries an article by Ashley Thorne. In it, while acknowledging the importance of education in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he professes such a concern for the truth that he worries over the corruption of students educated in America on the lessons of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, all in the name of appeasing the Islamic world.
Yes, accuracy is important. One can drill into the nuances and seek accuracy or inaccuracy there. Did Mortenson get sick? Did he get nursed back to health? Did this cause him to promise to return to build a school? If our fixation is on the truth of these points then how and where do those truths stack up in our zeal for facts relative to the following:
Did Mortenson return from Pakistan, sell everything, live out of his car, write hundreds of letters, visit grade schools looking for donations and begin with a single collection of a little more than $600 from one such school in the US?
Did Mortenson return to build the school in Pakistan?
Did he go on to build scores more?
Did tens of thousands of young children get a schooling?
And did schooling those children divert a schooled child's life from taking up armed extremist forms of Islam?
Did Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, take a half day trip to inaugurate one of Mortenson's schools, giving Mortenson a bear hug greeting when he got there?
Did Mullen recognize that such initiatives beat hands down any American attempt to kill or capture its way to victory in Afghanistan? And do his troops have any grasp of this?
Assembling a work of non-fiction memoir narrative is like putting together an interesting home movie. If you leave everything in, it's too long and too boring. Editing is key to making it engaging.
And sometimes the editing goes too far. It seems such is indeed the case with the Mortenson books, but not where it comes to the questions that really matter.
If we wish to allege that we are educated, then we ought to be able to discern the important truths from the unimportant editing falsehoods. For John Krakauer to rank these alleged inaccuracies, not all of which are accepted as fact, as a "fraud" and for him to create the very storm from Mortenson's alleged deceptions that he argues will sink the ship of childrens' education, is itself unconscionable and must cause us to question his own book marketing objectives. For 60 Minutes to carry the story reveals more about that show's standards and appetites than it does about the humanitarian cause of childrens' education.
But, Thorne's so-called concern is none other than a not even thinly-veiled and rabid antithesis toward anything construable as appeasement of the Islamic world. This is what he would have us believe is the real meaning of Mortenson's mission, folding into the argument some de facto presumption that moving to make the Islamic world like America would be somehow a bad thing. He needs to get a grip on the causes of terrorism, perhaps by reading the seminal work of Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and author of "Dying to Win."
If we need to pick apart the foundation stones of positive efforts, so that we can cast the same stones at those whose courage built something with those foundations—a courage, which incidentally most of us lack—then we have truly become as small as the nuances we seek to focus on.
Certainly, beyond matters of nuance, there are indeed questions relating to uses of funds and we do need to see some explanation to respond to allegations of misuse, the personal "ATM machine", failure to audit etc. But one giant fact that I believe needs to be recognized is that a charity ought legitimately to be able to assemble an endowment to secure the ongoing expense requirements of what it has thus far funded.
Directing donated funds to such a purpose, far from being an underhanded misrepresentation is a financially astute move. But take a look at any one year's accounting and that charity will appear to have spent only a fraction of what it raised for the expenses germane to the charity's purpose because the balance (less fundraising and administrative costs) will have gone to the endowment. In the long run, the endowment's returns will serve to provide a reliable source of funds for the mission of the charity. I don't suggest that this is THE explanation but we should have the patience to hear the response before making the bourgeois judgments that I'm seeing in many a publication alleging itself to be "respectable."
Fortunately, there are those such as Thomas L. Friedman and Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times who have witnessed first hand both Mortenson the meek, and guileless, as well as Mortenson the charitable giant along with his handiwork, not simply in bricks and stones but in the eyes of the little girls who are thrilled at being able to attend the schools his charity has helped realize. They get it. So should we.
—M. Salahuddin Khan
M. Salahuddin Khan is the award-winning author of acclaimed fictional story, SIKANDER (presently ranked #21 on Amazon's Kindle reader ratings in Historical Fiction). The book describes the journey of an America-loving 1980s Pakistani youth (Sikander), who comes of age and finds love as a mujahideen warrior, through the turmoil of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, rises to become a Pakistani entrepreneur on a collision course with the same America he has loved from afar, finally to becoming the head of an American corporation. SIKANDER is Khan's debut novel and has garnered high praise from critics from many walks of life. In March 2011, his book won the 2010 Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Book Festival Awards. He has served as Publisher of the award-winning ISLAMICA Magazine and has co-produced a movie short called, The Boundary, starring Alex Siddig.
Learn more about the book and the author at: http://www.sikanderbook.com