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US Activist Gets New Perspective on Opposition to US Bombing During Afghan Visit

Under any circumstances, the loss of a loved one is a traumatic experience. For the families of innocent victims in the war against terrorism, grief is often mixed with a desire to understand why the tragedy happened.

From Afghanistan, VOA-TV’s Brian Padden has the story of two people whose perspectives have been changed by terrorism and war.

Christina Olsen’s sister Laurie died on September 11, almost one year ago. She was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Sayed Baba Mir lost his son soon after. He said his son died when his home in Kabul, Afghanistan was bombed during a U.S.-led military air strike. “It is quite difficult for me, losing my son, but I just leave everything to God,” he said.

For victims in this war on terrorism, finding meaning in one’s loss can be a personal struggle. But in Afghanistan the lessons learned can change personal convictions and defy conventional wisdom.

Despite losing her sister to terrorism, Christina Olsen opposed the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan on moral grounds. She had always believed that violence can produce only more violence. “I did not want suffering to be perpetuated in the name of justice for my sister,” she said.

“I know that people need to be brought to justice for Sept 11. No one should be able to get away with that with impunity, but innocent people are dying, people that had nothing to do with it,” she said.

Recently Ms. Olsen came to Afghanistan. She came with the organization Global Exchange. This humanitarian group is trying to raise awareness of, and money for, Afghan war victims. The group estimates that between 1,000 and 4,000 civilians were killed during the U.S. air strikes.

While in Afghanistan she participated in a ceremony for Afghan victims organized by Global Exchange. The people here said they had family members who were killed by U.S. bombs. Meeting with other victims reinforced Christina Olsen’s conviction that the U.S. military was doing more harm than good here.

“The woman today who lost eight family members said to me that, she said, ‘America did this to us. America, you have to help us now.’ ”

But when Christina Olsen walked the streets and talked to the people of Afghanistan, she did not encounter the level of anti-American sentiment she anticipated. In fact, what Christina Olsen learned here, made her question her strongly-held belief that peace can never be achieved through force. “And the confusion comes in from having people explain that now they’re free from the Taleban,” she said.

Sayed Baba Mir has experienced no crisis of conscience. “I justify the American bombing campaign was a good action," he said. "If they were not here, if they had not bombed the place, we wouldn’t have this freedom right now, this kind of government right now, because we were not able to remove the Taleban.”

He says that the intended target of the attack that killed his son, was the house next door. There, a group of Taleban fighters was hiding. While losing his son was a heavy personal price to pay, he says the use of force was necessary.

“My son lost his life but other people are free right now. They are not under the pressure of Taleban,” he said.

Christina Olsen says she always believed that lasting peace could be achieved only by nonviolent means, such as through education, aid, and negotiation. But in Afghanistan she has seen many examples of how the international intervention has brought stability and hope to people.

Perhaps one of the most moving moments of her trip was a visit at an orphanage for girls in Kabul. The orphanage was closed down by the Taleban. “We just can’t look at things in black and white," she said. "Because over here in Afghanistan the situation is so complex and that’s what I need to educate myself on before I continue to keep saying that, you know, before I say anymore.”

Two perspectives from those most affected by the war on terrorism. Christina Olsen has found only doubt about issues that were once quite clear to her, while Sayed Baba Mir has found certainty and peace.

When asked if the American government owes him anything, he replies,“No, he does not owe me. I forgive him. I forgive him. I forgive the government.”