Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea is a book everyone should read.  I didn’t realize how ignorant I was of the history of the people and lands of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the surrounding areas until I read this book.  And, what is more shocking than my ignorance, was the ignorance of the U.S. government before they went to war in those places.  What’s even worse, is that even now, after we have been at war there for more years than most can remember, too many people of the U.S. STILL REMAIN largely oblivious to the history and religious contexts of these beautiful people and countries.

If fact, Three Cups of Tea is now required reading for senior U.S. military commanders, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training, and Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan (p. 332).

This book tells the story of Greg Mortenson, and the beginnings of the Central Asia Institute as they strive to build schools for children (especially girls) in areas that breed members of the Taliban.  They operate under the belief (and proven fact) that if the children are given the opportunity to have a well-rounded liberal education, they are much less likely to be recruited into the extremist madrassas (schools for teaching extreme Islamic theology).

The fact of the matter remains clear: Going to war with people you don’t know, under the fantastical idea that it will squash extremist Islam is ludicrous.  Bombs don’t kill extremist, they breed them.  What we must be at war with is not people, but ignorance and poverty.  And this must be true not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in the U.S. as well.

Please take the time to pick up this book.  You won’t be disappointed.  Here is the cover story:

In 1993 a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2.  Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school (after seeing the children in the open air scratching their math in the dirt & without the guidance of a teacher).  Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome.  Over the next decade Mortenson built not just one by fifty-five schools–especially for girls–in the forbidding terrain that gave birth to the Taliban.  His story is at once riveting adventure and a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit.

Let me leave you with a powerful passage from a conversation between Greg Mortenson, and General Bashir Baz (who arranged a flight for Mortenson to Afghanistan:

Bashir paused to watch a live CNN feed from Baghdad.  Staring at a small video window inset into the flight manifests scrolling down his monitor, Bashir was struck silent by the images of wailing Iraqi women carrying children’s bodies out of the rubble of a bombed building.

As he studied the screen, Bashir’s bullish shoulders slumped.  “People like me are America’s best friends in the region,” Bashir said at last, shaking his head ruefully.  “I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man.  But watching this, even I could become a jihadi.  How can Americans say they are making themselves safer?”  Bashir asked, struggling not to direct his anger toward the large American target on the other side of his desk.  “Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against American for the next two hundred years.”

“Osama had something to do with it, too,” Mortenson said.

“Osama, baah!” Bashir roared.  “Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan.  He is a creation of America.  Thanks to America, Osama is in every home.  As a military man, I know 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.  The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business.  Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”

2 thoughts on “Three Cups of Tea

  1. Awesome. I know you’ll love it. And after you finish that one, you should pick up “Stones Into Schools,” which is the progress and story of Central Asia Institute after “Three Cups of Tea.” I’m about half way through “Stones Into Schools,” and it’s just as educating and moving.

    I’d like to know what you think after you read “Three Cups of Tea.” If you blog about it or something, let me know!

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