Polly put the kettle on

Greg Mortenson in KhandayThere is nothing more thrilling than being the wild one on the outer edge of the pack, seeing the horizon more clearly than those safely ensconced in the middle of the herd. It isn’t easy being a lonely maverick, relying on animal instinct to find hidden dangers, while other more domesticated souls happily munch nuggets of truth dispensed by politicians and mainstream media. But someone has to lead the way.

I thought I’d found an opportunity to indulge my inner maverick. I had high hopes that the Three Cups of Tea avalanche was hiding lots of neocon propaganda, a pitiful campaign to convince those of us with bleeding hearts that, indeed, our government is engaged in noble warfare against terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the training ground for Islamic fundamentalists determined to wipe out Western culture. After all, who would know the terrorist’s heart better than Greg Mortenson who has spent much of the past fifteen years in remote Himalayan villages developing relationships with local leaders and gaining an understanding of these tribal cultures?

Well, I’m disappointed to admit that, after finishing the book, I am smack in the middle of the Mortenson love fest. Other than forgetfulness, disorganization and a chronic lack of punctuality, I can find no fault with this man (I feel like Pontius Pilate). After the 9/11 attacks, the book gets a whole lot better. The writing, literally painful to read in the first half, begins to flow in such a way that you are not constantly mindful of the fact that you are reading.

Political intrigue, physical danger, unflinching bravery, and an uncanny ability to discern the good guys from the bad guys–always in pursuit of his mission of educating the rural poor–does make Mortenson seem larger than life. So much so that co-author David Oliver Relin stops mentioning his physical stature in every paragraph.

The complexity of tribal societies makes for interesting reading. Puppet governments in big cities have no standing in remote mountain villages. Tribal councils and religious leaders in Iran interpret and enforce the law. Mortenson makes an interesting distinction between warlords who take tariffs from opium smugglers to create private militias and commandhan who plow the profits into the people’s welfare. One bad, the other good. He makes few moral judgments of the mountain people and their ways, poppy production included. He saves his scathing indictments for the US government and its minions, and seemingly refuses to cooperate or be used by them in any way.

I hope I can find a front row seat tonight and catch Mortenson’s eye. I want to give him the oft-sought-but-ever-elusive Mango wink of approval. Some maverick, she.

2 thoughts on “Polly put the kettle on

  1. That’s the Kool-aid. It’s irresistible. And I’m beginning to think the poorly written first half of the book was intended to disarm critical thinkers from suspecting the narrative had a capacity for subtext. You remember Colombo’s befuddled detective technique? Mortenson/Relin ultimately criticize the US government but they do it well within the approved framing of the issues. The concept of the GWOT (Global War On Terror) for example, or that Islamic fundamentalists = terrorists. Some of us still question how you declare war on regulated substances, much less an abstraction such as “terror.” Dr. Greg however, by reforming those uneducated Muslims, is “fighting” it.

    The latter half of Three Cups of Tea had me gagging. The events of 9/11 were relayed to Mortenson by his mountain hosts as having happened in “a village of New York.” How quaint. Another village leader told him he knew who had been behind the WTC attack, pointing behind his back to far off mountains, indicating Osama bin Laden. Really! How conveniently believable coming from someone who’s there, albeit in an isolated mountain pass. From our vantage point do we even know 9/11 was Osama?

    And then there’s the rational for why westerners must assist their brown skinned charges, because the Muslims don’t take care of their own. My goodness gracious, it’s White Man’s Burden.

    No, Mortenson’s account reinforces current US-Grade-A world view completely, be he a paid State Department operative or be he compensated indirectly by their promotion of his book.

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