Goal: To foster the development of a diverse, inclusive and united civil society.

What is civil society?

The meaning of the term civil society is contested. It is sometimes considered to include the family and the private sphere, and referred to as the "third sector" of society, distinct from government and business.


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Take me to my homeland
                to the land of figs and olives
                to a scene of red silverberry and roses
if some remnants of them have been spared by the war

Take me to my homeland

                I want to stand on the Pamir peak
                on the bed of its old snow
                                and scream:
                I am not holding any gun
                I also want you to talk with me without any gun
if they can talk without it

Take me to my homeland
                to live under its blue sky
For a moment I wish to breathe its fresh air
                if I can find any air free of the gunpowder smog
Take me to my homeland
                I want to look for my house key
                for my books
                for my poems
                for my flower vases
                not watered for fourteen years
if I can find my house

Take me to my homeland
                I want to take my ID with me
                and hang it from the top of the colon cathedral
                so that all can see that I also have a homeland
if until that day it is not sold out

A writer is a part of his land, society, cultural and spiritual heritage. It is not fair that he should forget all this and neglect his obligation to his society. Unfortunately, a number of out writers have hidden themselves under the mantle of isolation, refusing to come down from their ivory towers. They keep complaining about loneliness, singing the songs of despair, disappointment and death. Another group has gathered around the old shrine of ideology, obsessed with utopianism and utopian temperament. Unfortunately, during the last thirty years of war, the ceiling of out culture has fallen down. We have become displaced and scattered, settling in different places. Life in a foreign land has weakened our tie to our roots even the tie of a new generation that was born in another land. The war in our land imposed its own culture – the culture of violence, the culture of conflict and hostility, the culture of refusing to accept others, the culture of invasion and aggression. Only the gun became a means of communication. Attaching oneself to ethnic, sectarian, and linguistic groups was considered the only way of survival during the war.

When the war began, our writers and poets divided into two groups: One group, afraid of the club and scourge of the regime, wrote for the ruling power. The other group either remained silent or resorted to a symbolic and sarcastic expression. As a whole, our literature became a war literature. The difference between the two groups is that the first one celebrated the ruling power and the second one praised the enemies of the power. One could not hear the voice of peace, and tolerance for diversity and dissidence. Unfortunately the same trend still persists in the country. The war literature became so dominant that it seriously harmed and overshadowed love and lyrical poetry.

We can clearly hear the voices of peace, friendship and reconciliation from our classical literature. Early Farsi/Dari poets in their different poetic genres have reflected the voice of peace. Even in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, which is apparently an epic about war, violence and bloodshed, we notice some most delicate human sentiments, in which the poet desires peace and tolerance not only for humankind, but also for the smallest creatures on the earth:

Crush not even the tiny ant that bears a grain of corn
For she also has life, and that sweet life is a boon

In his epic, Ferdowsi speaks of his ideal nation as  a society of diverse peoples of different races:

From Iran and Turk and Iranians
A race will emerge in the world
Which will be neither Iranian, nor Turk or Arab.

This great poet, who considers wars for the defense and protection of the homeland as necessary and heroic, created in his epic great heroes, such as Rustem, Sohrab, Isfadiyar and tens of other heroes. However, he considers all this heroism nothing if a small ant is hurt on the earth. In another poem, he says: “Dominion of the world from end to end is worth less than a drop of blood upon the earth.”

Our mystics and poets have accepted love for humankind and the creation as worship and piety and they know that “love turns thorns to flowers, copper to gold, and poison to sweetness.” A Sufi knows that he belongs to a legacy of love and peace and he invites others for peace, as Sinai says:

I am for peace, why are you opting for war?
I am for love, why are you so malevolent?

For Saadi worship is nothing but serving mankind and he believes that all human beings are of one whole body, whose pain pervades the whole humanity. In his most famous poem “Sons of Adam are limbs of one another…,” which is inscribed on a UN wall, the United Nations could not have found a better expression of this feeling:

All human beings are members of one frame
Since all, at first, from the same essence came
When time afflicts a limb with pain,
The other limbs cannot at rest remain

During our time and with the emergence of the civil society, the West has emphasized the word “tolerance,” while Saadi in the 14th century invited his society toward tolerance, saying:

Peace of the two world is an interpretation of these two words:
Have kindness for friends and tolerance for foes.

Hafiz witnessed bloody wars in his homeland, a son blinding his father, a king killing another king, and the invasion of Timur, to whom he addresses these words:

Would you allow me to say a word?
Oh my eye sight, peace is better than war and arbitration

Maulana Jalaladin Mohammad Balkhi (Rumi) is one of those mystics in our culture who is unparalleled in his love for peace and the humanity. He invites mankind for unity, peace and reconciliation and prefers communication by heart to communication by the same language.

In Rumi’s view, all paths lead to the truth; therefore it is not important what paths travelers take and what beliefs they have. He also believes there is no difference between a Muslim, a Christian and Jew. If there is any difference, it originates from our perspective and how we can reach the truth: “It is from perspective… the difference between the Muslim, Christian and Jew.”

We belong to this culture and it is not fair to ignore this precious heritage. Instead we should use our literary and cultural heritage as a dialogue and means for bringing peace. We need to start a dialogue toward becoming a nation. This is not possible without developing a common national spirit and converting our restrictive ethnic and tribal identities to a major national identity. A national identity will form the cornerstone of our becoming a nation.

We are still the subjects of this country with all their characteristics. Unfortunately we have not acquired the qualification to become citizens for the country nor have we benefited from the rights of citizenship, which means that we don’t hold the state accountable before ourselves (the nation) and ourselves accountable before the state within the legal framework of the Constitution. Elements of national identity, such as sovereignty, cultural, historical, religious, linguistic, political system and other common interests and sentiments give legitimacy and reality to the nation-state.

Although we have a homeland, we live in isolation from one another, scattered and disconnected. We have not yet established our own national cutlture while many of us attach ourselves to our smaller ethnic cultures. We prefer our ethnic interests to our national interests and we don’t seem to believe in a common national life.

We have a common history, with common tragedies, festivities, uprisings and resistance, but our interpretation of this history is not identical, our experiences are different, and every group considers itself a conqueror of this history.

We have a common religion, but with different denominations, which, in certain periods of our history, have hindered a peaceful co-existence, and their followers during the rule of the mujahidin and Taliban committed sectarian violence, torture, and massacres. They have not been able to transcend the closed structure of their beliefs.

The other element is culture. In the mosaic structure of our society, we have several minor cultures, which have their own manners, traditions, and beliefs. This cultural multiplicity originates from our trivial, ethnic, and racial diversity. The minor cultures, which manifest diversity and beauty in our cultural mosaic, should not become factors for deterring the development of our national symbols. Unfortunately, with prejudice, we often insist on the superiority of our own cultures, without paying attention to the minor cultures of our country. The inappropriate ethnic policy has also caused the minor cultures to be unable to grow out of their limited circles and join the bigger national culture. Therefore we cannot talk about peace and co-existence.

These divisions have also resulted in credibility crisis, which generates baseless suspicion. I am also a victim of these baseless suspicions. There has been a biased interpretation of my poetry by those who do not believe in a national culture, being prejudiced and narrow-minded.

Another component of the national identity is language, which has a harmonizing role in the social behaviors of human beings. Afghanistan is a country with forty different languages and dialects, which creating a national culture in the country because speakers of each language insist on the superiority of their own language and have insulted the other languages. This has caused speakers of different languages to be isolated from one another. A language is a means of communication, but in our country it has become a divisive factor, not a unifying and reconciling factor.

If a political system has legitimacy and enjoys a national consensus, it can be effective in bringing national unity and moving the country toward nation-state. Unfortunately the previous regimes lacked these two characteristics and thus could not improve living conditions for the people in a just way. Co-existence, social and economic justices were not in the work programs of these regimes. As a result, the spirit of co-existence and cooperation was not possible among the people.

Some of the regimes in the past even destroyed our ancient cultural legacies and prides in order to make the social spirit of our society vulnerable. They changed historical names of areas to enrage our people by eliminating their historical identities and harming our national unity. Among hundreds of such examples, we can mention the destruction of the statues of Bamiyan and the ancient walls of Heart Ihktiyardin citadel. By changing the ancient name of Sabzawar, we lost hundreds of our jurists and hadith scholars to others. With regard to this matter, the late professor Habibi wrote:

If we bring such intentional and unintentional changes to our historical names, tomorrow their historical origin and identity will be lost and the events and those who belong to those place and cities will be forgotten and lost to the posterity. As a result, many of our cultural and historical prides will be lost. For example, by changing the name of Asafzar (to Shindand), all those scholars and famous who belong to that area and are important heritage of our history will be unknown to the posterity and purposely we lose what history has given us.
This is very important when printing and publishing the accounts of these famous figures and old texts. We must preserve these names in the same way that our ancestors and history have preserved… 3

Rulers in the past, who did not represent the people, always thought of their subjects as rayet (sheep). Lacking legitimacy and political competence, they turned their back against the people. We have witnessed monopolizing and dominating dynastical and tribal rules ruling this land for years.

Enlightened and honest writers never adhere to cultural, sectarian, linguistic and tribal factions. They write their poems and stories and other artistic works for the humanity, for the cause of freedom and for the country. A true writer is a unifier, a singer of peace, freedom, friendship, and tolerance. He know well that an intellectual as a cultural factor beside the political factor is able to have a credible role in the process of building a nation – state.

However, this point should not be ignored that peace and reconciliation is possible with those who can overcome their arrogance and demonstrate flexibility, otherwise reconciliation with the irreconcilable is like pounding water into a mortar, as General MaCneil about the enemy had said: “There is no way to reconcile with them.”

Let me end my words with the voice of an immigrant poet who screams for peace from another land:

We Shall Return

We shall return
                to turn our elegies into epitaphs
                on the cemetery of the burned grapes of the north
                on the graveyard of the olive fields of the east
                on the funeral of the pines of the west

We shall return to sing the song of stone
                on the tomb of Buddha
                to plant a basket of anemones
                on the sand-hills of Bamiyan
Someday it will grow, I am sure

We shall return
                to mourn the anniversary of the pillage of our books and
                the anniversary of the shredding of our poems

We shall return
                to seize the funeral of freedom
                from the geography of flogs and turbans and
                ill the hungry mouths of guns
                with grime and stone

Oh my traveling mate,
                let me hold your hand
                so that we may hurry to revisit Rabia and
                dress the cut throat of the poetry lady
                with the black silk of your tresses

We shall return
                with olive branches hanging from our laps
                with our fingers twisted
                out knapsacks stuffed with the gold coins of love
                from the green lyrics of love
                from the songs of red canaries
Finally we shall return

                                (Frankfurt 2002)

Latif NaazimiLatif Naazimi