AEGEE International Politics Journal

Behind our reality

Written by Sabiha Kapetanovic (member of IPWG)

Observing nature, everything in it is trying to achieve harmony. Because harmony is guide for perfection. Achieve perfect balanse, find perfect truth, found perfect society with perfect people. And everything that is contrary from it should disappear. It is reminding me a little bit on Democracy Peace Theory, where democratic countries are only fighting with nondemocratic countries with intention to save them, and to protect them from themselves.

Today, we do have Third World Countries, for which we do feel sorry or we are being scared from them. Is it because they are different from us; because our truth is not their truth? From all stories that are getting to our ears, I often think about those people, how they look like, how they feel, how they think, whose truth is true one.

On my way to find answers I met Michel Gretz. Michel Gretz is coming from New York of USA, and currently lives in Izmir working for NATO. He finished his Bachelor studies in France, and Master in Monterey, California, department of Middle Eastern Studies.

Michel’s journey started quite early, when he was 8 years old.He was traveling through Asia with his father when he became addicted to it.Later on he was working as a missionary for two years in France, where as Mike said, “Through it I gained self-confidence, because if I was able to stop person in a middle of the street, in a very secular country, and to talk to them, and to ask them about God, I was able and ready to talk to anyone.

After September 11th, 2001, Mike joined USA Army, and went like a soldier in Iraq.

I was in Iraq for one year. I did in that time what I thought wass right, and that was to serve my country. I believed that I was defending my country. But being in war, and killing people, the thing you think you are not able to do ever in your life, I realized that what we were doing, wasn’t helping anybody, on contrary it was hurting people. I realized that the war that we were fighting had nothing to do with USA and it’s national interests. Saddam Husseinwas a dictator, we can not oppose that fact, but what he was not, he wasn’t a real threat to the USA. He did not have power to cross the ocean and destroy the USA. the war in Iraq was about politics, it was hurting people for a political goal. In serving there, I realised that hurting people was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people.

How did look like your day in Iraq during the war?

Every day was different. I mean everyday we tried to change the times that we would do anything. We did things so we would be harder to attack so there was very little consistency. This made life much harder and generally more tiring. Mostly an average day consisted of (now this if when I was a soldier, not as anHumanitarian Aid (HA) provider) lots of walking around and talking to people and trying to in a way act as policemen and deter crime. Normally doing HA honestly also was a lot of walking around and talking but also lots of meetings with contractors and government organizations, both the Iraqi government and US/coalition government.

Mike was solider in Iraq.Next step he made was in Iraq again as well as several times to Afghanistan, just this time not as a Solider. In that time he was working with many NGOs. He worked a lot with USAID. However, they worked through local NGOs and contractors too. He worked with MSF “Doctors Without Borders”, CARE, Charity Help International, lots of local NGOs that dealt with very specific projects like, hygiene, or water purity. A lot of the time, he would work through local contractors that he would hire to do whatever particular aid project he was working on. He worked with UNHCR, and lots of other countries militaries.

The aim of NGOs was to help farmers, villagers to develop their skills, to educate them, then we would give them money, help them with administration, and in the end they would be ready to run their business on their own, and on that way secure a better life. Bad side of it is, Iraqi people, like all people around world, are self-interested, they will go to places with better opportunities. For example, Doctors Without Borders are coming to help, cure, heal, and in the same time educate local people, with a hope that village will finally have good, local, educated doctor, who will help it’s people. But what is happening is, after they got education, they got better opportunities for their lives. So usually they are leaving their villiges, going to a place where they will earn more money, and village is again staying without doctor, unprotected.

After Iraq Mike was also working in Afganistan doing similar aid work.

What I found interesting in Mike’s story about Afganistan’s people, many don’t have sense nor are they educated about state, government systems.

An interesting anecdot was when an Afgan man from rural Paktiya province came to a local Afghan district center to ask for visa to visit Afganistan. He was living in Afganistan not being conscious of it. He believed that Kabul was Afghanistan. He was just a Pashtun man. As Mike says it is like that with almost all of them in rural areas. They are living in their tribes, their villages are being their empires, and there in nothing further than that. That is because of bad education, and bad linkage between people and government.

One more interesting thing about Afgan people that I found out from Mike’s story are gender related issues. In urban areas you can generally see only men, literally doing nothing, except “chilling“. But if you go on fields, households, you will see hard-working women with their children doing all the work. Even in job negotiations, womens are having last word, says Mike, men are just being connection between womens and NGOs.

After this separated story Mike made nice comparison between Iraq and Afganistan. ” Iraq is more pro-western oriented, especially North Iraq. You can feel urban life, see uncovered women. Population are making, mostly, Kurdish people and Sunni Muslims. Most of them are educated people, and open-minded for a Middle Eastern country. It is important to mention that even during Saddam Hussein’s power Iraq had the highest percent of educated people in the Middle East.

Iraq’s problem is being state between two others, Syria and Iran, where you can find bigger mix of nations than in neighboring states. Plus for those two states is much easier if they attack through middle state, which is Iraq, and on that way protect themselves. Afghanistan is on the other hand, a land f many nations and no state. It has always been and always will be a land of tribes. They have never been conquered or subjugated. Like Iraq however, even more so perhaps, they are a crossroads and have always been invaded by their neighbors.”

After Iraq and Afganistan Mike came to Turkey to work for NATO- Land Command.

I asked what is Land Comand.

He said: “In NATO you have a component focus: air, sea, and land. Land is involving everything that is on ground. Its focus is therefore much broader, because it is dealing with all the people. My job is development and governance related activities, which means building relations with International Organizarions like the UN, and NGOs like the Red Cross (in Turkey the Turkish Red Crescent), Doctors without borders ect. That is not easy at all because many NGOs do not want to cooperate or work directly with military organisations. Their philosophy is, they are here for civilians, and by cooperating with military they are loosing their impartiality and neutrality. Also noone likes to be managed, so you are trying to interface, build relations with individuals, and out of courtesy try to help each other without directing each other on any certain issue. And why do we try to cooperate with them is more of a deconfliction thing. Basically making sure that there is no duplication of effort as well as ensuring the safety of non-military civilian organizations moving in potentially hazardous areas.“

After nice stories that Mike told me I was curious about few things more, so of course I asked him.

What is your opinion on ENP ( European Neighbourhood Policy)?

The ENP I think, in principle makes sense. I mean, given that at least economically and somewhat politically, the EU is pretending to act as a sovereign, it makes sense that their external relationships reflect that. The problem though is that you have and always will have national politics at play too and policies, especially economic ones will always be controversial.

Looking at the world and people through their religions, and beliefs, what conclusion did you make for yourself?

I do not think religion is either the root of all evil or all good. I think in the beginning it was about like minded people trying to support each other in their shared beliefs. I think that over time it became about control i.e., Europe and Christianity in the dark ages or similar periods in the history of most large religions including Islam. I think governments and groups of people use religion as a tool for social mobilization in order to achieve their otherwise political end state. Sadly this is why a huge percentage of the world, particularly the west, views Islam as a religion of Jihad when in reality that only represents a very very small minority of the billion believers.

What did you learn from all those journeys, and people that you got chance to meet in those countries? After all it is different culture, tradition, religion, opinions, way of life ect.

I learned that at the base, most people are the same. They want to live happy peaceful and productive lives. They want food on their tables, water to drink, and a good family. In each location because of culture, that looks a bit different but the needs and desires are basically the same. Religion does certainly have a way of both simplifying and complicating life. For some it becomes a crutch of ignorance where someone else tells you what to believe, for others, its provides empowering freedom to learn the answers to life’s great questions. It moves people, sadly both for better and worse. I have seen people all over the world hurt each other in the name of religion and that is why I no longer subscribe to any one church but rather rely on my own personal faith.

In the end, you were here when protests in Turkey started. How do you look on it?

Talking like human being, lover of freedom, I just can say that I am happy when I see brave, independent people who are ready to step out and say – I don’t want that!- as Turkish people said it.

Through Mike stories I found out some things I didn’t know before, and I may say some views of mine changed. It got clearer, something that we already Suppose to know; we can’t judge others through our truths, we can’t say something is wrong, just because it is not in same line with our opinions. We should listen, watch, observe, think and measure. We should sometimes let ourselves to admit and accept, it’s not like we are risking our lifes on that way. Truth is that every society is creating it’s own moral, but it’s also truth that moral constants exist, and new morals should be created up to those constants.

I hope you enjoyed too reading it and going behind our reality.



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