Speaker shares Afghan plight

HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE Medea Benjamin tells about her journey to Afghanistan with a group of Americans who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Benjamin spoke Monday at the Kansas Union about Afghan civilians who were killed and injured during the US bombing campaign in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

After Sept. 11, Americans poured out their hearts and pocketbooks to help the families of victims in the World Trade Center.

Medea Benjamin is hoping they will do the same for the families of civilians killed during the United State’s bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization, started the Afghan Victims Fund and is hoping the government will contribute about $20 million. That’s enough to give about $10,000 each to the estimated 2,000 families who lost a father, mother or child to stray bombs.

Benjamin spoke Monday evening to a crowd of about 50 at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union. In an interview before her speech, she said helping victims in Afghanistan was morally the right thing to do and in the interests of U.S. security.

“People throughout the Muslim world have been seeing pictures and hearing stories about the civilian casualties in Afghanistan and used this as a way to say, ‘See, Americans don’t care about the lives of Muslim people,'” she said.

Benjamin said $20 million would be a drop in a bucket compared to money spent on the military campaign.

Though she finds support among everyday people she meets, Benjamin said members of Congress have been less supportive of the Afghan Relief Fund. Since January, about 25 have expressed support for the project.

“Americans have big hearts when they see a child who has no legs or whose hand has been blown off, their sympathy is tremendous and they want to help these people,” she said. “When it comes to Congress, I find they are sympathetic in words and very timid indeed. They are afraid to question the Pentagon because it is seen as unpatriotic to be asking the Pentagon to acknowledge mistakes were made.”

Benjamin has traveled to Afghanistan twice in recent months, including taking families of Sept. 11 victims to meet with Afghan victims and setting up “sister relationships” between schools, churches and communities.

“We’re promoting all kinds of grassroots ties to let the Afghan people know that we want this to be a turning point in their history and improve lives,” she said.