Reviewed June 30, 2006.
Viking, New York, 2006. 338 pages.
Available at Sembach Library
Greg Mortenson’s story began
when he failed to reach the top of K2
second highest mountain in the world.
the way down, he took a wrong turn and wound up collapsing in a small
in northern Pakistan
The kind people took him in and cared for
When “Dr. Greg” got better, he
looked at the village.
He saw the girls
trying to learn outdoors, in wind and weather.
made a rash promise to come back and build them a
extremely difficult to
keep that promise, with very little money. He
tried sending letters to rich people, but 500 letters
only got one
response. Eventually, he found a sponsor
through his mountaineering connections, someone who had also seen the
that part of the world.
So Dr. Greg
went back and
took on the adventure of buying the materials for a school and getting
the remote village. After buying the
goods, he found many other people wanting him to build the school in
villages. When he finally reached the
village where he had promised to return, he found that he needed to
bridge before he could get the supplies into the village.
tells of Mortenson’s
continued efforts. After he went back to America
to try to raise money for a bridge, he lost his job, his girlfriend,
apartment. But he kept going, and
eventually one thing led to another, and he is now the head of Central
Institute, which builds schools all over remote Pakistan
and Afghanistan. The schools allow both girls and boys to be
educated, with whole new possibilities open to them.
Mortenson is not a
Muslim, but he works with Muslims and respects their beliefs. When a village leader issued a fatwa
against him because he hadn’t paid a bribe to build a school, the case
tried in shariat court, and the fatwa was overturned.
“ ‘It was a very humbling victory,’ Mortenson
says. ‘Here you have this Islamic court
in conservative Shia Pakistan offering protection for an American, at a
when America is holding Muslims without charges in Guantanamo, Cuba,
under our so-called system of justice.’”
began years before
September 11th, 2001, but naturally after that the climate
drastically. A mullah was scheduled to
speak at a school dedication a few days later.
Part of his speech included, “These two
Christian men have come halfway around the world to show our Muslim
the light of education….I request America to look into our hearts, and
the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we
are without education. But today,
another candle of knowledge has been lit. In
the name of Allah the Almighty, may it light our way
out of the
darkness we find ourselves in.”
got more attention. He told a
congressman, “I don’t do what I’m doing to fight terror.
I do it because I care about kids. Fighting
terror is maybe seventh or eighth on
my list of priorities. But working over
there, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve
learned that terror doesn’t happen because some group of people
somewhere like Pakistan
simply decide to hate
us. It happens because children aren’t
being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose
comment he said,
“People in that part of the world are used to death and violence. And if you tell them, ‘We’re sorry your
father died, but he died a martyr so Afghanistan could be free,’
you offer them compensation and honor their sacrifice, I think people
support us, even now. But the worst thing
you can do is what we’re doing—ignoring the victims.
To call them ‘collateral damage’ and not even
try to count the numbers of the dead. Because
to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and
there is no
greater insult in the Islamic world. For
that, we will never be forgiven.”
friend also had
good insight on the situation. “Osama,
baah! 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
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
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
with education and business. Otherwise,
the fight will go on forever.”
warlord also spoke
with eloquence. “ ‘Look here, look at
these hills.’ Khan indicate the
boulderfields that marched up from the dirt streets of Baharak like
spaced headstones, arrayed like a vast army of the dead as they climbed
the deepening sunset. ‘There has been
far too much dying in these hills,’ Sadhar Khan said, somberly. ‘Every rock, every boulder that you see
before you is one of my mujahadeen,
shahids, martyrs, who sacrificed
lives fighting the Russians and the Taliban. Now
we must make their sacrifice worthwhile,’ Khan said,
turning to face
Mortenson. ‘We must turn these stones
At the start
of the book, the
co-writer, David Oliver Relin, says, “As a journalist who has practiced
odd profession of probing into people’s lives for two decades, I’ve met
than my share of public figures who didn’t measure up to their own
press. But at Korphe and every other
village where I was welcomed like long-lost family, because another
had taken the time to forge ties there, I saw the story of the last ten
of Greg Mortenson’s existence branch and fork with a richness and
far beyond what most of us achieve over the course of a full-length
“As I found
Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute does, irrefutably, have the results. In a part of the world where Americans are,
at best, misunderstood, and more often feared and loathed, this
six-foot-four mountaineer from Montana
has put together a string of improbable successes.
Though he would never say so himself, he has
single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and
independently won more hears and minds than all the official American
propaganda flooding the region.
“So this is a
confession: Rather than simply reporting
on his progress, I want to see Greg Mortenson succeed.
I wish him success because he is fighting the
war on terror the way I think it should be conducted.
Slamming over the so-called Karakoram
‘Highway’ in his old Land Cruiser, taking great personal risks to seed
region that gave birth to the Taliban with schools, Mortenson goes to
the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to
balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa.”
vision, and completely won me over as well. I
almost cheered when I saw this book had made The New
Bestseller List. I hope that many, many
hear about what Mortenson is doing and support his work.
Fighting evil with good is wondrously more
effective than bombs.
along with all
the inspiration, you’ll get a fascinating, gripping, and well-told
story. How can you go wrong?
You can find
Central Asia Institute at www.ikat.org.
Copyright © 2006 Sondra
Eklund. All rights reserved.
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