Hadisa is a bright 18 year old Afghan girl, top student in her Grade 12 class. That in itself makes her exceptional.
“The question is,” she wonders, “are human beings capable of abolishing war?”
After World War II, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein asked the same question in a manifesto: “Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?”
One of my friends wonders if we humans are hard-wired for war. Our history – the history we record, at least – lists mainly wars and conquests. Who beat whom. Who seized whose lands, peoples, resources…
Noah Yuval Harari, in Sapiens, his sweeping history of human existence, suggests that we have become the world’s dominant species by exterminating our competition.
There were once, he argues, seven human species. Homo sapiens killed off the others. Just as we are now wiping out 140,000 non-human species every year. That’s an estimate, of course, because much of it happens to insects, algae, and other life forms that are commonly overlooked.
Science journal makes the connection — the number of invertebrates fell by half over the past 35 years, at the same time the human population doubled.
Mass extinctions are not new. Dinosaurs, for example, emerged after one of the biggest extinctions, about 250 million years ago. They in turn disappeared some 65 million years ago after an asteroid smashed into what is now Mexico’s Yucatan. The resulting climate change doomed the dinosaurs, but gave small mammals an opportunity to flourish.
However, Scientific American claims that the current human-caused extinction rate is the fastest ever, roughly 1,000 times faster than the average pace in earth’s history.
Even as we destroy other life forms on the planet, we wage war against each other. In Syria and Ukraine today, in Kosova and Bosnia a few years ago, in the trenches of Europe a century ago. Are we, as my friend wonders, hard-wired for violence?
In Afghanistan Hadisa lives in a world that a volunteer doctor calls “riddled with intractable violence.”
But every Friday, Hadisa teaches at the Borderfree Afghan Street Kids School. Over 100 ragamuffin street kids, often the breadwinners for their families, attend morning and afternoon classes.
“In this school,” Hadisa tells her students, “we wish to build a world without war for you.”
Like the more widely known Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to women’s education (after being shot in the head by a resentful male), Hadisa puts her life on the line daily for her convictions.
Both girls are Muslim – a religion often portrayed in the west as dedicated to jihad, holy war.
Both girls agree that the best tool for change is not weapons but education. Malala wrote, earlier this year, “The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary AND secondary education around the world — but they choose to spend it on other things… If the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just eight days, we could have the $39 billion needed to provide 12 years of free, quality education to every child on the planet.”