Here’s a story from a very respected journalist and a great man, John E. Carey. He has been in Pakistan trying to find Muhammad all along fearing his friend, a man whom he calls his brother, was dead. This is a stirring piece and is highlighted in full thanks to Mr. Carey’s permission.
Tribal Areas, Pakistan — Muhammad Khurshid lives and works in the most dangerous area of the world: the tribal areas of Pakistan.
And perhaps this is the part of the world most trecherous for journalists. Like the junta in Myanmar, South Ossetia’s and Georgia’s invading Russian soldiers and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean thugs, the denizens of the tribal areas of Pakistan, namely the Taliban and al Qaeda, do not want the light of journalists shining on their activities.
This barren, rocky landscape provides refuge and a stepping stone for the militants and their terrorism into Afghanistan to kill American and coalition troops.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban live here between Afghanistan and Pakistan where they pose a threat to the very existence of both nations as we know them today.
Muhammad lives here too, but not as a combatant. Muhammad is an intrepid journalist who chooses to be here, because he wants people to know about this struggle for what he sees as the potential future of both nations and much of the world.
Like other civilians here, Muhammad became a refugee weeks ago as Pakistan’s security forces poured in to root out the terrorists. I saw what experts say is 200,000 refugess on the move.
I have known Muhammad for some years now, by acts of my God or Allah, we are never sure. And we call each other brother because of our shared professions and ideologies.
We both want democracy to survive and thrive here.
We are, I like to tell people, the embodiment of the idea that, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” And because of the Internet and bloggers around the world, we are blessed with the opportunity and tools to allow our combined voice to be heard.
But the sword is needed too, despite its aweful side consequences.
Muhammad collaborated with me to write a commentary for The Washington Times just before the elections in Pakistan earlier this year. And now as I sought him, I thought we would never hear his voice again.
When the Army of Pakistan launched an offensive into the tribal areas a few weeks ago, an assault urged by the United States, Muhammad found himself in the middle of the most severe fighting. We lost contact for several weeks — something that hadn’t happened before in two years.
I feared he was dead.
So, not sure where to go or how to look for him, I packed up my laptop and headed for Pakistan.
When a friend and colleague asked, “What were you thinking?” I told him I was reminded of Jim Lovell, Apollo 13, and some of Astronaut Lovell’s tales.
Lovell tells the story of losing his cockpit lights while flying a U.S. Navy fighter jet, a “Banshee,” over the sea near Japan at night. All he could see was pitch black.
An F-2 Banshee over Korea, 1952 (Click box)
And then, Lovell says, he saw the green glow of phosphorescence — the “glow-in-the-dark” luminescence of tiny sea creatures churned up behind a big ship. For Lovell, that green glow painted a highway to follow right back to his aircraft carrier, a ship named, as if by God, Shangri-La.
I had read about Jim Lovell’s experiences and watched the Tom Hanks film “Apollo 13″ just before I traveled. And then, on my way to Pakistan, I dreamed about that bioluminescence behind big ships. I had seen it myself at sea many times during more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy.
So, not sure of where I was going, I followed the light.
The story had a happy ending. Fearing that Muhammad was lost in the fighting, he reappeared safe and unscathed.
And I returned to my Vietnamese-American family with another story to tell.
My 90 year old mother in law, who walked south from the communists in 1954 to find freedom in what became South Vietnam, and bore her daughter, my wife, in a refugee camp, listened with interest to my story. And I ended with, “I really do love Muhammad and all people who have been tested. But I have never been tested myself.”
And she said, “Maybe you are being tested now. Every day.”
So we each experience life’s challenges differently, I suppose.
I have always been drawn to George Washington, who kept his ragtag army alive during the winter at Valley Forge. I was intrigued by Teddy Roosevelt, who went “out west” as a young man, to test himself and learn the skills of a cowboy — skills and grit he would apply at San Juan Hill in war. General Ike Eisenhower was tested by the coalition he helped assemble and lead from before D-Day until the surrender of the Nazis.
And John McCain was tested by his experiences in war, the Hanoi Hilton, and by other events in his life.
A man’s experiences make him who he really is.
Jim Lovell received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for showing the “grit and grace under pressure that is the province of true heroes.”
And Lovell has told people and been quoted as saying, “Look, the situation was forced on me.”
His experiences on the mission known as Apollo 13 changed Jim Lovell forever. He says he cannot imagine being physically afraid, again, ever.
And so it is with Muhammad. By some great good fortune of life, I have been honored to know several men who have been tested: and a man of peace in Pakistan, a journalist named Muhammad, is certainly one of them.
Above: USS Shangri-La
Hope that you and Muhammad are safe and everything is well.
To read more of John E. Carey’s pieces you can catch him at http://johnibiii.wordpress.com/.
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