Congressional Briefing – Launch of Compassion Campaign for Afghan Civilians

May 15, 2012

[Ed. 7/21: The last names of Afghan filmmakers and images of those still in the country have been removed due to the increasing insecurity in the country.]

Community Supported Film, in partnership with American Friends Service Committee and 3P Human Security, presented a briefing to Members of Congress that included a live video conference with Afghan NGO directors and CSFilm trainees/filmmakers, statements by Members of Congress, a screening of a selection of the Afghan–made documentary shorts from the The Fruit of Our Labor, and a panel discussion.

“The tendency in Washington is to think we know everything and we know what is best for everybody and the reality is we don’t. We don’t listen all the time. It is important to hear the perspectives of the people who are living there.”
– U.S. Representative James McGovern.

Watch these clips to hear from Afghans, Members of Congress and regional experts about the way forward in Afghanistan:

Video 1: The Afghan Experience, 3 min

Zahra grew up in Iran as a refugee – just like 1 million other Afghans who had to flee the civil war. After returning to Afghanistan post-Taliban she found her identity as an Afghan and her passion as a journalist and a leader in cultural development.

“After the fall of the Taliban I returned to Afghanistan and found my identity – which I couldn’t do as a refugee in Iran.” 
– Zahra

Jamal, Program Coordinator for CSFilm and assistant trainer and translator, discusses his life under three different regimes – from enduring the threat of rocket attacks as a young student, to the relative safety but oppression under the Taliban, to the dawn of new opportunities with the fall of the Taliban.

I’ve experienced three different regimes.  I went to school during the civil war.  Most of the time classes were dismissed because of all the rockets fired all over the city. … When the international community moved into afghanistan new windows of opportunity opened for Afghans and especially for young Afghans from my generation.
– Jamal, filmmaker and Coordinator for Community Supported Film

Video 2: Statement by Congressman James McGovern, 1 min

Representative James McGovern (D-MA) shares his gratitude for the opportunity to hear directly from Afghans and emphasizes that “those of us who want to see an end to war are not saying let’s abandon the people of Afghanistan.”

“Afghans that I work and engage with are asking for a responsible and sustained engagement by the international community.  Afghans fear that the international community will abandon them to another blood bath and humanitarian crisis.”
– Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director of Community Supported Film

Video 3: The Third Way, 1 min

Lisa Schirch, director of 3P Human Security, recommends “the third way” in Afghanistan, one that focuses on population protection instead of combat and includes civil society in all peace negotiations.

“There is another path that we are not looking at, that does not abandon Afghanstan and does not think that waging war is the only way.”
– Lisa Schirch, Director, 3P Human Security

Video 4: Recommendations for the way forward, 3 min

Zahra suggests that American troops shift from a war against insurgents to maintaining stability and involving everyone in peace negotiations. Jamal agrees that more attention needs to be paid to peace talks that include the Afghan government, the international community, the Taliban, and neighboring countries. Lisa Schirch substantiates that many Afghans desire a protection force – one that is smaller, international, and more legitimate in the Muslim world. Peter Lems agrees that dialogue between all parties is necessary and must include Afghan Civil Society.

“More attention should be given to peace talks.  The Afghan government should take the initiative, backed by the international community, to negotiate with the opposition and with the neighboring countries.”
– Jamal, filmmaker and Coordinator for Community Supported Film

Video 5: What we can do, 2:30 min

Lisa Schirch calls for Congressional hearings and oversight of the mission in Afghanistan, which is being articulated and implemented differently by the White House, Congress, the departments of State and Defense and the CIA. Peter Lems emphasizes that the military budget should be reduced to take away the incentive to use military force as the first response rather than as a last resort.

Video 6: CSFilm’s Compassion Campaign, 1:30 min

An articulation by Michael Sheridan of the “Compassion Campaign for Afghan Civilians.” Beyond the important conversation about getting troops out and bringing money home, Sheridan urges the audience to prioritize strategies that will prevent renewed civil war and a humanitarian crisis.

“In our eagerness to correct the mistakes of the last 10 years, we should not call for action that we will regret 10 years from now because it left Afghans vulnerable to extremists, renewed civil war and a humanitarian disaster.”
– Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director of Community Supported Film

Panel Participants

Jamal, Filmmaker and Program Coordinator, Community Supported Film. Jamal was born in Kabul and went to elementary and high school during the civil war and Taliban regime. During his career he has worked as a research assistant and translator at Afghan Public Policy Research Organization, with the Agha Khan Foundation and other development and microfinance institutions.

Peter LemsPeter Lems,Program Director for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran at the American Friends Service Committee, designs, coordinates, and implements educational and advocacy campaigns around U.S. foreign policy.

Zahra, Director, Hands of Health, from The Fruit of Our Labor collectionZahra was a refugee in Iran during the civil war and Taliban regime. Since returning to Afghanistan she has worked as a freelance journalist and founded the Opening Society Organization that works on cultural development.

 Lisa Schirch, Director of 3P Human Security – a partnership of organizations connecting policymakers with global civil society networks – facilitates civil-military dialogue and provides a peacebuilding lens on current policy issues. Ms. Schirch’s recent study, Designing a Comprehensive Peace Process for Afghanistan provides evidence of the importance of including Afghan Civil Society in building a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Michael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film – has worked in Afghanistan over the last 3 years to train and mentor Afghans in documentary filmmaking. The focus of the stories and the collection of short films produced, The Fruit of Our Labor, is on local economic and social development issues.

Congressional Briefing Photo Gallery: Click thumbnails to view larger.

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