Only three days after celebrating the Son of Man’s birth, the Christian church elects to expose the greedy underbelly of Roman rule by commemorating a group of young martyrs who have come to be called the “Holy Innocents.” According to Matthew’s gospel, King Herod of Judea became “greatly troubled” when three wise men, traveling through his kingdom from the east, inquired as to the birthplace of “the newborn king of the Jews.” Fearful of the impact of this event on his own ability to govern, Herod implored the three to seek out the new king so that he might “worship” him. Since Jewish scripture pointed to Bethlehem as the site of the Savior’s birth, the king ordered all males in the region under the age of two be slaughtered, thus insuring the child would never take his place on Herod’s throne. Many Christians feel these children gave their lives for the newborn infant.
The Holy Innocents described by Matthew have many siblings in today’s Afghanistan. United Nations figures place the number of street children in Kabul alone at close to 60,000. In the neighborhood where I’m living, they can be seen on the sidewalks selling candy or balloons to passersby. At congested roundabouts, they wander among stalled traffic, filthy rags in dirty hands, wiping the sides of cars and buses, hopeful that someone will condescend to drop them a few Afghanis. Some of these kids have homes to return to; many don’t. They receive no schooling, little medical aid, and scrounge for food wherever they can find it, often in the city’s ever-present, overflowing dumpsters, where they fight for scraps with the small herds of goats and sheep.
Though we see these children everywhere, we rarely meet Herod. Who is he, and where does he live? Herod lives in the 49 countries currently composing the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, countries that fund and carry out the constant warmaking that sacrifices this nation’s children. Herod is alive and well in the nation’s president, Hamid Karzai, whose corrupt and ineffectual government robs so much of the money intended for the care of Afghanistan’s youth. He dwells in the hearts and minds of those conservative Islamic clergy who conscript women into a humiliating subservience to the nations’ male population.
Most of all, though, Herod lives in you and me. He inhabits all of us who sit smugly by the Christmas tree, fat with the knowledge that our stomachs are full and our families happy. Although we’ll all grumble when those inevitable forms from the IRS arrive next month, we’ll pay what Caesar demands, unconcerned that the money we render will supply the weapons that kill kids not yet old enough to attend school. Until we say “No!” to the killing, “No!” to funding an arrogant ally who cares little for the welfare of his people, you and I are actively and culpably complicit in the slaughtering of Afghanistan’s innocents. The time has long since passed for each of us to stand up and demand an immediate halt to America’s participation in this ten year war designed to install and perpetuate yet another American power base in an area already saturated with warlords and ethnic struggle. As we commemorate once again those Holy Innocents who died at the hands of a cruel and jealous tyrant, let us vow to stand on the side of those who demand that America leave Afghanistan, not at some ever changing point in a nebulous tomorrow, but now!
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