Book review: The Last Thousand

the last thousand jeffrey e sternThe Last Thousand – One School’s Promise in a National at War 

Author: Jeffrey E. Stern

We open the paper. 

War in Iraq.  War in Iran.  War in Afghanistan.  War, war, war.  The word means nothing to us; this is not our country we have enough of our own problems, etc. etc.

Enter Jeffrey Stern, an award winning and talented journalist/author. 

Enter Aziz Royesh: an Afghanistan citizen of the hated Hazara peoples, Sunnis in Shiite Muslim Afghanistan, the poorest people of the country.  Aziz is a teacher.  He is the courageous founder and leader of the first co-educational school in Afghanistan, a school in the middle of the desert, a school for the Hazaras, and the minority group of people supposedly descended from Mongols.  Enter Marefat, the school itself.  Enter the U.S. troops, the only protector of Marefat, as they leave Afghanistan, taking away any protection that this innovative school has.

Enter the story of Aziz Royesh, Marefat, and the Hazara men and women and children who have been traumatized and debased for centuries in their own country.  When Aziz opens his school in one room of his tiny house in the middle of nothing, he introduces equality between boys and girls, men and women.  He teaches them to question everything: Muslim, religion in general, gender equality, how to think not memorize, how to debate, how to make decisions based on one’s own mind.  He teaches what has previously been impossible to teach.  He teaches his students, adults and children, to think for themselves, to question everything, to be innovative. And he does it at risk to his own life and his family’s life.

“Under the protection of foreign forces, a special place has flourished in Afghanistan.  The Marefat School is an award-winning institution in the western slums of Kabul, built by one of the country’s most vulnerable minorities, the Hazara.  Marefat educates Hazara boys and girls; it teaches students to embrace the arts, criticize their leaders, interrogate their religion, and be active citizens in a rapidly changing county.  But they are dependent on foreign forces for security.  When the United States begins to withdraw from Afghanistan, they are left behind, unprotected.

Acclaimed journalist Jeffrey E. Stern explores the stakes of war through the eyes of those touched by Marefat: the school’s daring founder and leader, Aziz Royesh; a mother of five who finds freedom in literacy; a self-taught astronomer; the school’s security director; and several intrepid students who carry Marefat’s mission to the streets.  We see how Marefat has embraced the United States and blossomed under its presence – and how much it stands to lose as that protection disappears.

The Last Thousand tells the story of what we leave behind when our foreign wars end. 

It shows us up close the promise, as well as the peril, of our military adventures abroad.  Stern presents a nuanced and fascinating portrait of the complex history of Afghanistan, its American occupation, and the ways in which one community rallies together in compelling, heartbreaking and inspiring detail.” (“publisher’s release”: I have broken my wrist and can only type a very little bit, so I am borrowing Picador’s words and added my own).

Superb reading.

Want to get involved?  Just read.  And then do something!


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