The book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, is about a climber, Greg Mortenson, who attempts to climb K2 but fails, and on his way back down the mountain, he gets separated from his group and wanders alone, half dazed from lack of oxygen, and he gets completely lost. He eventually finds his way to Korphe, a remote village in the high mountain ranges between India, China, and Pakistan. Korphe is considered part of Pakistan.
"No foreigner had ever been to Korphe before," writes Mortenson. He was in bad shape, having been so long exposed to the harsh elements, high altitude, and lack of food and water. They nursed him back to health and were very kind to him. When he had regained his strength and was ready to hike back to civilization, he felt obligated to do something to repay these people for their kindness. He had seen that they were very poor and had no school. A teacher came out a few times a week, but the rest of the time, the children tried to learn on their own, sitting as a group on the ground outside.
Mortenson promised he would come back and build a school for the children. He went home to raise money for the project. The book is about how he raised the money, how he came back and built the school, and then went on to build another and another in Pakistan and later, in Afghanistan. He is still at it.
I liked the book for several reasons. It gave me a on-the-ground view of the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan — the area the Taliban are inhabiting today while they go across the border into Afghanistan to kill Coalition soldiers. The place is a no-man's land. It has never been tamed. All the conquerors who have come and gone in that area have left it alone, or tried to conquer it and failed. It is ruled by individual tribes who live in big walled-off cities, like medieval castles, with men along the top wall manning the turrets with machine guns, guarding the place.
But most of the story takes place on the other side of Pakistan, near the Indian border. That's where Korphe is. After building his first school, Mortenson took a trip out to no-man's land to see if schools could be built there. He was kidnapped and held hostage for eight days by one of the tribal leaders, who eventually decided he was okay even though he was an infidel, and let him go.
Several times you get a glimpse in the book of the tremendous lack of freedom people have in Pakistan, especially the women, because it is, of course, a Muslim country. The religion dominates everyone's life, as it does anywhere it takes hold. But Mortenson downplays it in the book. He wasn't there to change anyone's religion. He kept his focus on building schools. And in all fairness, Mortenson could not be forthright in his book about the danger to non-Muslims of Islam's teachings or his work and his life would come to an end.
Even though he is a Christian, he learned how to pray like a Muslim, and this really helped him keep his head (I mean literally) in the early days. After that, because they could see he wasn't trying to convert anyone out of Islam (a crime punishable by death) and he was doing a good thing by giving to poor Muslims, many of them came to embrace him.
After a moving speech by Syed Abbas (a Muslim cleric who had previously ordered a fatwa on Mortenson's head) who had had a complete change of heart and was now giving the dedication speech for the opening of one of Mortenson's new schools, Mortenson said, "I wish all the Americans who think 'Muslim' is just another way of saying 'terrorist' could have been there that day. The true core tenets of Islam are justice, tolerance, and charity, and Syed Abbas represented the moderate center of Muslim faith eloquently."
For someone who has spent so much time in Pakistan, Mortenson was incredibly blind or perhaps trying to be diplomatic. I understand completely his affection for the good people of Korphe. They were genuinely good people. And his statement about the "core tenets of Islam" are actually right on the mark.
But by "justice" they mean following the law of Allah, which says the punishment for leaving Islam is death, the punishment for adultery is death, a law that says a woman does not have as much right or power as men, a law that says the government must follow Shari'a law or it is an evil government, etc. This is the Islamic meaning of "justice."
Tolerance, in Islamic terms, means that "we will put up with your Christian and Jewish worship as long as you are in a permanent state of dhimmitude. In other words, as long as you are in a subjugated position. But we do not tolerate atheism, idolotry, or animism. We do not tolerate homosexuality." This is what a Muslim means by "religious tolerance." Their justification for such an attitude goes something like this: Because Islam is such a superior religion according to the Qur'an, Muslims are being tolerant by not killing all non-Muslims. They consider the dhimmis to be "protected" people. In other words, they are tolerated. They are not killed for their blasphemous ways. That's an accurate description of the core Islamic tenet of "tolerance."
And the third Islamic tenet is "charity." Which means temporary kindness to strangers and helping poor or disadvantaged Muslims. But it does not mean open charity to non-Muslims. When is the last time you've heard of a Muslim relief or charity group who were helping Christians or Jews? They help Muslims. That is Islamic "charity." This stems from the fundamental duality of Islam. The world is divided into Muslims and non-Muslims, and different rules apply to each.
On 9/11, Mortenson was in Pakistan with George McCown, a man who had contributed money to the school-building project and had come to see what his money had accomplished. The Pakistani people who knew of their work were afraid the lives of their two American friends were in danger when they got the news about the Twin Towers, so they swiftly and carefully gathered around to protect them, and because McCown wanted to go home, they provided him protection while he left the country.
Afterward, McCown said, "Thinking back on all of it, no one in Pakistan was anything but wonderful to us. I was so worried about what might happen to me in this, quote, scary Islamic country. But nothing did."
When I read that, I thought, "Is he joking?" Yes, there were people protecting him while he got safely out of the country. That's why nothing happened to him in this, quote, scary Islamic country. Those Muslims who knew him took those precautions because they knew better than he did that he was, in fact, in a scary Islamic country.
Both McCown and Mortenson were serving the Muslims, giving them money and helping them have a better life at great personal sacrifice. The Muslims, in return, treated them kindly and did not kill them. How big of them.
Did they treat the Americans kindly because of Islamic teachings? No. They did it because they were human and the two Americans were doing the Muslims a favor by building them schools. They graciously accepted the favors.
The reason I say they didn't treat them kindly because of Islamic teachings is because it says very clearly and directly in the Qur'an that a Muslim should never become a friend to a non-Muslim.
Now I'm not saying that some of those Muslims didn't feel actual affection for the Americans. I'm sure they did. But to imply that this shows Islam is not a danger to the free world is a ridiculous leap of logic.
Even with all this, I recommend Three Cups of Tea. It is a first-hand account of life in remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is interesting and illuminating reading, and his personal experiences in these places is fun to read for its sheer adventurousness.
In the second half of the book, Mortenson reveals his growing surprise as madrasses (Islamic schools) started popping up everywhere in Pakistan. He was amazed and alarmed by the introduction of a huge number of well-funded new schools for the poor being built by the Wahhabis. The Wahhabis running the schools chose the smartest, most capable poor boys and taught them hardcore Islamic values (the need for Islamic world domination, the reinforcement of Islamic duality, the identification of non-Muslims as an enemy of Allah, etc.).
The Wahhabis had seen the same need as Mortenson saw years before, and they moved in to exploit it. Impoverished Pakistani parents wanted their children to get an education and the Wahhabi schools were often their only option.
"Thinking about the Wahhabi strategy made my head spin," Mortenson says. "This wasn't just a few Arab sheikhs getting off Gulf Air with bags of cash. They were bringing the brightest madrassa students back to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for a decade of indoctrination, then encouraging them to take four wives when they come home and breed like rabbits."
Read the book. It's worth reading for many different reasons. One of the things I liked most about was that not only do you get a first-hand account of what's happening in a large, influential Muslim country, but you can also vicariously get to know some genuinely good people who happen to be Muslims. It will help you draw the distinction between Muslims (the people) and the Islamic doctrine (the rules those people feel they have to live by).
As I've said before, criticism of Islam is legitimate, and for the survival of the free world, it is necessary to stop it from fulfilling its goals. Hating Muslims, however, is not legitimate or necessary.
If you'd like to do something to promote or help Mortenson's work, go here: Promote Peace...One School at a Time.