Afghan woman speaks in Bangor

Posted March 21, 2010, at 8:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Mariam Atifa Raqib remembers a beautiful green countryside and a public garden across the way from where she grew up in Afghanistan.

That vivid image is just a memory now that her home country is in the grips of war, but she has not given up hope that peace can return and replace the soldiers and warlords who have taken control.

“I was not prepared for the drastic change,” Raqib said Saturday of a visit to her hometown several years ago. “I returned to the place [where she grew up], and it was rubble. Not even a weed was able to mature.”

Seeing the devastation made her “realize there must be something I can do,” she said.

Raqib, who is studying law, policy and society at Northeastern University in Boston, spoke to a group of nearly 100 area residents who gathered in Bangor to protest the war effort on the seventh anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Active Community Teach-In, “Bring the War Dollars Home,” was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church and was sponsored by 17 regional Peace and Justice groups from across Maine.

She said her home country never recovered from being invaded by the Soviet Union in 1978 and the decade-long occupation afterward, which she said tore her country apart and in turn created the radical terrorist groups of today that battle U.S. troops.

Raqid was a member of the Afghanistan Women’s Council in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007 and now is president of the Afghanistan Samsortya, a nonprofit Afghanistan reforestation project, based in Boston, that is trying to empower the Afghan people by creating positive change.

“The amount of money being spent in Afghanistan is an incredible sum,” she said, adding that if funding for U.S. soldiers instead was invested in restoring the war-ravaged country, “that’s something positive. People really like that kind of assistance.

“Bombs do not feed people,” she said. What they do is “create a population that is resentful.”

Bruce Gagnon of Brunswick, a coordinator of the “Bring the War Dollars Home” event, said the United States has spent $1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that could have been used right here at home.

“Just imagine how that money could be used here,” he said, listing health care and job creation as two possibilities. “Maine’s share of that is $2.8 billion.”

Lisa Savage, who coordinated the event with Gagnon, spoke to the Bangor crowd by phone from Washington, D.C. where a march on the White House in protest of the war was being held.

“Maine has a presence here today,” she said from the country’s capital, causing the Maine audience to cheer in response.

After Raqib spoke, a panel session was held that included Maryalice Horrigan, a Gold Star Mother from Dedham who lost her son, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert Horrigan, in Iraq on June 16, 2005.

“I think you would have liked my son,” she said. “He was just the ordinary guy next door.”

Horrigan spoke about the millions and millions of dollars being spent annually on the war effort and called for an end, to save other soldiers’ parents and loved ones the pain that she and her husband, Nick, have endured.

“I belong to a group no parent ever wants to be in,” she said, “a group of people whose child went to war but did not return alive. His story is only one story of over 5,000 men and women who didn’t make it back.”

Her son was 40, married, and had a young daughter. He lived in Belfast and was just days away from returning to the U.S. after his fifth deployment to either Iraq or Afghanistan, and nearly 20 years of military service.

“There are no winners in any war,” his mother said. “Both sides sustain great losses during it and for years afterward.”

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