Recently my wife and I joined others on a Habitat for Humanity effort painting a new home for a family originally from Afghanistan. One of the qualifying requirements for a Habitat home is that family members, where possible, must help in the construction. While rolling on the exterior paint I struck up a conversation with the recipient, a father of 3 and former Afghan university English teacher. I inquired about his story on how he came to America and what I learned was both sad and enlightening.

The Afghan Habitat recipient (who will remain nameless) shared with me that his father, also a former university teacher in the field of linguistics, was widely published in his day and one of the youngest appointees to an Afghan university. Naturally, his father had a large library of books he acquired over the years. Shortly after his father’s death, the Taliban broke into his home and started a fire with the books so they could heat water for drinking their tea while pilfering the home’s remains. The Afghan Habitat recipient said to me “They’re ignorant. They have no respect for anything but money and power.” Shockingly, all of that knowledge went up in smoke so thieves could warm their stomachs with hot tea!

During our discussion we both shared a sense of waste and vanity as he related his sad story on the perils of ignorance that give rise to unrelenting lust for money and power. (Or, vice versa; the unrelenting lust for power and money that give rise to ignorance.) Clearly history is replete with some permutation of this equation. But I have never known anyone personally who experienced so blatantly this equation played out in real time with real people in real places. All I could do at the time, aside from continuing to apply gallons of paint alongside my Afghan acquaintance, was sympathize and acknowledge the severity of this waste.

Our remaining hours together addressed many other topics (his hopes for his family’s future here in America, the importance of knowledge and education, freedom of religion, etc.), but it was truly an enlightening time for me.

After the last coat of paint was applied and we said our goodbyes, I commented to my Afghan acquaintance that his father’s quest for and love of knowledge was not wasted and it lives on in him. The Taliban can never take that away to their tea party!


  1. Out of ignorance comes destruction. Nothing new there.

    Sadly the human condition seems to approach this in two ways; if we have no idea of something’s value, then it does not require any respect, care or reverence, or if we, through our complete ignorance of something, are driven to fear it, then we try to control or destroy it.

    It breaks my heart that so many lives have been affected, and so many good things destroyed, simply through ignorance and fear.


  2. Extreme fundamentalism in any religion always tries to keep the people ignorant. Education leads to knowledge and debate which in turn leads to an empowered people and that’s a threat. Much better to get people to believe only what you tell them rather than learning new ideas that might threaten fundamentalist ideas. It’s much easier to spread ignorance and fear than to deal with an educated population.

    It is sad to see the Middle East, once highly educated and innovative, fall into the trap of ignorance.

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