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The Republic of Kinaneistan

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Ed Griffin-Nolan
June 30, 2011

During the same week that Barack Obama stopped at Fort Drum in Northern New York to announce that he was starting to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, a Syracuse man began packing his bags for a journey into the country that is the setting for the longest war in U.S. history.

Local peace activist Ed Kinane will be leaving July 15 for a monthlong visit to Afghanistan as part of a delegation from a group known as Voices for Creative Nonviolence. This trip will be the third delegation the group has sent to Afghanistan, and Kinane is the first from Syracuse to participate.

Chicago-based religious peace activist Kathy Kelly founded Voices in 2005.

Kelly is currently crossing the Mediterranean on a ship named The Audacity of Hope, part of a flotilla challenging the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Kinane, 66, is a lifelong Syracusan who has been arrested numerous times for civil disobedience, including a recent Good Friday protest against the deployment of Drone unmanned aircraft from Hancock Field. He is no stranger to war zones, and has served a number of tours of duty as an international observer in private peacekeeping efforts, including stints with Peace Brigades International in Central America and Sri Lanka.

When the war against Iraq began in March 2003, Kinane was on the ground in Baghdad with Voices in the Wilderness, a precursor to Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Voices in the Wilderness folded in 2005 after refusing to pay fines imposed by a federal judge for bringing humanitarian aid into Iraq while that country was under United Nations-sponsored economic sanctions.

Asked if he considered this trip to Afghanistan particularly dangerous, Kinane was uncertain. “I guess it’s comparable to other things I’ve experienced,” he said. “I was on the ground in Baghdad during shock and awe {the military’s term for the bombing campaign that opened the war against Saddam Hussein}. That was pretty dicey. I’m not worried, but I acknowledge that there is some risk. My life is not determined by just seeking safety.”

His objective is to come to understand what life during wartime has been like for Afghans and to bring that message with him when he returns to Syracuse in August. “I’m particularly interested in meeting people who have been victims of ‘Drone terrorism,’” he said, adding that he has already received a number of offers from peace groups around the country to speak upon his return. Kinane and his partner, Ann Tiffany, have been leaders in local protests against the drone aircraft, including weekly protests at the Regional Market on Saturday mornings.

“I want to spread the word when I get back. I want to raise my own consciousness. I have this idea that people working for peace need to be more familiar with what war is. Going to Afghanistan is a way to understand more about what we are struggling against, and to get enhanced creds to write and speak.”

Obama, in his June 23 visit with units that have been heavily deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, said he was ordering 10,000 troops home this year, and an additional 23,000 to come home next year, bringing total troop levels back to where they were when he took office. What did Kinane think of the message Obama brought to the troops at Fort Drum?

A fierce opponent of the Afghan war, Kinane voiced optimism. “I hope this is the beginning of a major withdrawal,” he said.

“This is no way to conduct diplomacy. We have no business there; we are just spreading misery.”

Once on the ground in Kabul, Kinane will be part of a seven-person group from all over the United States. He knows one of the people in the group, an activist from Virginia with whom he was arrested at the Supreme Court several years back for protesting the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the 2008 campaign, then candidate Obama had promised to close Guantanamo but his administration was unable to persuade Congress to move the prisoners to bases in the United States. Currently 171 prisoners remain at the facility.

Kinane knows little of his itinerary in Kabul, and is uncertain whether the security situation there will allow him to go out into the countryside. The group has an open-ended agenda, and he said they will rely heavily for guidance on a Singaporeborn doctor nicknamed Hakim who serves as mentor to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a peace group based in Bamyan, Afghanistan.

“Voices is a pretty improvisational group.

We operate by the seat of our pants.”

Ed Kinane plans to return to Syracuse on Aug. 16.