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Good evening and welcome to tonight's meeting of The Commonwealth Club of California. I am Andrews Ross, Executive Foreign & National Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. It's my pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker Pam Constable, Deputy Foreign Editor of the Washington Post and author of "Fragments of Grace: My search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia". Ms. Constable spent nearly 5 years traveling through South and Central Asia while on assignment for The Post including two years living in Afghanistan. She joined The Post in 1994. Prior to that Constable spent 12 years with the Boston Globe reporting primarily from South and Central America and the Caribbean. Her first book, which she calls the, it, is called the "A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet". Earlier in her career, Constable worked at The Baltimore Sun for 4 years and in Annapolis Evening Capital newspaper. In her close to 30 years journalism career, Constable has covered everything from religious conflicts to political crisis and natural disasters across 30 something countries. She is the recipient of numerous writing and Journalism awards and is a member of the Council in Foreign Relations. I would also note that she has "collected stray animals on three continents," is President and founder of the Afghan stray animal's league and has two dogs and five cats of her own, at least. Please welcome Pam Constable. Thank you, can you all see me and hear me? Often difficult to both see me and hear me, how's that. I like this gavel, sort of judicial. Shall I bang the gavel? I am thrilled to be here. I have always heard such wonderful things about this organization and was very touched when I was asked to speak here. I have so many things I would like to talk about and so little time, but I will try not to speak too fast, which is one of my greatest flaws. I am going to speak to you a little bit about what it's like to be a foreign correspondent, especially a woman and especially in the Muslim world where I have spent much of the last 8 years. I will also talk a little bit about my book, I will read a few short passages from the book and then I will tell you just a tiny bit about my work, "Helping animals" also in Afghanistan. And then I do want to leave lots of time for questions because that's always the best part when people actually get to ask what they really want to know about not just what you think they want to know. I also want to talk a little bit about, I brought an essay that I wrote recently about the decline in American coverage of foreign news, I am not sure I brought 50 copies which I hope we will pass out to you I am not sure what happened to them but I hope you all get a chance to see it, not just because I wrote it but, because I think its true. I am deeply concerned about the fact that American coverage of international news is not declining in quality necessarily but declining at least in quantity. The number of newspapers, radio stations, magazines and television channels and outlets that have foreign correspondents in the field is shrinking rapidly and the most dramatic example which prompted me to write the essay was the Boston Globe where I worked for almost 13 years traveling around the world and getting an enormous experience in life, just shut down it's last 3 foreign bureaus. It broke my heart and I dare say that is true for many, many people in my profession, somehow this seems like a watershed you know if even The Globe, even a great, great regional paper with wonderful foreign coverage can no longer afford to have people in the field. This is a very sad day for all of us. And particularly personal for me was that a very close friend of mine, Elizabeth Neuffer who had written extraordinary book about her experiences in Bosnia and Rwanda as a foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe and who was then killed in Iraq in 2003, and I kept thinking to myself you know now who was going to pick up that legacy, that she left behind who will be out there looking for these death squad killers, who will be out there crisscrossing the world in search of these very difficult truths. I will get back to that topic a little bit later but I want to tell you a little bit more about what I have been doing for the last 8 years what prompted me to write my book and just read a few excerpts from it and tell you why I decided to call it "Fragments of Grace". I have spent most of my foreign career in Latin America and it seems in other parts of the world as well and then 1998 I was asked to go to India by The Post and that was lots of fun. India is a lovely country, very exciting beautiful, colorful, open freewheeling, just a fantastic place to work, but then very quickly I was sent off to Pakistan and then off to Afghanistan because of bad news that was happening in the region and my first introduction to Islam was the Taliban, which is the worst possible way to get an introduction to a new religion. I literally entered a country that was under the control of very narrow minded extremists, who had this utopian vision of taking their country back to the seventh century in its purest possible form of Islam or so they thought. It was a terrifying experience; it was extremely difficult to do my job. I was completely controlled the whole time I was there, not to mention the fact that there were no telephones and no way to report the news, but it was at the same time the most exciting assignment I had ever had. I was in a country where there were no Westerners, there were no foreign women. There were no journalists. There were no Christians. There was nobody like me. So therefore I was in a sense representing the West. I was representing the Press. Now, there were BBC correspondents there, and they did a very heroic and brave job. But there were times that I would walk down the street in Kabul not see another foreigner, not see another woman. And I would think how can I possibly bring this home to my readers, how can I possibly make the society come alive and yet you know everyone you met I would, the Taliban made these rules for us. You couldn't speak to women. You couldn't take photographs. You couldn't go to private homes. You had to figure out a way to get into a society without meeting half it's populous and with really only dealing, they only wanted you to deal with officials. So naturally those of us who were there tried to find every possible way to break the rules, and we all had these guides whose job was extensively to help us but in fact was to control us, but most of them were young and most of them were pretty nice and so we could find ways to sneak here and there. And I remember the first woman I actually spoke to in Afghanistan was a nurse inside the United Nations Hospital and the guide was not allowed to go in because he was a man and so I was there in the U.N hospital and the first nurse I saw I just grabbed her and I said, "tell me what its like to be an Afghan woman?" It was just a sort of moment and she looked at me in horror, I don't know what she thought, I wondered, she was very nice and we had a little bit of chat, didn't have much opportunity. But it was one of those circumstances where you are afraid, you are unhappy you don't get to take a bath, you don't get to wash your hair and yet you know that every single thing that you see, everyone you meet is going to be a story, and those were the most intense that first visa I which I got under the Taliban. The most intense 3 weeks that I have ever spent and when I got out, the first thing I did well the very first thing I did was I had a bath, the second thing I did was I had a glass of wine and the third thing I did was I sat down and I wrote, what I think probably was the best story of my life which was I just sat down and wrote it flat out. It was a blow by blow account of 3 weeks under the Taliban and it was, it's still and I mean I can remember every word, I can remember sitting and thinking my God you know no one has done this, this is my chance to really tell the West what's going on now, what's really important about this, is that and this is what's really important about what we do as foreign correspondents. What I learned on that trip much of it was not what I expected at all. And at the time in the West all these feminist groups were saying, oh its terrible women are being forced to wear veils over their head, they are being forced to not going to work and not go to school. Well, I discovered that Afghan women were wearing veils because they wanted to because it made them feel safer or because their husbands and the males in their family traditionally were making them do this. It was part of their culture and it made them feel invisible. It made them feel as if they were somehow safe from the predation of what had become a very violent culture. So we were all prepared, we the Western Press were all prepared to write about how women were suffering terribly under these veils and when I, I am skipping ahead now, 5 years or yeah 4 years when we all went back after the Taliban fell in the Thanksgiving of 2001. We all expected to meet women who were throwing off their veils in triumph to meet men who were shaving of their beards in triumph none of that happened at all. It's a very, very conservative Muslim society probably the most conservative Muslim society on earth with the exception of Saudi Arabia. Women still wear veils in Afghanistan and they have had a Western installed government for almost 6 years. Men still wear beards in Afghanistan. The difference is that they do it because they want to because it's part of their culture, and its part of their religion. Nobody is forcing them to, the problem with the Taliban was not that they weren't going along with the local culture, the problem was that they were forcing the people to do things they would already have been doing. And I remember going into Afghanistan after the Taliban fell and going into a field of cauliflowers right over the border and going up to the first person I saw and asking him naively so "are you going to shave off your beard?" And he said, "Why would I shave off my beard?" "I am Muslim, I am an Afghan" and I said, "Well because the Taliban, you know they just got overthrown". "Did you hear on the radio?" And he said, "I know but you know this is my culture we all have beards we believe in having beards. Well what we don't believe in is somebody telling us we have to grow the beard". That was my first lesson in something that was completely counter intuitive. And if you are a journalist and you, and you know we are Talibs, you know we are students until we die. That's the great thing about being journalists is that you can find, you can learn new things, you can discover that you are wrong about things and the next day you can write it differently. You don't have an agenda that's what's important about the Press. We don't have an agenda and what Press that serious and professional in this country of course there are other countries where people do have agendas but what makes me love my job and I think I have the best job in the world is that I can always be surprised, I can always find a new person, a new place, a new circumstance and I will go oh, my God, I had no idea, or even better I thought the opposite before. Now I have learnt something new. It's very important I am going back to my theme of why we need foreign correspondents and why we don't just need images flashing of a suicide bombing in a market in Baghdad. We need people that will spend more than a week some place. We need people that will spent years places really beginning to learn what a country is about what a people are about what societies are about that will learn enough, its not that we want to be a bridge between East and West. We need to understand these societies. We have tens of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have billions of dollars invested in aid and help to these countries. If we don't understand them who will? If we don't become handmaidens of moderate Islam then there will be a clash of civilization. As far as I am concerned there is no need for it. As far as I am concerned the actual clash is between extremes and moderate views of the world in all of our cultures. In most Muslim countries I have been to including Afghanistan and Pakistan which, are the two I know the best, there is this monumental war going on between radical Islam and modernizing Islam. That is the war that is where we as a culture, we as interpreters of culture, we as Westerners living and working in the Muslim world need to try to understand the best we can and to the extent we can help to shore up the moderate impulses and the moderate strains in those societies. And the reason that I set out to write this book, which is called 'Fragments of Grace', which is a reference to what I call moments of a epiphany and moments of saving grace that I found in very, very difficult circumstances, was because I felt there was just too much hatred, too much misunderstanding, too much deliberateness manipulation of mistruth, in the world especially between east and west, especially between the western world and the Muslim world. And I have lost many, many friends in these eight years including journalists, including people who are from those countries, journalists that I knew who were from those countries, scholars, religious leaders, people that I just got to know as friends, every one suffers. There cannot be a winner in the war on terror. We are all victims of it including the 99% of people in Muslim countries in the world, who also do not like Osama Bin Laden and do not believe in blowing up the World Trade Center. It is really important that we try to understand each other more and I really worry that if we get to the point where all we have is a few little images on the screen, of a bombing here and there. If we don't have people that are sent out to really try and understand these societies, then we will lose something not only important to be an informed civilized superpower but important really for the future of the world. I thought I would read you a couple of excerpts from my book which I hope you all buy, and I want to talk a little bit about a couple of very different kinds of things just to give you an idea of what I have been through and things that have been meaningful to me. I will read you something about Islam, couple of paragraphs about Islam. 'The call of the Muezzin is one of the most haunting, seductive sounds I have ever heard. Many times the first call to prayer, Fajr, has woken me from half sleep in Peshawar or Lahore before dawn pulling me toward it and I imagine following the notes through the misty air and the twisting alleys of a sleeping city to a cavernous vaulted sanctuary where old men bowed and murmured in the warm, familiar gloom. Many times at dusk, hearing the first notes of Maghrib, the evening call to prayer, I have flung open my hotel window in Srinagar or Kandahar and leaned out, closing my eyes and listening until the last echo died away. The sound is both a lullaby and an awakening; a call to worship that is slowly builds to an irresistible crescendo. First a single quavering voice rises from one minaret and then a second gravelly one joins in a few blocks away. The voices multiply, lending into an endless cacophonia hum neither in harmony nor in competition. It is like a joyous chorus of the deaf who can only hear God, and sing only to him. These are the sentinels of a faith that moves to timeless rhythms and unchanging beliefs. God is great, there is no other god, awake, arise, come and worship. The call has gone out for centuries and I am far from the first westerner to feel or describe its lure. Islam is not my religion and never will be. I have seen far too much hatred and bloodshed and oppression perpetrated in its name. Even the mosque itself, the source of the siren call that beckons me so, is off limits to women in most countries. And yet there is something appealing in the simple message, especially to someone like me, caught up in frantic modern pursuits that says we must distill life to its essence, slow down, set aside worldly things, and put God first. That is the introduction to my first chapter about Islam in Pakistan. I thought I would read you something from a very different country. I spent a bit of time in Nepal. May be some of you have been there; it is a beautiful, beautiful country. Many tourists go there to trek and to see the Himalayas and it is just a lovely place. But, you know, I am a journalist. So I don't go places to climb mountains, I go places when there is bad news. And the first time I went to Nepal was because there were communists killing people in the hinterlands. The second time I went to Nepal was because the Royal Prince had murdered his entire family. I shouldn't make light of this. But, there all of us were in an airport by which I mean myself and may be 50 other western journalists. Most of us had never been to Nepal ever possibly once. We didn't know the name of the king who had been murdered; we didn't know the name of the prince who had murdered his family. We knew nothing. So we ended up all jetting into Nepal in the middle of the night and trying to figure out what had happened in this very hermitic dynasty. We were not allowed in the palace, the police would tell us nothing. All we knew was that the entire royal family had been massacred and again I don't mean to make light of this. But the way it appeared to us, when the police were describing, 'you know, there was a billiard room, there was a parlor, there was a bar and the king had died here and the prince had died there', we were, it was like playing Clue. You know, it had this bizarre surreal feeling that didn't seem to be that they were human beings. These are people that most Nepalese had never met actually; a very, very sealed off kind of dynasty. Very bizarre story to cover and we did our best. We were playing detectives basically in a country we knew nothing about. But we were doing our jobs; we were doing the best to find out the news. But it was a very odd feeling. I spent two weeks on total overdrive, competing with the best journalists in the world to find out about a murder of people I had never met. It was a very odd feeling. No empathy at all; I felt nothing for these people who were lying butchered on the floor of their palace. Very odd feeling, and then the day before I was about to leave Nepal, still feeling very odd, I had done my job, I got all my stories on the front page, big headlines, but feeling very incomplete and feeling very strange. I stopped on my way out of the country at a place I had been, wanting to go the whole time I had been there. It was a shelter for teenage girls who had been rescued from prostitution in India. And I spent the afternoon there and it was one of the best afternoons of my life. And I want to read a short passage from that afternoon. It is one of my favorite passages in the book and it tells you a lot about the title of the book. 'It was a plain little building in a poor neighborhood with no sign on the door. Inside were rows of metal cots with boxes of newly knitted mittens and caps. It was a shelter and training centre for girls. Most had been rescued from prostitution or abuse. Some had been forced into marriage with much older men; others had been brought back from the brothels of Bombay where they were priced for their fair skin, piquant eyes and slender figures. Two of them had been sold by their penniless parents to a traveling circus in India for 50 dollars. When I entered the building I was seared by the sight that greeted me. Twenty girls were huddled on a mat engrossed in a discussion. Their chatter died to silence when they saw me. Their eyes had that hard, far away look I had seen in the street urchins of Kabul; a look that always broke my heart. The girls began to tell me their stories. One 20-year-old recounted shyly how she and her sister had been contracted as circus workers by their parents when they were 10 or 15. 'For five years', she said, 'I cried everyday.' Another girl was sitting on the mat staring sadly into space saying nothing. I asked if I could speak to her alone in another room. Her eyes were like huge black petals shining briefly when she spoke but then dropping back to a dull stare. When she began to talk her hands fluttered like tiny white birds. I could see why a man would want to possess her but I could hardly believe someone so young could have been abused so cruelly by so many. As an illiterate village girl of nine, she had been forced by her family to marry a 60-year-old man who drank and beat her. At 15, she had been raped by another adult relative. Her family was so ashamed they sent her to India as a contracted laborer and she quickly ended up working in a Bombay brothel. Seven months later she was caught by the police and sent to Nepal to the shelter. 'I never saw the sunrise or set', she said, 'because the windows were always locked. Every night they sent me 10 or 15 customers; sometimes they raped me or burned me with cigarettes. Sometimes they gave me tips which we hid to buy food'. She said she considered herself lucky because some girls die there. As I was getting to leave, as I was getting ready to leave the shelter I went around the room, I said good-bye to each girl and promised to come back. Suddenly, this young woman I had been speaking to, stood up and held out her arms. I started to give her a quick hug but suddenly we were embracing fiercely without a word, without letting go. She barely came up to my shoulder. I did not know her name, she began to sob, I stood there with my arms around her, imagining the horror she had endured, wondering if she had a mother; wondering if anyone had ever held her; wishing one hug could make up for everything, wishing I had a daughter to love. It was only a few moments but it was the first real human encounter I had experienced in Nepal. I had spent nearly two weeks in professional overdrive covering a massacre and riots as if I were a word spewing robot caught up in the heady race to beat my competitors; feeling little pity for slaughtered family of eccentric monarchs I had never met. Suddenly, as I felt this child shaking with sobs, against my chest, I too began to weep. It was a fragment of grace I had forgotten to look for and it was the ending to the story of Nepal that I truly needed'. Even though I wrote that story, after only one afternoon, it was also built on many, many years of experience. I had been to the brothels of Bombay. I had seen children sold into slavery, working in the streets begging in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan. I had learned about the culture of shame and honor that oppresses women in many of these societies. I had written about honor killings. I had come to understand another epiphany, which that it is much more about culture than religion; it is not Islam that teaches the oppression of women, it is culture. And most of the women that I wrote about, which I have some pretty graphic stories in this book, I find that it is really a misogynistic, village culture run by men who are terrified of the emancipation of women that makes women oppressed in these societies. It is not the Koran, it is not the Hadith, it is not the enlightened view of Islam which could prevail; it is narrow-minded, male dominated village culture which condemns millions of women in South Asia and Central Asia in the Muslim world to be oppressed. And I think this is a really an important point. Islam is not the enemy here, it really isn't. And I have spent enough time in these countries to know that what we are all up against is the same thing. It is narrow mindedness; it is fear of change. It is fear of liberating people to reach their full potential. There is a phrase that I cite in this book, doing a chapter about India that really struck me. It was one of those lessons I've learned, this book is full of little lessons that I've learned and one of them is this. 'Until I went to South Asia I had always taken for granted something in American Law, something in the American Constitution, something in what we value in our society which is the right to the pursuit of happiness; it does not exist for women in those societies. It doesn't occur to anyone that they have the right to be happy. And it is a very heart-breaking thing to learn but at the same time, it means, I will never, ever, ever again take for granted the freedom that I have, to stand up here and speak, to travel, to work, to be in foreign countries. You know, I go to Afghanistan and the first thing people say is, 'where is your husband, where are your children, who allowed you out of the house?' and I think, nobody did, I am allowed, I am American, I am allowed to do this. It is a very powerful feeling when you realize how lucky you are to be able to do it. And then when I think about the fact that fewer and fewer people are being paid to do what I do, it worries me. We need more people not like me, not just because I am, me we need people who can go out, who have the right to go out and explore the way that I have been extraordinarily privileged to explore for the last 32 years of my life. I have the best job in the world. I have taken enormous risks; I am incredibly lucky to be alive. I am incredibly lucky to be standing here. I wouldn't change a minute I wouldn't trade a word. I feel incredibly blessed to have seen the things I have seen even though I have seen horrible things, some of which I would never even put in print. Let me stop in a minute so you can have some discussions, questions but I will add just a five minute description of the other things that I do, which is the passion of my life, which is animals and you know Afghanistan is quite a cruel society and people there really don't know what pets are. And I opened an animal shelter in Afghanistan several years ago and it is now two-and-a-half years old. It is going strong. I raise all the money for it myself and we have a full time Afghan staff there and we take in any cat or dog or small animal that needs medical treatment or shelter and we try to find them homes. And if I could retire today, I would go there full time to help the animals. It is by far the most exciting thing I have ever done and the philosophy of our shelter is we help one animal a time and we reach one person at a time. And it is a tiny, tiny, little revolution and it has become the mission of my life. So I just thought I would mention that. Anybody who is interested in finding out more about it, I will be happy to talk to you after the gathering tonight. But I know there are probably quite a few questions and I am happy to answer all your questions. Thanks