December 12, 2008
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 12/12/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
In deference to the morals and traditions of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, Army General Order 1 Bravo prohibits the consumption of alcohol, engaging in sex, and a myriad of other staples of young male American life.
One of the lesser tenets buried in the rules of Army General Order 1Bravo is the prohibition of distributing religious materials, as well as other evangelical activities. This was a rule founded in common sense, that prevents numerous chances for friction between US Soldiers and Local Nationals.
But General Order 1B is in no way a gag order on religion, and I witnessed many a friendly religious debate between US soldiers and the Muslims we met on a daily basis.
I had a unique role in many of these religious debates, as I was the lone Atheist on my small specialized US Army team embedded in the Afghan Army. I remember many cold nights, sitting on worn mats drinking Chai in cramped, smoky huts, pondering great religious subjects with my Afghan Interpreters, Afghan soldiers, and fellow US Soldiers. The Christians and Muslims in these amateur theology debates went back and forth with claims about the veracity of their faith. I never saw anyone converted during these conversations, but there was one thing they all agreed on. That sole point of consensus was the fact that I, the lone Atheist, was going to hell.
Despite my best attempts to explain my worldview, half the Afghans couldn't take me seriously. The other half took me for my word, and made efforts to reassure me that they wouldn't hold my belief against me, even though I was surely doomed to hell.
And then there was Fayez. During one of these religious discussions, he floored everyone when he stated that my faith in man to do good deeds without intervention or guidance from God, was a possibility they all should consider as being true. This was a brave thing to do in a country that even today stones people to death for questioning Islam.
Fayez was one of our interpreters, a soft spoken teenager who seemed out of place brandishing an AK 47 out on combat missions. In our country, he would have been the kid in the high school drama club, too skinny to play sports, and too nerdy to get a girlfriend. But in Afghanistan, his intelligence and proficiency in English meant he was on the front lines in war, earning a high salary to support his large family back in Kabul.
I am often reminded of this moment when Fayez spoke in support of my beliefs, at great risk to himself. He was a brave young man, even though he didn't look the part. Fayez was always a ray of hope when I pondered the future of Afghanistan. He was intelligent, tolerant, and decent to others in all his interactions with everyone.
I recently received an email from one of our Afghan interpreters informing me that Fayez had been killed in action. The HUMVEE he was riding in had been hit by a devastating IED that killed all the American soldiers on board instantly. He had survived the initial blast, but was subsequently captured by the Taliban, tortured, and then killed.
It's disturbing news like this, of a friend cut down in the summer of his youth, that shakes one's faith to the core. This equally applies to a person like me, who holds no religious faith. I find myself in an awkward position of hoping there is a heaven, and that the rewards promised to the faithful in the Koran, which Fayez patiently and compassionately explained to us in our many discussions, are being enjoyed by him.
It would be dishonest to say that in the shadow of his tragic and cruel death I'm now a believer in the afterlife, but I can say that if there is such a thing as heaven, Fayez surely belongs there.