Q&A with Greg Mortenson
This interview by Aisha Jamil was originally published in Broadside, Mason’s student newspaper, in a slightly different form. Greg Mortenson recieved the Mason Award at this year’s Fall for the Book Festival, which was held Sept. 19-24.
“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.”
Those are the words of Haji Ali, Greg Mortenson’s mentor in Pakistan, who also was his role model and inspiration for the title of Mortenson’s best-selling book, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time.”
Mortenson, who has built more than 160 schools in the rural villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke last Friday, Sept. 24, at Mason’s The Center of the Arts regarding the challenges global education is facing today. He sat down with Broadside before the show for an interview.
AJ: Your original hardcover title was published as “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time” despite your protests. When you published the paperback version almost a year later, you had it changed to “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time.” Why?
GM: The publisher picked that subtitle and I didn’t like it. I do this [build schools] to promote peace. I don’t fight terrorists. Statistics show that one out of eight books make a profit so I was told that I need to have that title in order for my book to do well. I agreed with the condition that if the book did not do well in the first year, then the title will be changed from “fighting terrorism” to “promoting peace”. The book sold only 20,000 copies that year. The subtitle was then changed in January of 2007 and my book has been the number two on the New York Times Bestseller’s List for 190 weeks.
AJ: True or false: ignorance is bliss.
GM: False. Ignorance breeds hatred.
AJ: What would you say to the Muslim clerics that have declared two fatwas (orders to kill) against you?
GM: The first word in the revelation of the Koran was “Iqra”, which means “to read”. What Allah said is that we should seek truth and get an education. I have talked to imams and nothing in the Koran says that girls can’t go to school. And finally, I would say that in the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet), it says that the ink of the scholar is greater than the blood of a shaheed (martyr).
AJ: What do you think about the mosque building near ground zero?
GM: I think it’s a constitutional right that we have freedom of worship and faith. We seem to fight about constitutional issues but the real issue is about tolerance, education and healthcare.
AJ: And the 9-11 Koran burnings?
GM: Burning the Koran shows the greatness of the Constitution. The U.S. military burned Bibles in the Afghanistan that were written in Pashto and Dari because soldiers there weren’t allowed to give out Bibles. That shows our tolerance to be sensitive. But, there shouldn’t be a law saying that you can’t burn religious books.
AJ: Rallies seem to be the new norm these days. Have you ever considered having a rally for your cause?
GM: If I had a rally, it would be a rally for peace, education and tolerance. I have visited over 120 cities and I have seen more hope in those small communities than anywhere else. But, if there was a rally, it would be a rally hosted by kids and for kids. It has to be a rally that would effect change.
AJ: A school you built in the town of Olander, Afghanistan was attacked by the Taliban in 2007. Are all of your schools heavily guarded since then?
GM: No. No school has been shut down. Two schools have been attacked but in both cases, local militia came and killed some of the Taliban members and kicked others out. The militia leaders have their own orders to kill anyone who comes to attack these little girls or their schools.
AJ: And finally, a little off topic, but how does one know love in six days? You married your wife six days after meeting her. Have you considered writing a story about love?
GM: [Laughs.] I could write a story about love but my wife has asked me not to write about our personal lives. So, I respect that.
Aisha Jamil is a senior communication major at Mason with a concentration in journalism. She is an intern in the Office of Media and Public Relations.