How Sweet, Smart Kids Under Occupation Come To Worship Militants
In the heart of Kashmir, where happiness was a warm AK-47, the weapon was my voice, and my dream
For $12, I would fire seven rounds. After a lengthy sermon, the instructor finally gave me the AK. The cold touch of that metal and the warm finish of that wood were exactly what I had dreamed about for 20 years. I wanted to kiss it, like millions of those Kashmiris who in 1990 perceived the gun as a holy relic. I wanted to raise it in the air, I wanted to pose with it in various angles. I wanted to cherish every second of this magical moment. I was laughing inside, but couldn’t show my feelings for fear of making my instructor suspicious. I took a deep breath, adjusted my annoying ear plugs, straightened my back, and aimed the gun at the target—a block of wood hanging by a rope 20 yards away. “Look along the straightness of the barrel so that A-like bump at one end of barrel fits in a V-like bump on the other end and you can make out W,” said the instructor. “And then slowly pull the trigger.” Millions of questions were racing in my mind. What will happen when I press the trigger? How would the gun react?
I sighed, and my index finger slowly moved toward the trigger and there it was—the boom. Everything went so fast that for a moment I felt strange. I raised my head with a wide grin. The recoil action felt by my shoulder was minimal, opposite to the claims of my liar friend, who once frightened me with the assertion that the recoil action could break the shoulder joint of any weak person. At that moment I wished I could hug the gun and soak up the moment. I wanted to show off: Fellow Kashmiris, I have entered the other half! By this time my instructor was starting to feel uneasy with my abnormal behavior. He asked me to focus, as I had missed the target by yards. Who cares, I thought.
The second shot was a bit closer, but again I missed the target. The joy was increasing and the experience was addictive. On my third shot, I fired right into the target; I could see the chips of wood flying into the air as the bullet pierced the block. The sense of power was amazing and I was drunk on it. And it was just my third shot! Now I know one of the reasons why AK-47 is the most popular assault rifle in the world. You master the art within minutes. I blasted the target left and right. I wanted to bang my fist into the air.
As I reluctantly handed back the gun to my queasy instructor, I wished my friends were there. I wanted to show off, but to whom? I wanted to jump in air, but who will understand? My friends at Poconos too fired the AK-47, but for them it was just another gun. They didn’t understand what it meant for me and I didn’t even try to explain.
As we walked out, suddenly I thought, what now? What if I had fired the gun in Kashmir, what would have been my next move then? I felt a chill run down my spine as I imagined 500,000 troopers staring at me. I remembered in 1992 when 22-year-old Kashmiri rebel Abdul Rashid Parray was arrested by the Indian army, and they devised a plan to teach him a lesson, so that he would never again pull that trigger. They tied the tortured and half-conscious Parray and stretched his fingers. The next thing Parray remembered was screaming at the top of his lungs as the soldiers started cutting his fingers with a hacksaw blade. He thought his eyes would come out and his lungs would burst as the blade proceeded from severing the skin to slicing off the flesh to cutting the bone of his index and middle finger. He still lives to tell of the pain. On another occasion the troopers arrested a person, tied his wrists with a metal wire, and hanged him by the ceiling of a torture chamber. In the morning, they collected his body from the floor. His hands were still hanging from the wire.
In contrast, I don’t live with the uncertainty that somebody will tell the troopers that I picked up a gun, and no sniper is on my lookout either. I lived the history in Kashmir and I enjoyed the experience here. Today the freedom movement in Kashmir has largely moved on from firing guns to throwing stones to holding nonviolent protests, but a part of me is still stuck in that era of great change. I had to fill that vacuum and I am happy I caught the bus even if it was late. That night I dreamed, with open eyes, of running wild in the golden yellow rice fields of my village, screaming in joy, “I did it.” My friends cheered me on, and then everybody shouted in unison, “We want freedom.”
In the evening I called my home, but I didn’t tell them of my achievement. They would have definitely been angry with me. But yes, I told my friends repeatedly that I have fired the AK-47.
Meyer Habib will represent French citizens living in seven countries and Israel, home to half a million French speakers