A major controversy has arisen in the past few days over allegations that certain parts of Mortenson and Relin’s memoir Three Cups of Tea were fabricated. A beautiful narrative, the book deals with Mortenson’s experience in rural Afghanistan and his personal efforts to combat terrorism by building schools for Afghani children. Admittedly, some parts of the book were far fetched and questionable in their accuracy, particularly claims that he was rescued by a remote village on a failed climb of K2 and that he was kidnapped by the Taliban. In a defense, Mortenson did state that parts of the book were shortened or abridged for the sake of narrative proficiency and that the news media are exaggerating the extent of the controversy.
Nonetheless, to reject Mortenson’s mission because of rumors regarding the veracity of his memior is to miss the mark. Even though the title of this blog is “question the answers”, I still come in defense of Mortenson’s mission. The Central Asia Institute is a real nonprofit that does construct schools for girls in rural Afghanistan. In short, Mortenson’s mission holds that if young Afghanis are given a modern, world-encompassing education then extremist groups like the Taliban will run out of people to commit acts of terrorism. If Mortenson were to exaggerate aspects of his story, the mission of his nonprofit remains unchanged and commendable. While his journalistic ethics may be impugned and questioned, the philosophy backing his educational quest remains moving and worthy of enthusiastic support.
Needless to say, I will be keeping a close eye on the investigation of the CAI and will be open to reconsidering whether or not this non-profit will remain worthy of support.