silent screamSpeaking of investigative journalism — last night I watched the PBS special Afghanistan Unveiled, part of the series The Independent Lens. The program was produced by the first generation of Afghani women journalists, most of them young women from wealthy families in Kabul. As others have reported, post-war Afghanistan is two worlds: Kabul, which is liberated, open and, if not flourishing, at least safe, and everywhere else, where the squalour, poverty and misery is unimaginable. The devastation and brutality wreaked by the Taliban was total — whole villages destroyed, whole tribes savagely exterminated. The people of Kabul hate the Taliban, but elsewhere their fearsome hold remains — women have no more rights now than they did before the war, and now they are starving, poverty-stricken and dying of diseases. Warlords, imposing strict sharia law on their subjects, routinely kidnap local women who they consider their personal property. A large proportion of the men outside Kabul are addicted to heroin, and treat the women and children abominably. The despicable chador is still required for virtually all women outside Kabul, and jobs and education for women remain forbidden. Men stand around idly all day — nothing to do except take drugs and fight. The young photographers risked life and limb to interview and surreptitiously film other women, admitting that this may have subjected their women interviewees to later beatings from the village men. There is no arable land, no industry or commerce, no functioning infrastructure in 90% of the country. The whole country outside the capital is literally dying of neglect. Drugs, guns, and crime are rampant. The international forces control only the capital, and out of fear for their own safety avoid the rest of the country.

Until the West takes the responsibility to disarm and replace the warlords, and rebuild infrastructure that was destroyed by the Western-financed Taliban, the mujahideen, and the Western bombs, the situation will remain hopeless. What a pathetic legacy we have imposed on these tragic peoples — no wonder Westerners are so despised in the Middle East.

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  1. Ahmed says:

    My father went to Afghanistan in the 1960s. He informed me much later…after the Soviet invasion, the country’s descent into civil war, the rise of the Taleban, the American bombing campaign and freedom-at-any-cost-policy…that the country had always been a backward shithole. Nevertheless, i suspect “disarming the warlords” and forcing a removal of the chador (which many women volunteer for) isn’t the best way to solve the problems.I’ve not been to Afghanistan, so i can’t corroborate my fathers sophisticated analysis. However, I have visited Pakistan and eastern Iran. The idea that that applying YOUR principles of liberty and justice to medieval pre-nations are suddenly going to make things better is sadly unfounded. Beleive me when I say that even the Western Liberal/Left can suffer from Hubris.The Afghan tragedy (actually over 100 years in the making) isn’t why the Middle East hates you. The Middle east hates you because for the last fifty years you’ve been telling it what to do and how to act and had no interest in listening back. You want them to love you as you are, but you cannot countenance loving them as they are.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Ahmed: Fair comment, though the suggestion to disarm the warlords and get rid of the chador isn’t mine, it was the overwhelming sentiment of the Afghan women filmmakers. When they interviewed the men, they all said “women wear it voluntarily because they’re devout”. When they interviewed the women (separately) they all said “please help us, we don’t want to wear these but we are forced to”. So, sorry, but in this I case I think we *are* “listening back”.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Ahmed: I completely sympathize. The Western world has a horribly distorted, prejudiced and offensive view of the Arab peoples. I did try to make this point in my earlier article about the BBC program showing how the French are mistreating people with Arab ancestry, by e.g. equating the Muslim headscarf worn by women with subjugation or even terrorist sympathy. You’re absolutely right to be angry. Your perspectives on my writing are very valuable, so please don’t feel alone, and please don’t give up on me/us. Many of us *want* to understand, and we’re tryin’.

  4. doug says:

    the german reunification has failed in that it has not produced a prosperous economy in the east. the formerly centrally controlled populace hasn’t taken advantage of the massive capital investment in physical infrastructure. they don’t know how, they don’t want to, a generation is in shock, ….?for you to suggest that the “West” should somehow replace the warlords, and rebuild the afgan infrastructure, begs two questions: what infrastructure is of use to people ahmed describes as “medieval pre-nationalists”, and what makes you believe that any “West” culture, rather than indigenous, should answer the first question? i believe ahmed’s use of hubris is correct and rather moderate. zealousness might be more apt. and i believe i share your desire for the best for all of us.

  5. David Hogg says:

    “The whole country outside the capital is literally dying of neglect.” This is a quotation from the post itself. I find it interesting, to say the least, in the light of recent assertions by the US administration that free and democratic elections have been successfully conducted in Afghanistan. I wonder how these two statements can be compatible.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Doug: Fair enough. My answer to ‘what infrastructure’ is universal not cultural: infrastructure to produce clean water, food and energy distribution, liveable housing, and indoor plumbing — none of which, say the filmmakers, now exists much outside Kabul.David: heh, I’m assuming your question is rhetorical.

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