“For what sin was she created?”

A Hazara woman in Central Afghanistan. Photo: urozgan.org

“For what sin was she killed?” (Al-Takwir: 9)

This is a popular verse in Quran that Muslim preachers and orators use a lot in  mourning ceremonies of Martyrs. In particular, the Shias use it during Moharram days when they commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the prophet’s grandson in 680 AD.

This verse is part of the  Al-Takwir (the overthrowing) Sura, where God describes the Judgement Day and apocalypse. The Sura goes like this:

When the sun is wrapped up [in darkness]. And when the stars fall, dispersing. And when the mountains are removed. And when full-term she-camels are neglected. And when the wild beasts are gathered. And when the seas are filled with flame. And when the souls are paired. And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked. For what sin was she killed.  And when the pages are made public. And when the sky is stripped away. …………………. (The full text here).

The verse in question is one of the rare examples where God turns feminist and criticizes the long-established Arab tradition of burying the female children alive right after they were born. This tradition which had roots in tribal honor was demolished when the Arabs converted to Islam (however, still in many Muslim countries in the world, including Afghanistan, it’s a shame for a man if his wife gives birth to a girl – although they don’t bury the babies anymore).

Asad Buda, a writer in Kabul has written a lyrical short piece about his mother and rest of Afghan mothers, inspired by the above picture which shows a white-haired woman in central Afghanistan carrying a large load of plants on her back. The woman’s face is wrinkled, her body is bent, her cloths are old and dirty, she is exhausted of walking the long mountain road and will be even more exhausted until she arrives home. This is her entire life suffering in misery, poverty and isolation until the day she dies. Buda has altered that Quranic verse and asks: “For what sin was she created?” His question is addressed to God who should give an answer on Judgement Day to many millions of Afghan women. Only if that day ever comes.

Being a woman on Kabul streets

Women crossing the Sher Shah Mina St. (the road to Kabul Uni). Kabul / Sep. 2010

Today I saw an episode of Shabkhand (Farsi video), a comedy talk show on 1TV hosted by Asef Jalalai, one of Afghanistan’s most popular stand up comedians. The guest was the self-satisfied director of a horrible Afghan soup opera on 1TV, whose childish braggings aside, told a couple of good stories.

One of the rather funny stories he told was a real one happened on the set of his show on a Kabul street:

We were on the street to shoot a small scene on location, where the actress Amena Taqavi was waiting to stop a Taxi, get into the car and drive away. She was standing alone on the street and the Taxi  driver was waiting for me to shout “action!” to move, but before I could open my mouth, a random guy in a Toyota Corolla pulled over beside the actress and asked her to get into his car. My assistant waved at the guy to go away, but he insisted to “pick up” the girl, “it’s none of your business, I’m taking her!” he yelled at him. Finally my assistant went closer to him and explained that the girl is not a street woman, she is in the middle of a TV scene right now. As soon as the man noticed the camera and the crew, left the scene and let us do our five minute work.

As awkward and sad as it sounds, this story is the real life of women on  streets of Kabul. A couple of months ago, a BBC Persian TV reporter (Farsi video) followed two young women on a Kabul street for 10 minutes and he counted 6 cars attempting to pick them up by seducing or threatening words.

In part, this dirty culture has roots in street prostitution in Kabul. In a city of five million people, of whom the vast majority are poor, with a large population of widows, the growth of underground urban businesses like love trade is quite natural. Unlike other similar cities like Tehran and Lahore, the problem in Kabul, is that there are no (open secret) red light areas, where the prostitutes would work, therefore any woman on any street in any part of the city, by default, is regarded as a slut. Talking about his issue in public is a social taboo which makes it more difficult to find a solution; you can’t solve a problem that you pretend doesn’t exists. Afghan men, as far as I know, would not volunteer in speaking up on this matter, so it’s up to the Afghan women – the victims – to take action and raise their voices by better means than occasional street rallies.

Rabbani joined the long list of murdered leaders

One day before his death, Rabbani met Khamenei the Iranian leader in Tehran / Photo: khamenei.ir

Today Burhanuddin Rabbani the ex-president of Afghanistan (1992-1995) joined the long list of Afghan kings and presidents who were brutally murdered. There are only a few of them who were lucky enough to die naturally on bed. Rabbani was the chairman of a commission in charge of negotiating with the Taliban.

He was killed in the living room of his house, a fortified compound attached to the US embassy in Wazir Akbar Khan area. The suicide attacker who had a bomb in his turban (the new trend in Taliban attacks, probably inspired by this cartoon which I can’t put it on this blog for obvious reasons!), hugged Rabbani while greeting him and detonated the bomb. This walking turban bomb was the last thing Rabbani hugged. His brutal death simply means that nowhere is secure and no one is safe in Afghanistan. The Taliban group doesn’t believe in peace and doesn’t want to participate in an inclusive government where women and minority rights are respected, they are shouting this very loud; but it’s the Karzai administration and its western supporters who are not listening.

It’s about three years now that Karzai is surrounded by former members of Hizb-e Islami in the palace who are clearly Taliban sympathizers and anti-west. Recently Wahid Omar, the president’s spokesman had to resign because of the conflicts erupted between him and the new chief of staff Karim Khurram who is famous for being against the free media and in favor of Talibani ideas.

The naive Karzai has this illusion of cutting a peace deal with the Taliban and bringing them into his government, but he definitely doesn’t get it that Taliban are not fighting for peace, they fight for victory. Karzai should stop listening to his sick and misleading circle, instead, he should listen to the sound of explosions that killed his father, his brother, his allies Juma-Khan and president Rabbani.

Rabbani was not a person to be missed that much, he was the starter of the 1992-1995 ethnic wars on which the current corrupt Afghan political structure was formed. However, his death today in this political atmosphere is a blow to the government front and will definitely have a terrifying affect on the public.  I am not happy for his death.

Kabuliwala – “The Kabuli Man”

The awesome poster for Kabuliwala film 1957.

Kabuliwala (originally Cabuliwala) is a short story by Rabindranath Tagore (b. 1861 – 1941), India’s most celebrated literary figure and a Noble Laureate. Kabuliwala which literally means “The Kabuli Man” (better known in English as “The Fruitseller from Kabul”), is a story about the ancient and romantic friendship between India and Kabul city, which in my opinion, is the most Indianized city of Afghanistan after Jalalabad. Kabuliwala, as “one of the most iconic characters from Indian literature and cinema” has been the reference to many Indian art and cultural products over the decades. The story was adapted into at least three Indian films; one in 1957 by Tapan Sinha in Bengali, the other in 1961 by Hemen Gupta in Hindi, the last one in 1993 by Siddique in Malayalam, all with the same name.

Of the three films, I have seen the 1957 one which is a charming classical Indian movie with good performances and very good old Kabuli and Indian songs.  This film was selected in the competition section of the 7th Berlinale in 1957 and even won an award— it was the time, Indian cinema was not invaded yet by “Bollywood” gangsters. You can watch the English-subtitled version of the movie in full on Youtube, where I watched it.

But if you don’t have the time to read two hours of subtitles, do yourself a favor and read the original story by Tagore in the following, which will take 15 minutes or less.

…………………………………………….

Kabuliwala

By Rabindranath Tagore

My five years’ old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in silence. Her mother is often vexed at this, and would stop her prattle, but I would not. To see Mini quiet is unnatural, and I cannot bear it long. And so my own talk with her is always lively.

One morning, for instance, when I was in the midst of the seventeenth chapter of my new novel, my little Mini stole into the room, and putting her hand into mine, said: “Father! Ramdayal the doorkeeper calls a crow a krow! He doesn’t know anything, does he?”

Before I could explain to her the differences of language in this world, she was embarked on the full tide of another subject. “What do you think, Father? Bhola says there is an elephant in the clouds, blowing water out of his trunk, and that is why it rains!”

And then, darting off anew, while I sat still making ready some reply to this last saying, “Father! what relation is Mother to you?”

“My dear little sister in the law!” I murmured involuntarily to myself, but with a grave face contrived to answer: “Go and play with Bhola, Mini! I am busy!”

The window of my room overlooks the road. The child had seated herself at my feet near my table, and was playing softly, drumming on her knees. I was hard at work on my seventeenth chapter, where Protrap Singh, the hero, had just caught Kanchanlata, the heroine, in his arms, and was about to escape with her by the third story window of the castle, when all of a sudden Mini left her play, and ran to the window, crying, “A Kabuliwallah! a Kabuliwallah!” Sure enough in the street below was a Kabuliwallah, passing slowly along. He wore the loose soiled clothing of his people, with a tall turban; there was a bag on his back, and he carried boxes of grapes in his hand.

I cannot tell what were my daughter’s feelings at the sight of this man, but she began to call him loudly. “Ah!” I thought, “he will come in, and my seventeenth chapter will never be finished!” At which exact moment the Kabuliwallah turned, and looked up at the child. When she saw this, overcome by terror, she fled to her mother’s protection, and disappeared. She had a blind belief that inside the bag, which the big man carried, there were perhaps two or three other children like herself. The pedlar meanwhile entered my doorway, and greeted me with a smiling face.

So precarious was the position of my hero and my heroine, that my first impulse was to stop and buy something, since the man had been called. I made some small purchases, and a conversation began about Abdur Rahman, the Russians, the English, and the Frontier Policy.

As he was about to leave, he asked: “And where is the little girl, sir?”

And I, thinking that Mini must get rid of her false fear, had her brought out.

She stood by my chair, and looked at the Kabuliwallah and his bag. He offered her nuts and raisins, but she would not be tempted, and only clung the closer to me, with all her doubts increased.

This was their first meeting.

One morning, however, not many days later, as I was leaving the house, I was startled to find Mini, seated on a bench near the door, laughing and talking, with the great Kabuliwallah at her feet. In all her life, it appeared; my small daughter had never found so patient a listener, save her father. And already the corner of her little sari was stuffed with almonds and raisins, the gift of her visitor, “Why did you give her those?” I said, and taking out an eight-anna bit, I handed it to him. The man accepted the money without demur, and slipped it into his pocket.

Alas, on my return an hour later, I found the unfortunate coin had made twice its own worth of trouble! For the Kabuliwallah had given it to Mini, and her mother catching sight of the bright round object, had pounced on the child with: “Where did you get that eight-anna bit? ”

“The Kabuliwallah gave it me,” said Mini cheerfully.

“The Kabuliwallah gave it you!” cried her mother much shocked. “Oh, Mini! how could you take it from him?”

I, entering at the moment, saved her from impending disaster, and proceeded to make my own inquiries.

It was not the first or second time, I found, that the two had met. The Kabuliwallah had overcome the child’s first terror by a judicious bribery of nuts and almonds, and the two were now great friends.

They had many quaint jokes, which afforded them much amusement. Seated in front of him, looking down on his gigantic frame in all her tiny dignity, Mini would ripple her face with laughter, and begin: “O Kabuliwallah, Kabuliwallah, what have you got in your bag?”

And he would reply, in the nasal accents of the mountaineer: “An elephant!” Not much cause for merriment, perhaps; but how they both enjoyed the witticism! And for me, this child’s talk with a grown-up man had always in it something strangely fascinating.

Then the Kabuliwallah, not to be behindhand, would take his turn: “Well, little one, and when are you going to the father-in-law’s house?”

Now most small Bengali maidens have heard long ago about the father-in-law’s house; but we, being a little new-fangled, had kept these things from our child, and Mini at this question must have been a trifle bewildered. But she would not show it, and with ready tact replied: “Are you going there?”

Amongst men of the Kabuliwallah’s class, however, it is well known that the words father-in-law’s house have a double meaning. It is a euphemism for jail, the place where we are well cared for, at no expense to ourselves. In this sense would the sturdy pedlar take my daughter’s question. “Ah,” he would say, shaking his fist at an invisible policeman, “I will thrash my father-in-law!” Hearing this, and picturing the poor discomfited relative, Mini would go off into peals of laughter, in which her formidable friend would join.

These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of dreams, –the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home, with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds.

Perhaps the scenes of travel conjure themselves up before me, and pass and repass in my imagination all the more vividly, because I lead such a vegetable existence, that a call to travel would fall upon me like a thunderbolt.

In the presence of this Kabuliwallah, I was immediately transported to the foot of arid mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst their towering heights. I could see the string of camels bearing the merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward towards the plains. I could see–but at some such point Mini’s mother would intervene, imploring me to “beware of that man.”

Mini’s mother is unfortunately a very timid lady. Whenever she hears a noise in the street, or sees people coming towards the house, she always jumps to the conclusion that they are either thieves, or drunkards, or snakes, or tigers, or malaria or cockroaches, or caterpillars, or an English sailor. Even after all these years of experience, she is not able to overcome her terror. So she was full of doubts about the Kabuliwallah, and used to beg me to keep a watchful eye on him.

I tried to laugh her fear gently away, but then she would turn round on me seriously, and ask me solemn questions.

Were children never kidnapped?

Was it, then, not true that there was slavery in Kabul?

Was it so very absurd that this big man should be able to carry off a tiny child?

I urged that, though not impossible, it was highly improbable. But this was not enough, and her dread persisted. As it was indefinite, however, it did not seem right to forbid the man the house, and the intimacy went on unchecked.

Once a year in the middle of January Rahmun, the Kabuliwallah, was in the habit of returning to his country, and as the time approached he would be very busy, going from house to house collecting his debts. This year, however, he could always find time to come and see Mini. It would have seemed to an outsider that there was some conspiracy between the two, for when he could not come in the morning, he would appear in the evening.

Even to me it was a little startling now and then, in the corner of a dark room, suddenly to surprise this tall, loose-garmented, much bebagged man; but when Mini would run in smiling, with her, “O! Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” and the two friends, so far apart in age, would subside into their old laughter and their old jokes, I felt reassured.

One morning, a few days before he had made up his mind to go, I was correcting my proof sheets in my study. It was chilly weather. Through the window the rays of the sun touched my feet, and the slight warmth was very welcome. It was almost eight o’clock, and the early pedestrians were returning home, with their heads covered. All at once, I heard an uproar in the street, and, looking out, saw Rahmun being led away bound between two policemen, and behind them a crowd of curious boys. There were blood-stains on the clothes of the Kabuliwallah, and one of the policemen carried a knife.

Hurrying out, I stopped them, and enquired what it all meant. Partly from one, partly from another, I gathered that a certain neighbour had owed the pedlar something for a Rampuri shawl, but had falsely denied having bought it, and that in the course of the quarrel, Rahmun had struck him. Now in the heat of his excitement, the prisoner began calling his enemy all sorts of names, when suddenly in a verandah of my house appeared my little Mini, with her usual exclamation: “O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” Rahmun’s face lighted up as he turned to her. He had no bag under his arm today, so she could not discuss the elephant with him. She at once therefore proceeded to the next question: “Are you going to the father-in-law’s house?” Rahmun laughed and said: “Just where I am going, little one!” Then seeing that the reply did not amuse the child, he held up his fettered hands. ” Ali,” he said, ” I would have thrashed that old father-in-law, but my hands are bound!”

On a charge of murderous assault, Rahmun was sentenced to some years’ imprisonment.

Time passed away, and he was not remembered. The accustomed work in the accustomed place was ours, and the thought of the once-free mountaineer spending his years in prison seldom or never occurred to us. Even my light-hearted Mini, I am ashamed to say, forgot her old friend. New companions filled her life. As she grew older, she spent more of her time with girls. So much time indeed did she spend with them that she came no more, as she used to do, to her father’s room. I was scarcely on speaking terms with her.

Years had passed away. It was once more autumn and we had made arrangements for our Mini’s marriage. It was to take place during the Puja Holidays. With Durga returning to Kailas, the light of our home also was to depart to her husband’s house, and leave her father’s in the shadow.

The morning was bright. After the rains, there was a sense of ablution in the air, and the sun-rays looked like pure gold. So bright were they that they gave a beautiful radiance even to the sordid brick walls of our Calcutta lanes. Since early dawn to-day the wedding-pipes had been sounding, and at each beat my own heart throbbed. The wail of the tune, Bhairavi, seemed to intensify my pain at the approaching separation. My Mini was to be married to-night.

From early morning noise and bustle had pervaded the house. In the courtyard the canopy had to be slung on its bamboo poles; the chandeliers with their tinkling sound must be hung in each room and verandah. There was no end of hurry and excitement. I was sitting in my study, looking through the accounts, when some one entered, saluting respectfully, and stood before me. It was Rahmun the Kabuliwallah. At first I did not recognize him. He had no bag, nor the long hair, nor the same vigour that he used to have. But he smiled, and I knew him again.

“When did you come, Rahmun?” I asked him.

“Last evening,” he said, “I was released from jail.”

The words struck harsh upon my ears. I had never before talked with one who had wounded his fellow, and my heart shrank within itself, when I realised this, for I felt that the day would have been better-omened had he not turned up.

“There are ceremonies going on,” I said, “and I am busy. Could you perhaps come another day?”

At once he turned to go; but as he reached the door he hesitated, and said: “May I not see the little one, sir, for a moment?” It was his belief that Mini was still the same. He had pictured her running to him as she used, calling “O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” He had imagined too that they would laugh and talk together, just as of old. In fact, in memory of former days he had brought, carefully wrapped up in paper, a few almonds and raisins and grapes, obtained somehow from a countryman, for his own little fund was dispersed.

I said again: “There is a ceremony in the house, and you will not be able to see any one to-day.”

The man’s face fell. He looked wistfully at me for a moment, said “Good morning,” and went out. I felt a little sorry, and would have called him back, but I found he was returning of his own accord. He came close up to me holding out his offerings and said: “I brought these few things, sir, for the little one. Will you give them to her?”

I took them and was going to pay him, but he caught my hand and said: “You are very kind, sir! Keep me in your recollection. Do not offer me money!–You have a little girl, I too have one like her in my own home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child, not to make a profit for myself.”

Saying this, he put his hand inside his big loose robe, and brought out a small and dirty piece of paper. With great care he unfolded this, and smoothed it out with both hands on my table. It bore the impression of a little band. Not a photograph. Not a drawing. The impression of an ink-smeared hand laid flat on the paper. This touch of his own little daughter had been always on his heart, as he had come year after year to Calcutta, to sell his wares in the streets.

Tears came to my eyes. I forgot that he was a poor Kabuli fruit-seller, while I was–but no, what was I more than he? He also was a father. That impression of the hand of his little Parbati in her distant mountain home reminded me of my own little Mini.

I sent for Mini immediately from the inner apartment. Many difficulties were raised, but I would not listen. Clad in the red silk of her wedding-day, with the sandal paste on her forehead, and adorned as a young bride, Mini came, and stood bashfully before me.

The Kabuliwallah looked a little staggered at the apparition. He could not revive their old friendship. At last he smiled and said: “Little one, are you going to your father-in-law’s house?”

But Mini now understood the meaning of the word “father-in-law,” and she could not reply to him as of old. She flushed up at the question, and stood before him with her bride-like face turned down.

I remembered the day when the Kabuliwallah and my Mini had first met, and I felt sad. When she had gone, Rahmun heaved a deep sigh, and sat down on the floor. The idea had suddenly come to him that his daughter too must have grown in this long time, and that he would have to make friends with her anew. Assuredly he would not find her, as he used to know her. And besides, what might not have happened to her in these eight years?

The marriage-pipes sounded, and the mild autumn sun streamed round us. But Rahmun sat in the little Calcutta lane, and saw before him the barren mountains of Afghanistan.

I took out a bank-note, and gave it to him, saying: “Go back to your own daughter, Rahmun, in your own country, and may the happiness of your meeting bring good fortune to my child!”

Having made this present, I had to curtail some of the festivities. I could not have the electric lights I had intended, nor the military band, and the ladies of the house were despondent at it. But to me the wedding feast was all the brighter for the thought that in a distant land a long-lost father met again with his only child.
-THE END-

The different roles a high rise can play in Kabul


The building where fight is going on, front side. Photo: CNN

The building where fight is going on. Photo: TOLO

The building where the insurgents are positioned, front side. September 2010

The building where insurgents are positioned. September 2010

Today Tuesday at 1:30 PM local time, Kabul was under attack in several spots in east and west sides of the city. The main site of battle was Abdul-haq roundabout, where four insurgents positioned themselves in an unfinished high rise building overlooking the diplomatic zone in Wazir Akbar Khan area.

When I was watching the news online on Tolo TV and CNN websites, I suddenly recognized that unfinished high rise from my last year visit to Kabul. Last year the same month, when I was in Kabul, I took street photos documenting the campaign culture during the elections. One building under construction in east Kabul took my attention, it was a tall high rise wrapped in a green curtain while  large banners of candidates were hanging from all sides of it. The building very much looked like a confused  Afghan man in a green Patu, or a sad Afghan woman under a green Burqa. A symbolically ridiculous showcase of the shaky Afghan democracy.

Today that building which served as a stage for democratic practices a year earlier, has turned into a scene of absurd violence, terror and destruction, or in better words, the Afghan realpolitik.

How soon things can change in my dear Kabul!

Where I was on September 11, 2001?

Falling man on 9/11 (photo: Richard Drew / AP)

On 9/11 day Afghanistan was in shock (of joy and sorrow) for Ahmad Shah Massoud’s assassination from two days earlier, so the terrorist attack in the US was not a big deal for ordinary Afghans, especially considering this fact that it was Taliban time, and people had no TVs and therefore had no idea about the magnitude of the attacks and dramatic scenery from New York.

I was in Herat, it was a normal evening in the madrasa, and most of the boys, as a tradition, were listening to BBC Persian radio – as it was one of the few sources of news from outside world.  I was not listening that night; I was in my room reading or relaxing. All of sudden, I realized everybody was rushing towards the radio in the courtyard.   No one knew what was going on, “the world trade center is being attacked”, someone said, “what is that”? I asked. “How should I know, the radio is saying.”

It took some time to realize what was going on, because at first the reporters were also confused, they were caught in surprise, they had to report it live without papers, and there were a lot of stumbling- which was interesting as it was the first time seeing the smooth-talking Iranians were so lost and confused and made silly mistakes.

I think that night we went to bed, without really understanding what was going on, just knew it was a terrorist attack. As Afghans who grew up in war, we couldn’t understand why Americans were making a scene out of an explosion; it was a normal thing we believed. A decade later, now I think it was not a normal thing. That was a fate-changing event for me and many millions of Afghans, who were taken hostage by the Taliban group.

Last year I wrote an article for the uOttawa’s English language newspaper to address a question I was frequently asked by Canadians. When they know I am an Afghan, they simply ask: “do you hate America?” I say no, I don’t belong to Taliban or their sympathizers who lost their power, as a result of the US military intervention in Afghanistan. As all non-Taliban Afghans, I am thankful to America for saving us from the Taliban tyranny. The 9/11 event was a tragedy and we are sorry for all who lost loved ones on that day, but for Afghans, especially the women and ethnic minorities, 9/11 happened to be the end of their miseries and the beginning of a better tomorrow. I am almost sure that if 9/11 hadn’t happened, I would be dead by now. The Taliban would have killed me.  I survived the Taliban only because I was a skinny teenage boy who was luckily didn’t look like his fellow Hazaras. My family was not rich enough to have afforded escaping  the country, so I am sure  the Taliban would caught me one day or another.

Anyways, this is the article I wrote (and sorry for the stupidly optimistic tone, it was two years ago!):

……………………………………….

Afghanistan: Occupation or liberation?

From an Afghan’s point of view

AFTER EIGHT YEARS of war in Afghanistan, anti-war movements in Canada and elsewhere in the West have started to raise a crucial question: is Afghanistan a librated country or an occupied one? Many answer the question themselves, coming up with a resounding answer: yes, Afghanistan is an occupied country. But it seems that few are willing to hear how Afghans feel. They are the subjects of this war—how do they feel about the soldiers from 42 different countries on their land? Do they feel occupied or liberated? As an Afghan, I want to examine the confusing line between occupation and liberation of Afghanistan.

In his short essay “Republic of Silence”, Jean-Paul Sartre gives a personal account of life under the German occupation in France during the Second World War. For him, occupation first and foremost is the limitation of freedom. “We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk,” he recalls.

We are already familiar with situations like Nazi-occupied France, Soviet-occupied Czechkoslovkia, and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip; legally, ethically, and politically there is a general consensus on the occupation of these countries. However, the situation in Afghanistan is more complex: is it right to say “American-occupied Afghanistan”? Is it possible to compare what Nazis did in France to what NATO forces are doing in Afghanistan?

As an Afghan who was a victim of the Taliban regime before 2001 and a witness to the American presence after that year, I believe that it is not fair to do so. For me (and for many Afghans) the American B-52 bombers flying in our blue sky on Oct. 7, 2001, were regarded as saving angels rather than occupying devils—we felt liberated rather than invaded with their bombs hitting Taliban bases around the country. Since 2001, we have been practising almost all our rights, “beginning with the right to talk”—a universal right we had been longing for for years.

Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban, and that means a lot. I remember those October nights in 2001 when American aircraft were bombarding Taliban military bases on the outskirts of my hometown Herat, in western Afghanistan: everyone was rushing to their roofs, pointing to barely visible aircraft, cheering and yelling out of joy, mixing the sound of their laughter with that of explosions. Strange but true, those moments were the moments of liberation. With each bomb, another link in the chain that had bound us for years was broken. War and violence are familiar phenomena for Afghans, but the Taliban regime was an experience unlike any other in our recent history.

To better understand Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, one should first understand Afghanistan before it. The Taliban were a religiously fundamentalist and politically racist group that ruled the country through barbarism and brutality. As a totalitarian state, the Taliban controlled the entire human being—not just their bodies but also their souls and spirits. Basing their actions on a radical religious ideology, they banned everything associated with life’s pleasures: dancing, listening to music, kite-running, shaving beards, cutting hair in a fashionable way, wearing Western clothes, photography, cinema, and television. Moreover, women were banned from walking out of their houses without a male relative, going to school, talking to strangers, and walking in high heels. When I was a schoolboy, it was part of everyday life to see those who disobeyed these rules being hanged on traffic lights or being whipped in the middle of street. Afghanistan under Taliban was a burning “hell on earth” as Afghans say. Considering all this, one can understand why the people of Afghanistan warmly welcomed the American bombs hitting the Taliban in October 2001.

Article 42 of “The Laws and Customs of War on Land” in the Hague Conventions of 1907 state that “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” By definition, an occupier must be considered a “hostile army.” In the Afghan case, which one is the hostile army: the coalition forces or the Taliban fighters? A national poll of Afghanistan conducted jointly by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD (the German public broadcaster) in September 2009 asked Afghans their opinion on the Taliban. The results suggest the vast majority of Afghans considers them to be the hostile army, and also illustrate that hostility to the Taliban remains very strong throughout the country; only four per cent of Afghans want them back, and 90 per cent say they are opposed to the Taliban.

Of course, no one wants foreign soldiers in his or her country—neither do Afghans. But we need them to be there in this critical time. Over the past eight years, huge progress has been made regarding the quality of life in Afghanistan. You would have to be blind not to see the huge difference in Afghanistan before and after 2001: under the new government, we have free media (20 TV channels and hundreds of print media); millions of girls are going to school; women can work as ministers, members of parliament, judges, journalists, and police officers; and there is an elected parliament with an elected president. I did all my school homework before a gleaming oil lamp, but my siblings are doing theirs surrounded by electricity and computers. It is evident that Afghan land can also grow the plant of democracy.

But why is only news of bombs and bloodshed broadcast on TV? The answer is simple: because other stories are not news for Western mainstream media. They only cover the insurgency, which is limited to southern Afghanistan where Pashtuns are living. Pashtuns—an ethnic group forming about 42 per cent of the total Afghan population—are the group that Taliban belongs to. International terrorists and Pashtun men from both sides of Afghanistan-Pakistan border area form the majority of the current Taliban, and cause trouble in this part of the country. For the most part, the rest of the country is peaceful and people live in comfort.

During the past eight years, Afghanistan has been struggling to establish democratic institutions with generous helping hands from other nations—institutions such as an independent judiciary, parliament, police, army, and free media to improve the young democracy. Of course there is corruption in the administration, inadequacy in the army, and civilian casualties in NATO attacks, but for most of the population these are not catastrophes of democracy, they are signs of the time: a time of transition from a painful past to a prosperous future, a transition from a republic of terror and tyranny to a country of peace and prosperity. These are the birth pangs of the Afghan democracy. Afghanistan’s dark days are over: what we are experiencing now is the dawn of a bright, new day. We are in a process of building a nation and forming a state and appropriately have problems to struggle with.

Sartre called France under Nazi occupation the “republic of silence,” and after the liberation of his country, wrote a prayer for France that I think fits Afghanistan as well: “May this Republic to be set up in broad daylight preserve the austere virtue of that other Republic of Silence and of Night.”

Amen.

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The link to the original source.

A female student of Kabul University, beaten up by dean

Zainab Khavari the injured student at KU / Photo: Bokhdi

At the social science faculty of Kabul University, a young female student was beaten up by the dean, Mr. Ghulam Farouq Abdullah, to the extent that one of her hands was broken, Bokhdi News Agency reported.

The student, Zainab Khavari, was in Mr. Abdullah’s office to ask him if she could participate in final exams, as due to her absence, she was not allowed to do so. Usually in some cases, the dean has the authority to forgive a student’s absence, if she/he had good reasons. Ms. Khavari has told Bokhdi that she has to work and study at the same time, so her absence reached beyond the acceptable limit.

According to the report, when the dean refused her petition and asked Zainab to get out of his office, she repeated her request, this time the dean lost control and attacked her with a stick; the academic assistant and a professor were also present. After the violent attack she noticed that her hand was broken, she went to the 3rd district police station, but no one listened to her, she then went to Afghanistan Human Right Commission, where she filed a complaint.

Physical violence is not very common at Kabul University campus; however, there are several incidents I can remember from my years of studying and then teaching there, when students were beaten either by profs or the security guards.

I believe this particular incident is the result of the intense ethnic hostility in Kabul University, as Zainab is a Hazara apparently a returnee from Iran who are mostly more expressive and self-confident in verbal confrontations.

Social science faculty is where the Hazara students are predominant in number, so the sensitivity against them is very high. Years of absence from Afghanistan’s education scene, made the Hazaras to rush to schools after the fall of Taliban in 2001 and this obviously has made some officials uncomfortable –though still the number of Hazara students at Kabul University is very small, considering their general population. In 2008, the chair of the philosophy department in social science faculty, a guy named Ahmad Zia Nikbin was famous for publicly ranting racist stuff against the Hazara people in his classrooms. The Hazara students decided to protest in front of the Higher Education Ministry, where one of the three Hazara employees of the ministry asked the minister to expel Nikbin. He was removed from his post, and then he returned after a while and took his teaching job, but not as a department chair. He also occasionally came to our department as well for teaching, I could say his knowledge of philosophy was embarrassingly little. However, he hanged a portrait of himself beside the portraits of Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and Kant on his office wall.

Anyway, the environment at Kabul University is really sick and dirty, the students are hostiles, the profs are ignorant, and the future is dark. I know more than one professor whose native tongue was Persian, but they still couldn’t read a simple Persian text from the book. This is catastrophe, I do not expect from these “scholars”, more than violence, ignorance and racism. The worst thing is that I don’t see any possibility to fix this; the only solution would be to remove them en mass from the university, which in this government is impossible.

Competition: designing logo for Afghanistan National Museum

The current Kabul museum sign on its facade. (Photo: ACH)

The Afghan National Museum has invited all designers to submit their ideas for a new logo for the museum. I think the officials are serious in building a new museum and they have started from a good point.

The proposed logos, according to the announcement, should represent the Afghanistan’s “rich cultural and artistic wealth from various historical periods”. At least two colors should be used in the design and the deadline for submission is September 30, 2011.

If interested, you can read more details in Afghanistan Cultural House  website (Persian).

Usually the Afghan business owners and government officials have a very childish, primitive and bad taste, when it comes to aesthetics issue such as architecture, interior/exterior design, sign and logo design and so on. In Kabul city, very few buildings and signs can catch your eyes, the rest as the graphic designers say, are just “Pakistani-style over-colored garbage”.

Those very few designers in Kabul who have some talent and education in the field, are mostly returnees from Iran; but they are very small in number and remain almost invisible comparing to the large number of returnees from Pakistan who can speak English and have better connections – but lack anything else.

I am not sure the committee who will finally choose the Kabul Museum logo, are real artists/art lovers, or the same ministry dinosaurs who doesn’t give a fuck to anything but money. However the very idea of announcing a public competition for the logo means they are aesthetically sensitive, and do pay attention to things other than money. As ACH is handling this, I assume the committee is consisted of some young people from Kabul’s bohemian community in West Kabul who are mostly seen in ACH’s café shop.

Anyways, this morning when I read the announcement I was so excited, it gave me hope that there are still people in Kabul who appreciate beauties and nuances in a building.

A new building for Kabul Museum

Kabul Museum (Photo: MastaBaba / Flicker)

The US embassy in Kabul is going to contribute $5 million to the construction of a new building for Kabul Museum. This probably is one of the best news coming out of that embassy, this year so far.  The very idea of having a museum which could justly represent the long and turbulent history of the country is pretty exciting, but what worries me is that, the museum may be built like so many other government buildings in recent years funded by the US and other international donors in the country.

This is a museum after all; the architecture and building for a museum is as important as the things you exhibit in it.  I am sure the US officials and some of the people in the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture know that. With $5 million you can’t built a national museum, you are not building a ministry or a police office. I hope there is more money to invest in the proper design, construction, security equipment, preservation and exhibition methods for the new museum. I really don’t want to see a gaudy police office tomorrow, with blue glasses and a “National Museum of Afghanistan” sign hanging from top of its door. After almost a century of being cruel and unjust to this neglected institution, it is the time to do justice to this museum and build a world class building for it which could symbolize both the darks and delights of our history.

The history of Kabul Museum is as tragic and painful as the history of Afghanistan itself. The museum was opened in a modest building in 1918 on Bagh Bala hill (where Hotel Intercontinental is located now) as Ajayeb-Khanah (literally, “house of wonders”,  which is probably a misunderstood translation of the word “museum”, in Latin sense of the term). The collection was mainly historic manuesscripts of Quran, divans of poetry, items from the Anglo-Afghan wars and local handicrafts. In 1924, King Amanulla Khan moved the museum to the Arg, the royal palace where it was more enriched by the private donations of some Kabuli antique collectors. The museum remained there until 1931 when king Nadir moved it to the current building in south-west of Kabul, which then, was the Kabul Municipality.

Several times the collections in the museum were looted or destroyed, the worst one was between 1992-1995 when the mujaheddin groups used the building as a bunker. I am looking forward to read the book, which according to Guardian, Joanie Meharry an American scholar is writing about the history of Kabul museum. The tragedies of Kabul museum is a national embarrassment for all Afghan people who had a sense of belonging to it, documenting the history of atrocities committed against it, is a good way to remind us all of our responsibility in protecting the nation’s cultural heritage.

But “responsibility”? such a foreign word for Afghans!