DISPATCHES | The Media’s Flawed Record When It Comes to Afghanistan
by Rob Schultheis
Jan 12, 2013 | 1544 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The picture of Afghanistan Americans have gotten from the press is false through and through.  Pre-war Afghanistan was not a violent patchwork of tribes ruled over by feudal “warlords,” who did not exist in old Afghanistan and are far less prevalent today than the press would lead us to believe; applying the label to every former mujahedin commander who fought the Soviets and then went into politics is not only dishonest, it slanders many reputable Afghan leaders. 

Feudalism?  The great majority of Afghan farmers owned their own land, and still do. 

Violent? I traveled the breadth of the country by local transport three times in 1972 and 1975, and never saw as much as a fistfight or heard a single gunshot.  

Uncivilized?  The Afghans are world class irrigation engineers, architects and horticulturalists, and the country is rich with self-taught inventors; many Afghan villages have electricity thanks to locally rigged pocket hydro systems, and no one who saw it will ever forget the downed Soviet gunship that was turned into a teahouse and then equipped with a motor, suspension and steering system and wheels and used as a commercial mini-bus.   

And by the way, illiteracy does not translate as “stupidity” or even “uneducated”: one rural Panjsheri I know can quote from memory nearly 10,000 lines of the Sufi Hakim Sana-ie’s  complex verse (Sana-ie, by the way, taught Rumi how to write poetry).  

Portraying Afghanistan negatively makes betraying the Afghans much easier, of course.  The West employed the same chicanery to avoid interfering in the genocidal war that swept across the former Yugoslavia: it’s always been that way, so why bother to try and stop it?   And the racism that has accompanied much of how Afghans are portrayed makes it even worse. 

In their recent book No Way Out, writers Kevin Maurer and Mitch Weiss describe Aghan army recruits as having a “third grade intelligence” (sic) and being unable to draw a simple sketch of a house: “Many of the pictures were just amorphous shapes…Nothing that even resembled a house.” They were even weak physically: “most of the trainees couldn’t do a sit-up or a pull-up.” 

The fact that the book was even published, let alone not greeted with outrage, shows just how poorly Americans have been informed about the Afghan people. 

As it stands now, we will leave Afghanistan without ever having known, understood or appreciated where we were.

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