Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

Someone Asks Afghans What They Think. Finally.

Readers, you may be aware that some idiot from the 82nd Airborne took pictures of other 82nd Airborne idiots posing with dead insurgent fighters here in Afghanistan.

Now, before those of you in the “troops are always awesome because…Al Qaeda” crowd get too upset, understand this: they aren’t idiots because they’re in the 82nd (well, not really)…they’re idiots because what they did falls outside what it means to be professional and a soldier.

Yes, people do things like this. Yes, people take pictures like this

Yes, doing those things means that you are an idiot.

And I have the utmost respect for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Every day they are asked to do things rendered nearly impossible by constantly changing guidance and strategy. Theirs is a tough, tough job.

But doing those things makes you an idiot.

However, the bigger idiocy is the hand wringing by the Helmet Hair Kids on the talking head circuit who are going to agonize ad nauseum over “what this means,” and how it’s going to play here in Afghanistan. I may have had some thoughts on that.

My main point, which, honestly, I think may have gotten lost in the shuffle of my making a point about the non-accessibility of these photos via the interwebs to average Afghans, was this:

What would be refreshing would be a broad-spectrum series of interviews with Afghans from multiple walks of life who didn’t rely on their job with foreign aid organizations for their livelihood. Instead, what we’ll have to endure is more Kabul-centric anecdotal blurbs from graphic designers wearing pointy shoes and tailored suits.

The editors at The Daily Beast heard my pleafor actual journalism. Title of the article? “Afghans React to Taliban Corpse Photos.” No kidding.

“Insulting dead bodies is an insult to all of humanity,” Maulvi Abdullah Abid, a cleric who runs a madrassa in Kabul, tells The Daily Beast. “At the same time we condemn the atrocious killing of innocent civilians by the Taliban. We condemn whatever has been done by the U.S. and NATO over the 10 years against innocents, and by the Taliban as well,” he says. “Both are responsible for this worst human tragedy we are watching.”

That attitude is echoed by Aryan, a 45-year-old Kabul shopkeeper. He too is disgusted by the photos, he says—but not as disgusted as he is by the Taliban’s often indiscriminate suicide bombings and IED attacks and roadside bombings that have killed and maimed so many civilians. Aryan says the Taliban are nothing but tools of neighboring Pakistan’s designs on Afghanistan. “The Taliban are terrorists who kill women and children in bombings every day,” he says. “Their body parts and dead bodies should be dispatched to their motherland in Pakistan.”

Juma Khan, an Afghan soldier, says the Taliban’s acts are far worse than posing with an enemy’s severed body parts. “A suicide bomber like that one [whose mangled body is shown in the photos] could easily kill 50 innocents,” he says. “The Taliban have beheaded our soldiers and even cut off hands and other body parts before the soldier or policeman is dead. We are pained by the Quran burnings and by the U.S.’s killing of civilians, but we have no sympathy for terrorists, whether they are alive or dead.”

“Posing with the dead body of any Afghan, Taliban or not, gives Afghans a worse perception of the U.S.,” says Ahmad Farid, an Afghan student currently attending Islamabad’s Islamic University. “After seeing such images, I can’t understand how the U.S. can talk about human values, human rights, and obeying the rules of war.” What worries him, he says, is the idea that attitudes like those displayed in the photos might take root in his home country. “Those soldiers seem like a wild herd, running crazy abroad,” he adds. “I’m afraid that with incidents like these, the U.S. presence is going to change our Afghan values into negative U.S. values.”

That, other journalists, is how you get a sampling across a population: in a single article, you’ve captured multiple demographics giving differing viewpoints from the perspective of Afghans who have to deal with these issues on a daily basis.

Not by calling up Ahmed Rashid or Seth Jones, then strolling down to Kabul University and talking to some kids hip to the lingo and getting their thoughts on things because…the Facebook.

Thanks to the folks at the Beast for this. Nicely done.

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8 Responses »

  1. Great article. I teach a girls’ journalism class in Kabul and it has been amazing to share the views not only of young Afghans from a range of backgrounds through online platforms, but also to share the perspectives of young women. Check out this discussion we had with our exchange partners in Tucson on Osama Bin Laden’s death: http://tucsontokabul.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/osama-bin-laden-is-dead-what-does-that-mean/

    You can see the response from the US highschool here: http://tucsontokabul.wordpress.com/

    Having these types of discussions and outlets to share views of young people is super important and unfortunately the media rarely gets in depth enough to accomplish this.

    • OK, I reblogged that post. Didn’t realize you were part of the Skateistan crowd, which is one of the few things around here that does not suck. Great post, and now following the blog. Thanks for sharing that. Always good to see things that a) do some good, and b) don’t follow the usual narratives.

  2. You write with a rare combination of humanity and humor. I may not always agree with all of your conclusions but admire the directness of the observations you offer to better allow me, the REMF, a chance to form my own. Thank you for being who you are, doing what you are doing. Take care, be good and stay well

    • Thanks for that…if you’re seeing “combination of humanity and humor,” then I have indeed done my job well.

      As always, if you don’t agree with my conclusions, then by all mean, let me know. I’m keenly interested in not only informing others, but engaging in something that resembles a civil discourse.

      Thanks again for the feedback.

  3. Thank you for this and all your work on the blog. I’ve just recently discovered it, but I appreciate your honesty and perspective that’s worlds apart from what I’m able to find on CNN, Fox, etc. As a soldier deploying to Afghanistan shortly, it’s helped me better understand the environment that me, and those around me, will be stepping into.

    • Hopefully it’s informative.

      If you ever have any questions about anything, feel free to email me: kabul4ever73@gmail.com — I’ve deployed twice to Iraq before coming to Afghanistan, so we hopefully will speak something resembling a similar language.

      Regardless of that, stay safe.

    • Zack,

      Feel free to email me, too. I worked in Afghanistan as a roving civilian development worker. I enjoy answering ‘what the hell is this?’ questions. Transitionland at gmail dot com.

      Una

      • Zack, I’d highly recommend (particularly when it comes to what’s going on beyond the walls of Kabulistan here) that you email Una, and anyone else you can find who’s spent time here beyond Fortress ISAF. Get the ISAF kids’ perspective, too, but it’s going to be skewed considerably.

        Pulling from those various viewpoints is going to be your best bet to mission success, and you might actually learn something along the way. Besides where the kids hang out between ISAF and Eggers.

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