[Reader-list] Pictures of Afghanistan!

rehan ansari rehanhasanansari at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 18 23:55:00 IST 2001

 Pictures of Afghanistan!--> By: Rehan Ansari
 October 19,2001
On a flight from London to Islamabad there were almost 60 media people, Europeans and Americans, and I am sure most of them checked into the Pearl Continental in Rawalpindi or the Marriott in Islamabad. I am also certain that one of their first field trips were to a madrassa. That they all reported back home about how boys are offered room and board, read the Quran by rote and over the years are sent to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. 

I wonder why these goras cannot look inside their own culture for jehadi understandings. Stanley Kubrick did in his film Full Metal Jacket. He shows a Marine boot camp where the commanding officer takes a group of young, impressionable, lower middle class men and within a couple of weeks graduates them as marines. 

Day in and day out the officer pounds into the men the ideas that they are worthless to begin with, that the only way to be worthy is to become living weapons, and in their fight the cause is god�s. 

The trouble with the New York Times and everybody else. They will not enter the homes of anyone of the kids who are in madrassas. The way to those homes is too cluttered and despairing. It is beyond their compassion. They don�t have the time to visit those homes, those families, those communities consistently. Their reporting at best is charity and at worst is a wish that this assignment was not something they want to deal with. 

For an entirely different approach see the cultural reporting Iranian filmmakers are doing. I�ll refer to the film Baran by Majid Majidi that has just been released, and premiered at the New York Film Festival. 

And the essay by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has also made two films on Afghanistan. They report with the conviction that their humanity and their destiny are tied to their subject. We experience the film Baran through a young Iranian man who works on a construction site in Teheran. He is a happy go lucky chota who fetches the workers their tea. Afghans work side by side with the Iranians. The key differences being the Afghans work illegally. One day an Afghan worker has a terrible accident and cannot continue work. Everybody knows he is destitute, and his wife has passed away and has young children. The construction supervisor reluctantly lets a young son of the injured Afghan work for him. This young boy makes better tea, and more � cooks fabulously for the entire crew. He displaces our hero, who now has now to perform heavy labour. 

The hero seethes with resentment and tries at every opportunity to humiliate and otherwise defeat the Afghan boy. One day he finds out that the Afghan boy is a girl in disguise. Soon after a raid on the site obliges illegals to be let go. Our Iranian boy decides to find out where it is that this girl lives. He journeys again and again to find her. 

The journey to an Afghan refugee settlement means being marked by the unsettlements of Afghan life. The risk of exposure to the cold, the lack of sewerage, the coming face to face with an entire population for whom the search for livelihood is constant, the tumultuous effects of news of the war in Afghanistan. Through him we experience the arduousness of the journey to knowledge. It is a moral journey. Again and again he tries to help the girl out by helping her family, sending them his own saved monies. All his efforts are in vain. It is a sufi journey in that one doesn�t win one set of goals but another. A cobbler tells him that if he gets too close to the flame he will get burnt. His budding sense of morality keeps him going. At one moment he sells his own Iraninan identity papers in the black market to raise money. By the end he still does not get the girl but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a man who has experienced a great moral journey.

Makhmalbaf who has made two films on Afghanistan writes a despairing essay (you can ask for it from times at iranian.com). 

He gives eyewitness accounts of mass starvation. "I never forget those nights of filming Kandahar. While our team searched the deserts with flashlights, we would see humans dying like herds of sheep left in the desert." 

He even has compassion for the Taliban, the tortured children of war. He talks about how the Saudi and Pakistani ruling elites continued to stoke the fires left behind by the Soviet and the United States. He creates a metaphor for the crumbling of the Bamiyan Buddhas. "It crumbled out of shame. Out of shame for the world�s ignorance towards Afghanistan. It broke down knowing its greatness didn�t do any good." One Afghan dies every 14 minutes.

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