Quote of the Week:
“The Taliban starved and worked for opium money for 20 years. Just like Vietnam - it all boiled down to who wanted it the most - and the collapse of the military was a work in progress for years. The gangsters we propped up was a rerun of the Shah, and when religious zealotry is pitted against a corrupt ‘western style democracy,’ the populous doesn't give a shit any more - until reality on motor scooters hits the fan ... and then it's too late for Uncle Sam to do anything about it.” – Gary Durrett, another Kansan transplanted in the City of Angels
The complexities of this week’s news regarding Afghanistan are numerous. How does any country ‘tame’ a country made up of tribes and ancient relationships? Were we just there for the oil and/or for the opportunity for those in power (Cheney/Rumsfeld) to make bank on the Military Industrial Complex? Did we have more noble pursuits? How is the United States, far from being unified these days, expected to unify any another country?
President Biden said, "In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it. More importantly, I made a commitment to the brave men and women who serve this nation that I wasn’t going to ask them to continue to risk their lives in a military action that should’ve ended long ago. Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man. I will not do it in Afghanistan.”
NPR assembled a timeline of forty years of Afghanistan upheaval that’s a short read. It’s been one shitshow after another. Maybe one of the points of all of this is that we westerners shouldn’t meddle in other cultures.
And just yesterday the Washington Post reported that the return of Taliban rule to Afghanistan will mean a return to sharia law, the group’s interpretation of Islamic religious law, ousting the U.S.-backed government. “There will be no democratic system at all,” Taliban commander Waheedullah Hashimi said in an interview with Reuters. “We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is sharia law and that is it.”
Have any of you read Michael Gruber’s The Good Son? It’s an ethnographic study/novel comparing the Western and Eastern mindset. Gruber investigates ethics in particular as related to Eastern tribalism vs. Western individuation.
On sharia law, Gruber pens the words of a man named Ashton as he is about to be beheaded:
“Everyone knows this, but everyone disagrees about what should be done. Some say, abandon the traditional ways and become just like the rich countries, but no Muslim country has been able to do this except Turkey, which is a special case and only partly successful. Others say socialism – or said, because that has proven a false hope. Still others say, and you among them, let us return to living under the sharia, the law of God. If you meant that, no one would oppose you. Who in the west would give two pins if you all decided to live simply and be devoted to God? In America there are people, Christians called Amish, who live as their forefathers did, without electricity or machines, simple lives of peace, and everyone praises them and even envies them, a little. Or there are Jews who follow the exact law of Moses and dress as they did three hundred years ago, and who bothers them? But you don’t want to live under sharia, if living so means living peacefully in a museum. No, not at all. You want to rule. You want all the goods of the west, you want Viagra and tanks and missiles and electricity and cell phones and computers. But you can’t pay for these things because you also want to remain ignorant and uneducated, so you become tools of oil sheikhs and sell drugs. You become the dogs of anyone who will buy you a gun. Is this the world of God? And who are these strangers you follow, from Arabia, from Egypt, who tell you it is forbidden to do things that your fathers and their fathers’ fathers did for as long as there have been Pashtuns? Were your fathers infidels? O Pashtuns, who taught you to spit on the graves of your ancestors?”
The man named Ashton goes on to say:
“The Prophet was respectful of women, of his wives, Khadija and Aisha, and his daughter, Fatima, and the rightly guided caliphs consulted them in Islam’s early days, those days for which you pretend a deep and reverent nostalgia. The Qur’an is not notably against women, not even as much as the Bible. So I must conclude that the oppression of women is not a by-product of the jihad movement but its purpose. What drives you to murder and suicide is not the love of God but the fear of women, of educated women, of women released from the absolute domination of men. Because women are a true mirror. They are more sensible than you are, they want their children to flourish, and if they were free they would look at you all, and ask, ‘O believers, why so poor, why so ignorant, why so despised by the world?’ And they would despise you too. You fight to prevent this, you fight to preserve not the modesty but the stupidity of women, and where you succeed these stupid women produce evener stupider sons – yourselves – and if there were a God he would laughing in all your faces.”
Other voices in the book expound on differences in the cultures:
He sits in silence, stroking his beard; she studies his face. For a moment the harsh Pashtun male mask he wears fades and a more contemplative person is revealed. They get that from the secret life they share with their mothers, she thinks. The poor women have only a single opportunity to acquire a fragment of power over their lives, and this is through their sons when they are small. But the women are stupid and beaten down, so they can rarely give their boys the spark of a strong opposite, the feminine introject that leads to individuation. And so the boys never grow up. They retain the brutality and carelessness of boys their whole lives, living on boasts and the good opinion of their gang. And they have the short attention span of boys and the romantic wildness, building nothing, dumbfounded by the civilizations around them, knowing as little of how a political order or modern economy is constructed as a six-year-old knows about what his father does at work. So they are doomed to poverty, the manipulations of others, and early death.
Dost Yacub was probably over seventy at the time, and one of the last traditional Pashtun storytellers in Lahore. He’d been a warrior in his time and had probably taken shots at people Kipling had known. He told stories about the war and feuds he’d been in, too, all about zar, zan, zamin – women, gold, and land – and in my child’s mind the stories of his adventures and the stories about princesses and jinns and man-eaters all blended together to make a picture of a different kind of world than my contemporaries in America were being pumped into them through the tube, none of that Sesame Street–Mister Rogers stuff there around the fire or under the hissing lantern. The fairy tales they tell American kids always end with “And they lived happily ever after,” but most Pashtun tales go out with heads rolling “And thus he had his revenge.” I mean, that’s the point of the stories.
A friend of mine emailed a link yesterday to a site that seems very legit regarding support for Afghan women.
Their Mission: Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is a grassroots civil society organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and New York. In particular, WAW works to help Afghan women and girls exercise their rights to pursue their individual potential to self-determination, and to representation in all areas of life—political, social, cultural, and economic. WAW relentlessly advocates for women’s rights and challenges the norms that underpin gender-based violence to influence attitudes and bring about change.
Their Vision: Women for Afghan Women is committed to working towards a world in which Afghan women and girls enjoy peace, justice, equality, and the freedoms to participate in all spheres of life and live without fear. Women for Afghan Women envisions a world in which all women and their families thrive and prosper.
And here is a Google Doc page of resources to help Afghan Refugees.
In Islam, God is believed to have 99 names in the Qur'an, known as the 99 Names of God…may they all protect the innocent in Afghanistan.
And yesterday, just to make this week bring another tear to the eye, the Texas House reached a quorum for the first time since July, clearing the way for new voting restrictions to pass after a record-breaking Democratic boycott had stalled the bill for weeks, creating a standoff with Republicans who sought the arrest of absent members.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is juggling his own case of COVID, applauding the Texas Supreme Court ruling striking down mask mandates, dealing with flash flooding in both Austin and Dallas, zero ICU beds in the major hospitals, all while ensuring brown people cannot vote. Impressive.
“This isn’t the first time we have dealt with activist characters. It’s deja vu all over again. Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic first started, and the courts ruled on our side – the law. I’m confident the outcomes to any suits will side with liberty and individual choice, not mandates and government overreach,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was indicted on felony securities fraud charges in 2015 that have yet to be resolved.
As an example as how fast policies shift, just overnight the New York Times reported that “The Texas Education Agency said it would temporarily stop enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates and the State Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing school districts to require face-coverings. Both decisions are temporary. The agency said in new guidance on Thursday that it would immediately stop enforcing the ban on mask mandates until litigations were resolved.”
A bit of good news came in from Heather Cox Richardson’s post from yesterday stating that:
Yesterday, the board of the largest school district in Florida and the fourth largest in the country, Miami-Dade County, voted 7–1 in favor of a mask mandate, in defiance of DeSantis's executive order preventing schools from mandating masks in order to "protect parents' freedom to choose whether their children wear masks." Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had vowed to follow the science of the issue. "For the consequences associated with doing the right thing, whatever that right thing is, I will wear proudly as a badge of honor," he said.
Businesses, too, are lining up behind vaccinations. Amtrak, Microsoft, BlackRock, Delta, Facebook, Google, United Airlines, and Walmart have all announced vaccine mandates, and Uber Eats cut ties with former NFL player Jay Cutler over his anti-mask tweets. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, generally aligned with the right wing, are all requiring that anyone entering their offices show proof of vaccination.
Speaking of Texas and stripping away rights for people of color, Connecticut Artist Winifred Rembert, known for his vivid scenes of the Jim Crow South—cotton fields, chain gangs dressed in stripes, pool halls, and church services—died this year on March 31st. I was not familiar with him until recently and thought you might be interested in checking out his vast catalogue.
You can read up on his life and work on the folksart.org website and his memoir, “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” (includes a foreword by Equal Justice Initiative Founder Bryan Stevenson) has just been released.
Also, check out this film, “Ashes to Ashes,” where avid “Star Wars” fan and master leatherwork artist Winfred Rembert connects with his dear friend Shirley Jackson Whitaker, who is on a mission to memorialize the four thousand forgotten African-Americans lynched during the Jim Crow era.
To sooth over the rough news of the week, Connie and I headed into the Santa Catalina Mountains on Wednesday, about an hour from our house, and experienced heaven on Earth. With the record setting rains this year (about 11” so far at our house, yearly average being less than 11”, and over 30” on Mt. Lemmon) it was a tropical forest. Absolutely stunning, and cool temperatures!