What about the Afghan women?

20 Aug

Photographs like this are now being posted all over Facebook.

May be a black-and-white image of 3 people, people standing and outdoors

Whether by intent or through naivity we are invited to contrast this happy scene – no, I’m not being sardonic – with the “grim” news that the West is ending its twenty year occupation of the land those women, now in their early seventies if they still draw breath, were born into.

Here’s my perspective, a more specific take on my oft-made observation that the Western woke are being duped into acting as apologists for war criminals.

Back in ’74 I too saw women like these three, though only in the wealthiest suburbs of Kabul. In no other part of the country, and not even in most of the capital, did I see women unveiled and dressed like this.

Even before ‘we’ backed the ‘gallant Mujahadeen’ this was a deeply conservative culture. When I crossed the border from the Shah’s Iran – its countryside dirt poor but its cities comparable to Europe’s – my eyes were out on stalks at what I saw. Had I journeyed back in time to the world of Geoffrey Chaucer?

By the time I reached Kabul and, on a blazing hot day – mad dogs and Englishmen! –  hiked up one of its daunting hills to see how the elite lived, I’d gotten used to the medieval. Encountering Afghan women in Western attire, with attitudes to match, 1  had my eyes again out on stalks, but for the opposite reason. Had my time machine now gone into reverse?

*

The president then was Daud Khan. The year before he’d ousted Zahir, the last king, to make the country a republic. Later that decade the US were undermining Khan’s own ouster, Muhammad Takiri, 2 whose government oversaw gains for a wider set of women than that represented in the photo. Takiri also instituted mass literacy programmes and nationalised irrigation projects (ensuring the enmity of water-owning equivalents of feudal Europe’s land owners, including the higher clerics) and made other reforms all progressives would welcome.

The CIA worked hard to set what Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, would boast of as his “Afghan Trap” for the Soviet Union. In December 1979, with Takiri tottering and the USA stepping up the use of jihadists as its Foreign Legion, Brezhnev’s Politbureau took the bait. It had little choice and did so with great reluctance. The Red Army entered Afghanistan, in the dying days of the decade, with far more justification even in purely geographical terms than the USA and its junior partners would have in 2001.

Be that as it may, 1980 is when the dollars poured into Afghanistan, funding the Mujahadeen, 3 4 while the same media which now bewail the victory of the Taliban (and peddle to the credulous 5 a contradictory narrative on Xinjiang’s Uighurs) cheered them on as plucky freedom fighters.

*

And now? I am cautiously optimistic. Beijing will want the Taliban to desist from cross border meddling in Xinjiang, as will Moscow vis a vis the ‘Stans’ of Central Asia, and far off Chechnya. (Quite the opposite of what the Americans would be after.) For its part a beholden Taliban will be inclined to comply. Its aims have never been expansionist.6

That’s hardly likely to change given all that Beijing can offer. Afghanistan’s signing up for Belt and Road can give the east-west New Silk Road a southbound spur: a direct route through this landlocked country before crossing the narrow strip of south-east Iran to reach the warm water port of Gwadar, west of Karachi on the Persian Gulf. That promises an economic uplift which 20 years of US occupation, for all those trillions of corrupt dollars, never even tried to deliver.

I am not blind to the suffering of women in Afghanistan – or Gaza or Saudi Arabia. Nor should anyone be blind to the truth that other than for their hideous PR machine, such suffering counts for nothing with Washington, Paris, London etc. Their record of dealing with the Devil himself if it advances the investor classes who rule shows that, so long as it can be kept at arm’s length to minimise blow-back, no barbarity in the global south has ever been too morally repugnant.

Will the Taliban return to hanging adulterers in football stadiums? Lashing women for teaching their sisters to read? They might. But the West has neither the power nor the moral authority to stop them. And given its bloody failures – I’m being kind here – I’ve more faith in realpolitik and the moderating influences of China than I ever will in either the covert US forces we can be sure remain in the country, or the know-nothing angst of lifestyle columnists in the West.

*

Postscript August 21. I just got round to reading a Tariq Ali piece, Debacle in Afghanistan, sent to me a few days ago by my good friend Jawed Siddiqi. Written on August 16 and appearing on different sites including Defend Democracy, it contains this:

The fact is that over twenty years, the US has failed to build anything that might redeem its mission. The brilliantly lit Green Zone was always surrounded by a darkness that the Zoners could not fathom. In one of the poorest countries of the world, billions were spent annually on air-conditioning the barracks that housed US soldiers and officers, while food and clothing were regularly flown in from bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It was hardly a surprise that a huge slum grew on the fringes of Kabul, as the poor assembled to search for pickings in dustbins. The low wages paid to Afghan security services could not convince them to fight against their countrymen. The army, built up over two decades, had been infiltrated at an early stage by Taliban supporters, who received free training in the use of modern military equipment and acted as spies for the Afghan resistance.

This was the miserable reality of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Though credit where credit is due: the country has witnessed a huge rise in exports. During the Taliban years, opium production was strictly monitored. Since the US invasion it has increased dramatically, and now accounts for 90% of the global heroin market – making one wonder whether this protracted conflict should be seen, partially at least, as a new opium war. Trillions have been made in profits and shared between the Afghan sectors that serviced the occupation. Western officers were handsomely paid off to enable the trade. One in ten young Afghans are now opium addicts. Figures for NATO forces are unavailable.

As for the status of women, nothing much has changed. There has been little social progress outside the NGO-infested Green Zone. One of the country’s leading feminists in exile remarked that Afghan women had three enemies: the Western occupation, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. With the departure of the United States, she said, they will have two. (At the time of writing this can perhaps be amended to one, as the Taliban’s advances in the north saw off key factions of the Alliance before Kabul was captured). Despite repeated requests from journalists and campaigners, no reliable figures have been released on the sex-work industry that grew to service the occupying armies. Nor are there credible rape statistics – although US soldiers frequently used sexual violence against ‘terror suspects’, raped Afghan civilians and green-lighted child abuse by allied militias. During the Yugoslav civil war, prostitution multiplied and the region became a centre for sex trafficking. UN involvement in this profitable business was well-documented. In Afghanistan, the full details are yet to emerge.

* * *

  1. Though I say so myself as shouldn’t, I wasn’t too hard on the eye in those days. That hike up into the clean air above downtown Kabul was rewarded by a wolf whistle from just such a girl as those in the trio shown.  Flattered? Naturally, though gob-smacked is nearer the mark.
  2. The first version of this post wrongly had Mohammed Najibullah as Khan’s successor. Najibullah was the last Soviet backed leader. In 1996, having been president for four years, he was tortured and killed by the Taliban, which had emerged victorious from the civil war following the Soviet withdrawal.
  3. On the account books of empire, see yesterday’s post.
  4. CIA bypassing of Congressional oversight to fund dark ops through narcotics, in Afghanistan as in Latin America, is too big a subject for now – sufficient unto the day and all that – but a little investigating will uncover screeds on the matter.
  5. Credulity on the Uighur issue takes various forms. I’ll single out two. One is failure to ask the cui bono? question. While its answer can never be proof that an allegation is ipso facto false, it should but seldom does caution us to look closely at the quality of evidence on offer. The other is that of generalising, by Westerners who personally know a few emigres from the lands where oppression is said to occur, from tiny and statistically skewed samples. For a tad more on this see footnote 4 of the already cited post on Xinjiang’s Uighurs.
  6. In having no expansionist aims the Taliban are as one with a long line of rulers. The one exception is the Pashtun Question, where since British Raj days Kabul has laid claim to a Pashtun dominated region, in today’s Pakistan, of the Hindu Kush. Since the Taliban is Pashtun dominated – Afghanistan’s Uzbek, Tajik and other minorities giving allegiance to the warlords of the US backed Northern Alliance – it remains to be seen whether they will pursue the matter or whether, as seems likely given both their complex relations with Islamabad, and bigger fish to fry with Beijing, pragmatism will win out. This is a big subject, one I am currently reading up on though it’s worth noting that the Northern Alliance, as Tariq implies, is no less fundamentalist than the Taliban. I mention this because you’d be hard put to glean it from the simplistic good v evil narratives of Western media – their ‘quality’ market segments included.

8 Replies to “What about the Afghan women?

  1. Philip, I deeply apologise for commandeering this slot for a totally off topic matter. But I know you are a Bob Dylan fan – as am I. And I am deeply troubled by the recent news – not so much the allegations or even if they’re true but about how this matter is being handled in a media which has sunk so low, it is nearly impossible to come up with enough vitriol to describe it.

    Bob Dylan is now standing accused of sexual allegations that he molested a 12 year old girl. This allegedly happened in 1965.

    Now first of all, I don’t know the truth behind this. Nobody does – apart from the accuser and the accused. But I am utterly appalled at the reaction from the media.

    As has happened so often over the past few years, the allegation is taken up and trumpeted by the media without further ado. The law may – rightly – demand we observe the rule of “innocent till proven guilty” but the media follows a “higher calling”. All of this is depressingly familiar but what really gets me is the way this is being discussed in certain corners (or possibly in the main avenues) of the media.

    Take this discussion:

    https://www.mic.com/p/open-mic-what-to-make-of-the-child-sexual-abuse-allegations-against-bob-dylan-82874447

    The opening exchange is gobsmacking:

    Keith Nelson Jr.: What was your initial reaction to this new lawsuit against Bob Dylan?

    Brandon Yu: I personally wasn’t surprised. I have a somewhat desensitized and perhaps unfairly generalized attitude toward news like this that pops up: that almost all famous dudes of a certain level of power were all bad men from bad eras. And yet I should be utterly shocked! This is a deeply troubling allegation — if it’s true, Dylan was a pedophile, plain and simple. That leads me to another depressing reaction, which is my pure cynicism that regardless of what comes of this, Dylan’s legacy will be barely be affected, if at all, despite how truly devastating his alleged behavior was and is.”

    Dylan is not only presumed to be guilty but the professed expectation that his “legacy will be barely be affected” is clearly viewed with horror. Also note that “how truly devastating his alleged behavior was and is” i.e. the speaker is not merely assuming that Dylan was an abuser but that he still is!

    Anyone expecting Mr Nelson Junior to offer a contrasting view will be severe disappointed. Here’s how he responds:

    “That’s similar to how I felt because many who deride “cancel culture” do so because they feel it’s an attempt to rewrite history instead of a way to hold people accountable, regardless of how long it’s been.”
    The rewritten history is automatically assumed to be the way it really was. And people must be held accountable!

    Nelson continues:

    “My eyebrows raised in reflexive shock when I saw the headline, but relaxed seconds later when I began to remember our current climate, where the absolution that iconography once provided artists is non-existent. If it’s found to be true, I don’t know how his legacy isn’t harmed a bit, but it won’t be destroyed. I feel people who cemented themselves in pop culture decades before anyone who is cancelling them was even born are nearly impossible to fully “cancel.””

    Note that this devilish “iconography” once provided “absolution”. (And note also the language of self-righteous religious certitude.) But that last part is chilling: these “old ones” who were part of that earlier culture before “us wise cancellers” arrived can never be fully cancelled!

    Nelson goes on to excoriate Dylan from failing to join the ranks of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and seems gleeful about this next bit:

    “He’s finally being pushed into a modern discussion against his will, and if he continues to maintain this silence, it could come off as defiance to accountability. Plus, he’s 80 years old. It’s almost certain he has a hot take or two that could burn down his entire legacy.”

    Again note the breath-taking assurance that Dylan is guilty and what of that curious “hot take or two that could burn down his entire legacy”? Is that a threat?

    And speaking of threats, this from Nelson:

    “The alleged victim’s lawyer is firmly set on the belief this assault occurred enough for me to believe Dylan might settle this privately out of court. However, just one interview from the victim will make this unavoidable for arguably the most reclusive music legend of the last 30 years.”

    Questions begged: Why does the lawyer’s firmly set belief by itself impress the speaker? And why the certainty about the effect of “just one interview from the victim”?

    The answer lies, I think, in that trumpeting over the moral rectitude of cancel culture. This is the new witch hunting angle to usher in the new totalitarianism. The past is truly being rewritten in accordance with an attempted total erasure of the last half century at least.

    • I’ve picked up a bit of this news in passing earlier in the week George.

      The piece I saw – it might have been on RT? – contained a twitter observation from someone who the piece seemed to imply was a fan that Dylan was on another continent on the date of the alleged incident.

      This may or may not be the case, I don’t know. However, in a similar vein to the discussion you lay out above this potential fact (potential because it needs to be verified) is dismissed as essentially irrelevant in another tweet from some other keyboard warrior . The clear tone and message being that an allegation is sufficient to demonstrate automatic guilt and that inconvenient facts are simply wished away.

      I’m reminded of this quote I came across from an RT op-ed a week ago by someone by the name of Nebojsa Malic on the US hubris over Afghanistan:

      “the US political establishment got so used to creating its own reality and imposing it through media and entertainment, upon its own citizens as well as on foreigners, that it simply doesn’t know what to do when confronted with people on whom this trick doesn’t work – in this case, the Taliban.

      This sort of thinking was on display last week when a prominent “security expert” advised her colleagues to look away from the images from Afghanistan to avoid getting triggered or traumatized – as if what was happening would somehow stop or vanish if they just averted their gaze.

      I’m currently attempting to put together an article to publish on my Substack page to try and encapsulate this cultural phenomena and its wider ideological base in terms of its impact on the Labour Party in particular and the West in general.

      A Labour Party where leading figures supposedly on the left are comfortable with public statements that:

      “My advice to Labour Party members is that it is never OK to respond to allegations of racism by being defensive……

      …….The only acceptable response to any accusation of racist prejudice is self-scrutiny, self-criticism and self-improvement.”
      Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

      Where a co-chair of JVL, Leah Leveane, is retrospectively accused by the Party of attending a meeting of a proscribed organisation BEFORE the organisation was proscribed.

      This is the low level Western culture has now reached. As Phil wrote on a previous entry:

      “The postmodern emphasis on ‘narrative’; and rejection as old fashioned, quaint and uncool all talk of an external reality—independent of our thought processes but in principle accessible by empirical methods—has served, as some prescient souls warned decades ago that it would, thoroughly reactionary ends. If there’s no knowable reality, then all manner of key principles are eroded—such as the distinction between being accused of something, and being found guilty of it!”

      And yet the left are dismissing this as an irrelevance. A culture war trope coming from the right which can safely be ignored. Its bizarre.

      • It was possibly the best of the Dylan biographers, Clinton Heylin, who raised the objection that Dylan could not have been in New York at the time of the alleged incident. This provoked a response from a lawyer for the accused (referred to as “JC”). The Guardian tells us:

        “JC’s lawyer, Daniel Isaacs, has now responded to Heylin’s claims. “Looking at the [tour] schedule – it’s not inconsistent with our client’s claims,” he told Page Six. “There are dates that he wasn’t touring for several weeks in April and this will all come out at that appropriate time. The claims were vetted before the case was filed and we did our research. It’s our position that the evidence will establish that he was in New York during the relevant time period.””

        I find the wording “not inconsistent” curious. And I fear that this may open up the meme that the entire case now hinges on whether Dylan was in New York at the time. Obviously, proof that he wasn’t there throws the entire case out. But proof that he was there hardly proves that he did it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the media do their damndest to imply that that is the case.

        Certainly the whole tone of that Guardian article, like just about every other in the media, seems to be eager to join the accusers. The “not inconsistent” bit is in the very headline. The lawyer is also quoted in Rolling Stone:

        “The complaint speaks for itself … and our allegations shall be proven in the appropriate venue: A court of law.”

        Naturally you expect any lawyer to blow his trumpet for his case but I’m curious about that vacuous “the complaint speaks for itself”. What on earth does that mean? That the complaint is some kind of objective matter and doesn’t need a complainer?

        The Telegraph leads with: “Bob Dylan fans scour old tour dates to exonerate musician from sex abuse claims” which make it sound as if the fans are desperate to “cover for him”.

        The WSWS has been following the entire MeToo matter and has rightly noted its vengeful witch hunting manner. See here:

        https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/12/wein-m12.html

        For all I know, Harvey Weinstein may indeed be a sleaze ball, but the media had vilified him so gleefully that his eventual trial was irrelevant. Had he been acquitted (he wasn’t) the media would have trumpeted about corruption.

        Referring to Justice James A. Burke’s prison sentence, the WSWS says,

        “Burke’s brutal action was an obviously and overtly political one. The judge had no intention of coming under fire like Judge Aaron Persky, who sat on the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. Persky handed down a relatively humane decision in the Brock Turner sexual assault case in 2016 and was turned out of office in a recall vote.”

        And the most dismal aspect of this fiasco is that the comments given on the WSWS are mainly in the vengeful witch hunting mode. The following is typical:

        “I guess we have to explain this over and over: Today Weinstein, tomorrow someone you like.”

        At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, this isn’t far removed from the mood in Nazi Germany.

        • You two seem to have this covered. Other than that I too am a huge admirer of the bard’s vast canon – and, yes, unlike Germaine Greer I do think it justified that Nobel Prize – I have only two things to say.

          One, Bob Dylan, like Woody Allen, is innocent. Why? Because he hasn’t been found guilty. Bill Roach (Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow) is also innocent, acquitted after having his name dragged through the mud. Cliff Richard not same but simmler. Mike Tyson was convicted of raping Desiree Washington but, as with most trials for rape, at issue was not whether sex took place but whether it was consensual. With forensics irrelevant the defence told one story, the prosecution another. Then the jury got to say which story it liked best. After the criminal conviction, Ms Washington put in a multi million dollar civil suit. You see the problem, and what the five men have in common.

          That brings me to, two, why this thread, though tangential, is relevant. The deeper thrust of my post is the repurposing of noble causes – stand up for women’s rights! … Don’t let sex predators get away with it! – to serve ignoble agendas: in the one case to divert attention from war crimes …

          If western mass media were anything remotely resembling what they purport to be, they would be making sure the public understands how badly their government just fucked them. Instead it’s “Oh no, those poor Afghan women.” Caitlin Johnstone

          … in the other to undermine that vital principle of jurisprudence, the presumption of innocence.

          (And if the world ever forgets how useful those ‘rape’ smears were in undermining ‘woke’ support for Julian, it won’t be for lack of effort on my part!)

          As I said in a recent post, ‘there is a very real and very frightening drift towards greater authoritarianism but this is often as not coming in with IdPol cover, to applause from progressives’.

          • The Alex Salmond case demonstrates this particular zeitgeist. Even with the biased reporting the jury threw out the charges . Yet the media, the SNP AND a whole array of keyboard warriors denied their witch burning spectacle continue to insinuate guilt and/or deny the substantial evidence of a deliberate campaign against the former First Minister by political enemies who happen to have impeccable woke credentials.

            To paraphrase Stuart Campbell from wings:

            You shouldn’t believe men and you shouldn’t believe women. You shouldn’t believe black people or white people, straight people, gay people, binary or trans people, left handed people or ginger haired people. You should only believe the facts because facts are the cornerstone of civilization. Anything else leads to lynchings and witch hunts and the breakdown of society.

            Western society has got used to having imposed on it made up fantasy realities that the mass of the populace are now copying the elites who construct these narratives in the same way. And, as Phil says, it’s the self proclaimed ‘ progressive left’ who are leading the charge and trying to kid itself that there’s no problem, nothing to see here, it’s just all a right wing trope which we can all safely ignore.

            • Good quote that, from Stuart Campbell. True, we do in the real world have – in the all too frequent absence of smoking gun factual evidence and/or the presence of conflictual evidence – to draw conclusions based on plausibility; on weighing the relative credibility of competing claims and claimants. But we should do so with great care and the awareness we may be wrong. Neither approach is much in evidence in these matters!

              To Campbell’s examples we can add children. In my day, kids were deemed habitual liars; their word on such grave matters worthless. Then the pendulum swung the other way, with alarming consequences, until Elizabeth Loftus’s ‘false memory syndrome‘ brought a degree of sanity.

  2. Off topic again but ….

    Shock horror:

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/aug/21/keir-starmer-ill-paint-a-picture-of-my-vision-in-primary-colours

    “Keir Starmer has told Labour that it has to modernise and become “the party of the next 10 or 20 years” if it is to stand a chance of winning the next election, as he vowed to place winning above his popularity across the party.

    Starmer signalled he may be preparing to make a more explicit departure from the 10 pledges he signed up to during his leadership campaign, which contained many policies backed by Jeremy Corbyn and earned him significant support from the left of the party. Pledges included abolishing tuition fees, increasing tax on the richest and backing “common ownership” of key utilities. Moving away from them will mean Starmer faces anger within his own ranks.”

  3. I recall many years ago listening to a former TUC GS at a University lecture on the subject of visions. His take succinctly encapsulated the feelings of his audience of at the sharp end shop floor Union activists and Reps., who by this time had already experienced daily over a period of ten years the debilitating effect on organisational effectiveness of this managerialist mantra:

    “The only people who have visions are schizophrenics.”

    In context this was not so much an un-PC observation as a take on the extent of the damage caused by a particular mindset and its simplistic approach which preceded, as well as summing it up, this analysis by about a decade a half:

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2006/mar/12/theobserver.observerbusiness5

    In the space of ten years following privatisation we went through ‘Future Shock (Alvin Toffler); Quality Circles; Total Quality Management (TQM); Involving Everyone; and, I kid you not, ‘Big Fat Hairy Adascious Goals.’

    Acting LP GS David Even’s self proclaimed ‘Organising to win’ presentation to staff last week, with its ‘agile ceremonies’ buzzword bingo sentence construction, besides taking this bollocks to totally new depths, merely demonstrates the full institutional ideological capture of a Labour Party which, following the jettisoning of its voter base as the wrong kind of voters (spoiler: the undeserving poor), is now turning attention to ridding itself of any functioning human beings as it marches an emasculated shell of an organisation into Coasian Hell.

    A Hell which buried Carrillion and will most certainly finish off the LP as a practical and functioning entity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.