This week Iâ€™ve been reading news from Afghanistan in a spirit ofâ€¦I guess the best word is repentance.
In the process Iâ€™ve found some fascinating sources. Al Jazeera has an entire Afghanistan page. Ariana News is, I think, the leading TV news medium within Afghanistan; the Daily Outlook Afghanistan claims to be the countryâ€™s â€œleading independent newspaper.â€ I read them all and look at the photos and run place names through Google Maps to see where they are and what kinds of public buildings live there.
Here are two things Iâ€™ve found.
First, Afghanistan is more than I thought, way more. In a small eastern city I noticed a pharmacy, a shoe store, a mall, a cellphone store, a barbecue joint. A photo from Kabul depicts a Taliban fighter in the street, next to a passing (shiny, new?) car. Iâ€™m embarrassed that those images shock me. Iâ€™ve spent too much time watching American media, which have me hearing Afghanistan and thinking vast desert waste. On top of that, well beyond Taliban fighters and warlords and corrupt officials, there are millions of Afghans who have tasted freedom and are hell-bent on preserving it. Every place is more complicated than it looks in the news.
The other sense I get is that, today at least, the whole country is poised, teetering, atop a knife point. One article noted that Kabul residents are â€œmostly satisfiedâ€ with the security and normality that have returned to the capital in the last day or so. Another cites a UN threat assessment that the Talibanâ€”contrary to the shiny new image theyâ€™re trying to portrayâ€”are searching door-to-door for Afghans who worked with the US or NATO. Revenge is an obvious motive. Meanwhile, this lovely personal essay describes the terror that the author hears from many Afghans, especially women, including his girlfriend.
It sounds, right now, as though no one knows which version of the Taliban theyâ€™ll get. Orâ€¦maybe every Afghan bloody well knows, and theyâ€™re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I mentioned repentance. I know thereâ€™s a lot of blame to go around for the Taliban takeover. I also know that most of us, individually, can do next to nothing about world situations. But I canâ€™t help thinking: Iâ€™ve had 20 years to pay attention and I didnâ€™t. This isnâ€™t about me right now, not even close, so youâ€™ll hear no rants about my sense of shame, etc. All I can do right now is turnâ€”which is what repentance is, a turning of the heartâ€”and pay attention now.