Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Friday, October 05, 2018

War taught me several lessons on tolerance

I find “Christ and the Soldier” by Siegfried Sassoon a gripping tale of war and carnage. The poem was written after the Battle of the Somme and is a conversation between a soldier and Christ which ends:

"Lord Jesus, ain't you got no more to say?"

Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, and slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.

"O God," he groaned, “why ever was I born?”

I was born in Afghanistan in 1981 and lived my early childhood in Kabul under Soviet occupation; I survived the brutal guerrilla war against the Soviets, I lost friends and family to Mujaheedin War of Kabul, I kept my spirit through the Taliban reign of tyranny and I braved journeys to escape to Europe. I know what it is like to be on the other side of the European border, the large governments united to keep the little man at bay. I believe there are lessons to be learned from wars to strengthen tolerance and foster shared values.

I am now a British Citizen and live in Brighton. I watch in astonishment racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments taking root in most of Europe. In some countries they are translated in to legislation and far right parties are part of governing coalitions. Even if they aren’t in power, the far right influences political and social policies in the EU; recent examples are Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. For years the EU manipulated social policies under the guise of “European Values” to remodel nationalism. In this climate, identitarian and ethnic agendas were strengthened to bolster “self-pride”. We live in a society of intolerance and darkness and fail to understand the complexities of past wars and contemporary challenges, doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and blunder our way in to modern conflicts.

I have learned a few things about conflict and intolerance from personal encounters and its history in Europe, which I will attempt to summarise here. First is the fallibility and weakness of humans: people despair when faced with tough choices and under threat, and when we despair we commit depraved acts. In order to engage with people, we ought to see behind their shortcomings so we understand their point of view. The second is the false belief in the superiority of European culture or nations: other people are not malign or evil and what we recognise as a nation or group is often an artificial construct. Third is the power of lies.  Anyone with some political awareness must have seen how misinformation has shaped our societies recently. Finally, and most importantly, is the fragility of our peaceful existence. My world has crumbled on several occasions and no one saw it coming. We lost our home and lives the third time in a flash, and as unexpectedly as the first time; we were astounded by the power and speed of the storm that swept comforts from under our feet and blew our dreams away. We are all responsible for sustaining peace and tolerance by creating positive stories about our collective identity and confronting false myths. I will be exploring each of the points in subsequent posts. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who is editing Wikipedia?

I am working recently on Wikipedia Afghanistan country portal to dust of some edges and smoothen some rough patches. It’s important to me because Wikipedia is one of the main sources where people look for general information and topics of interest. It has several fold more readership than CIA factbook and BBC country profile combined and fortunately anyone can edit it.

Unfortunately my edits are quickly returned to a version that is more inline with the general media discourse and the views westerners hold about Afghanistan.  The version maintained is also in accordance with the current US policy in Afghanistan, portraying some people in favourable light and emphasizing some groups as evil. The stubbornness of the editor to maintain the current version, points to the possibility of a dedicated editor(s), which raise some curious questions.

Lets have a look at what’s out there, for instance the current summary on 1992-1996 phase of Afghan civil war has the following summary:

The 1992 to 1996 phase of the conflict in Afghanistan (1978–present) began after the resignation of the communist PresidentMohammad Najibullah. The post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which all the Afghan parties were united in April 1992, except for the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the capital city Kabul which marked the beginning of this new phase in the war. In direct contrast to the Soviet era, the countryside witnessed relative calm during that period while major cities such as Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar witnessed violent fighting.

I don’t think that is accurate so I changed to the following:

The 1992 to 1996 phase of the conflict in Afghanistan (1978–present) began after the resignation of last president of Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah. The Islamic State of Afghanistan that succeeded the Republic of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which most Mujahedeen Parties attempted to unite. While Negotiations under the auspices of Pakistan was still underway Hekmatyar's troops from the south, Massood from the North, Hezb-e-Wahdat from the West and Junbish Millie of General Dostum through International Airport infiltrated Kabul, followed by looting of Afghan Army equipment and government infrastructure.[1] The war broke out immediately for control of buildings and districts in major cities while negotiations were still underway in Peshawar.[2] Throughout the period the fictions formed kaleidoscopic variety of coalition to gain full control of Kabul city. [3]
The best way to writing an accurate summary of historical event is by doing sufficient research, fact checking and vetting the credentials and sniffing out conflicts of interest that might colour sources. Editors must avoid fuzzy statements, contradictions, or sweeping conclusions beyond what’s supported by evidence. Multiple and diverse sources should be provided for summary statements, quality of the statement depends on the quality of sources.

The summary statement should be related to the wider historical context. Most importantly, and I cannot overemphasize this, it should be accurate from an Afghan political and social perspective. The historical narrative available on Wikipedia that seems not to be revisable is a good representation of what the Americans think about Afghanistan.

What is the historical context from Afghan perspective that can lend meaning to the summary?

Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan deteriorated into a brutal civil war between rival mujahideen groups, many of which had spent much of their energy fighting each other even during the height of the anti-Soviet jihad. This civil war claimed thousands of lives and decimated the country’s infrastructure. The civil war intensified after a mujahideen group took Kabul in April 1992. Shortly afterwards, Beirut-style street fighting erupted in the city, fictions along ethnic and sectarian lines. This civil war, fought with the vast surplus ordnance of the covert anti-Soviet military aid program and huge stockpiles of abandoned Soviet weapons, eventually wreaked as much if not more damage and destruction on the country than the Soviet invasion and occupation. Kabul, which was left virtually untouched under Soviet occupation, was savagely bombarded with rockets, mortars, and artillery. In Kandahar, fighting between Islamists and traditionalist mujahideen parties resulted in the destruction of much of the traditional power structures. In the rural areas, warlords, drug lords, and bandits ran amok in a state of anarchy created by the unraveling of the traditional tribal leadership system.
There is no good or evil here but rather a very important lesson that sectarian and fictional politics will give rise to militancy and violent religious extremism. This is not the creation of one evil man or group but brought about as a result of uncertainty and chaos of war.


[1] Conflict in Afghanistan: A Historical Encyclopedia By Frank Clements page 122