Saturday, August 16, 2008

Certain of our nobility

I'll be absent from blogging for about three days so I'll leave you with an original piece submitted by a friend of StopWarBlog, Terry Greenberg:

Terry Greenberg - Know Thine Enemy

The most important thing to remember about Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan is that we are there fighting Afghan people. It is convenient to refer to them as Taliban or terrorists, or even as Canadian General Hillier so ineloquently did, as "scumbags". But it behoves us to remember, in spite of all this terminology, that Canadian soldiers have travelled half way around the globe to fight and kill Afghan people in their own country. Our leaders, and pandering war-propagandists like John Manley, tell us we are there as part of a noble cause. Maybe he thinks so, but it is not enough just to say the cause is noble, when faced with the fact that Canadians are killing Afghans in Afghanistan. If we are so certain of our nobility, we should not be afraid to look beyond the demonizing names and try to see who exactly we are killing and what is motivating them to fight us.

First, it is obvious that there are some Afghans who are fighting with us, not against us, so it is important to examine how these two groups differ. One place to start would be to recognize that there is a severe gap between the city people and the country people in traditional Afghanistan. In a very real sense, the city of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan are like two different countries. While Kabulis have been actively modernizing, secularizing and globalizing for decades, the rural people have mostly rejected this tendency.

This dichotomy between Kabul and the rest of the country was evidenced by the fact that in the 1970s indigenous Afghan communists were able to establish themselves as the rulers of all Afghanistan from their base in Kabul. This was in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Afghans in the countryside totally rejected the secular and modernist orientation of these communists. In order to obtain the submission of the majority of their citizens, these communists had to resort to force, and when the inevitable backlash ensued, they called on help from the Soviet Union.

The situation was very similar to colonialism, with the minority metropolitan power, Kabul, fighting against the majority in the Afghan countryside. This battle has not ended. Today the minority metropolitan power in Kabul is still fighting the majority of its citizens, but now with the help of Canadians. And most of the people fighting us, against the authority of Kabul, are the same people who fought the Kabul Government 40 years ago, and then fought the Soviets. In their own eyes they are freedom fighters, resisting the authority of people who wish to impose foreign and undesirable changes on their lifestyles, and who they suspect are intent on robbing them of their wealth, resources and other things they hold dear. To put it in a Canadian context, they are doing precisely what the bravest, most loyal Canadians would do if Canada were invaded by foreigners who were intent on changing our lifestyles and stealing our resources. If these are scumbags, we can only hope there are enough scumbags in Canada to stand up for us if we are attacked.

It might be suggested that the attempt of Kabul to impose its will and its values on the countryside, with our help, and earlier the help of the Soviets, is benign. After all, it included such things as equal rights for women, and modern economic and political structures. These are good things for us, but we must recognize that they were not necessarily seen as good by the majority of the countryside Afghans. When outsiders, including the most foreign of all, the Canadians, arrive and encourage them to remove the veils from their women, their reaction is much like ours would be if foreigners arrived in Canada and forbad Canadian women from wearing any clothing at all. Clearly our perspective on women’s rights differs radically from theirs, but the real issue here is whether the imposition of values from outside is appropriate. And we must not forget that we are the outsiders and they are the insiders.

As for the new economic and political forms that Kabul, with our help, wants to impose on the countryside, we speak glibly of bringing them "democracy". However if one examines traditional Pashtun tribal culture and practices, they may, on some levels, be more democratic than anything we have to offer. In traditional Pashtun communities, governance was in the hands of an assembly of tribal men, much like the ancient Greek model. Of course, women were excluded, and young men had less influence than the elders, but there was a great deal of equality amongst the members of the assembly. Even the elected leader was chosen as one amongst equals, and had no authority to make any major decisions without referring back to the assembly. But as soon as the Kabulis arrived on the scene, the first thing they did was attempt to co-opt the tribal leaders, often with financial bribes, and by investing them with more authority than their rural peers would allow. This did not result in an increase in democratic freedom for the average rural dweller, but an immediate diminishment of control over his life and loss of freedom.

On the economic front, traditional Afghan rural communities were quite equitable in the distribution of wealth, and there was a lot of communal cooperation and sharing of the commons. With the arrival of Kabul, this system was put under stress, and soon the majority of rural dwellers found that their economic welfare was being reduced, by confiscation of assets, by conscription away of their productive young men, and by increasingly stark inequalities in access to resources in their communities. In the eyes of many rural Afghans, Kabul was the enemy for its attempts to force unwanted economic changes on them.

We Canadians are working for Kabul, fighting these rural Afghan people in order to force them to strip their women naked (in their eyes), and replace their own systems of cooperative governance and equitable conomic structures, with Western political systems of oligarchic power disguised as democracy and massive inequalities in wealth.

As if this was not enough to inspire resistance amongst the majority of Afghans to theK abul-dominated government and its Canadian defenders, one might also look at the culture of the Pashtuns. This has the code of Pashtunwali at its core and the central element of this code is masculine honour. The belief is that it is better to be dead than be dishonoured, because a man is already dead in his own eyes and that of his community, if he is dishonoured. Submitting to foreign-imposed (and that means both Kabul and Canadian) lifestyle changes is seen as dishonourable and this inspires many of the young men to fight and resist.

Canadians should realize that we are in Afghanistan fighting Afghan people who are defending themselves from their own central government in Kabul, which, with the violent assistance of foreigners including us, is trying to impose values, laws, and dramatic lifestyle changes on them. The rural people of Afghanistan have been fighting this defensive battle for decades. However much we might dislike their culture, it is extremely hard to see how it can be a "noble cause" for Canada to ally with their enemies, follow in the footsteps of the Soviets, and take up arms against these people.

1 comment:

simon williams said...

Re: An Open Letter to the Canadian People from the Afghan Resistance. Someone has responded on Mostly Water: