Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Pashtun Peace Forum: Indispensable To Understanding The Afghan Struggle

A couple of days ago I found myself wondering what life for the Palestinians would be like right now if they had been able to count on a proper anti-war movement these past few years instead of the pseudo-left dog's breakfast we're stuck with. It's a thought that usually occurs to me in the context of Afghanistan, where the contrast between what Afghan progressives say and what the so-called anti-war movement demands is so stark as to defy easy description.

A common troops-out line, if I can paraphrase, goes something like this: The Afghans are not like us, they are irredeemably backward, hopelessly tribal and warlike, we shouldn't be trying to impose our values on them, you can't bring democracy to people at the barrel of a gun, they hate foreigners, the mission is doomed, just look at what happened to the Russians.

It's like a counterculture version of some really bad Rudyard Kipling poem. The bigotry embedded in it derives from a perverse characterization of all Afghans as Pashtuns, and a caricature of all Pashtuns as incorrigibly chauvinist religious fanatics.

Here's the latest edition of the bimonthly journal of the Pashtun Peace Forum, Ideas.

Some of my favourite bits. . .

From the editorial, Stand Up And Be Counted: "A militant approach to resolving issues was never part of the Pashtun culture. Many argue that this was because of the Pashtun traditions of egalitarianism, respect, dignity, and fear of triggering an escalating cycle of generational feuds. However, the media seems to have developed and perpetuated the myth of the violent Pashtun, which is a misperceived stereotyping probably based on the widespread possession of firearms. Militancy, along with the Jihadi and Taliban methodologies, emerged amongst the Pashtuns during the Afghan War, fuelled and facilitated by the military under Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq and continued by successive Pakistani governments with the active collusion and patronage of United States, Saudi Arabia, and other Western countries. . ."

From Naeem Khan Wardag's essay, Tariq Ali, Pashtun Nationalism and Taliban: "Alas, when Mr. Tariq Ali writes, he writes only about US imperialism and the status of President Karzai government in Kabul despite the fact that presence of US, Canadian, and NATO troops has been mandated by UN and Karzai has been elected by Afghan people through a democratic process and his govt is internationally recognized, contrary to Taliban who had been imposed on Afghans and were recognized only by their three ideological and political mentors. Mr. Tariq Ali never mentions imperialism in the regional setting and its adverse impacts on the people and communities there. That is why his recipe for the problem is the same as popular with religious and strategic hardliners in Islamabad-Rawalpindi, which implies virtual reversal to pre-2001 like situation. The purpose is the re-instatement of the local/regional imperialism of the dominant nationality and its control over Afghan/Pashtun population through religious fanatics and their medieval ways. If such dreams materialized, it will set the whole of South Asia, Central Asia, and Middle East on fire."

Naeem makes the same point that the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee has been making. And I don't think much of Tariq Ali, either.

See also Farhat Taj, Compatibility - The Pakhtun Culture, Talibanization and Obscenity: "Most Pakhtun [alternative spelling] communities stand for girls’ education: this is precisely the reason why the Taliban, whose worldview has no room for girls’ education, are destroying girls schools and colleges. One can name tens of girls’ schools and colleges in the Pakhtun area that government of Pakistan would have simply ignored to build, but thanks to the Pakhtun elders of the areas, mostly fathers and grandfathers, who pleaded with the government to build those girls educational institutions in their area and their requests finally moved the government in building those institutions.

"The Taliban have now destroyed or are destroying those institutions. In almost very city and town of the Pakhtuns there have been growing number of communities and individual families, who have had exposure to education and modernity. Women in such communities and families have taken up non-traditional roles in the public sphere. Before the rise of the Taliban no one had ever heard of any Pakhtun community or individuals violently reacting to women who broke the confinements of the traditional gender roles.

"The Taliban prohibit music, which is an integral part of the Pakhtun traditions. Before the rise of the Taliban no one ever heard of attacks on musicians and music shops. There have always been men with and without beard among the Pakhtuns. Those with beard never forced the others to grow beard. There have always been Pakhtun who were regular in saying daily prayers and those were not so regular and even those who hardly say any prayers for years and years. . ."

UPDATE: Good news.


Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

It's slowly dawning on me that the reason you spend so many column inches criticizing the anti-war movement is that you may actually think they accomplish something other than being a left-wing social club.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Then you're slowly learning something, DPU.

A good sign.

12:12 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Fair enough. Personally, I think they have about the same amount of influence on foreign policy and international affairs as a potato would, and about as worthy of criticism. But I'm a cynic.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

The politics of the "anti-war" movement (sorry about the necessary resort to parentheses) is almost wholly negative and reactionary; the culture is drenched in it, and it is far more corrosive and pervasive than is generally acknowledged. By "anti-war" politics I mean that melange of counterculture sanctimony, Islamist fellow-traveling, irrational anti-Americanism and pacifist isolationism that has come to substitute for robust, socialist (or social democratic, or liberal) analysis.

It's not so much what "anti-war" politics does, or produces, or positively affects - look at it that way and you could cynically dismiss it all as "a left-wing social club," and you can call it a "potato." But when it's a potato where one's brain is supposed to be, it matters.

It's not even "left-wing," if we use that term in any conventional sense. Its core leadership (not just the occasional nutbag demonstration fringer with an unseemly placard) is a function of an explicit alliance with the Islamist far-right. As a "movement," it is not emancipatory, or universalist, nor is it based in any way in a self conscious, working-class idealism. Apart from its appropriation of certain terminologies and iconography, I don't see anything "left-wing" about it.

I think the phenomenon should be taken seriously because in the democratic west, it is the greatest impediment to the cause of progressive internationalism. In Canada alone (and before you're completely overcome by cynicism, do remember Canada is one of the world's richest countries, one of the world's most successful democracies, and a country with vigorous socialist and liberal traditions) it has thoroughly infantilized national debates about Afghanistan, for instance. And I mean thoroughly, utterly and completely, to the point that from a conventional progressive perspective, neoconservatism can be compared favourably to it.

1:47 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

I think the phenomenon should be taken seriously because in the democratic west, it is the greatest impediment to the cause of progressive internationalism.

Here's where we significantly differ. I think the the anti-war movement is marginal, and is no impediment whatsoever. In what way do you see them having any effect at all?

1:54 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

It's not just the "anti-war movement" but the politics it reflects and the political culture in which it thrives and the political institutions of the "left" oin which these politics are ubiquitous; not a niggling disintinction. And to answer your question: In what way?

In the ways that I describe. In every way.

2:28 PM  
Blogger bp said...

The Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens have all had to deal with controversies erupting over MP candidates who believe, among other things, that Al Qaeda is the true voice of the oppressed and/or the United States government murdered 3,000 of its own citizens. Jack Layton was exposed in the last election for his minor but real support for the Troofer movement. One of the Green candidates (I'm too lazy to look for links right now) was forced to step down for expressing his sheer joy at seeing the World Trade Center towers on fire.

If you think this stuff doesn't seep into our politics, you aren't paying attention. Come for a walk with me around a few university campuses, and I'll show you the huge number of posters outlining the ways in which Canadian foreign policy constitutes genocide and fascism.

In some ways, I agree with you that "anti-war" groups are pathetically unproductive. But they are LOUD, and I don't think we should be ceding the microphone to them. Terry takes them on relentlessly, and he's goddamn good at it. Somebody has to.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Kudos for relentlessly spreading the message that Afghans, or Muslims for that matter, are all barbaric and anti-progressive Neanderthals. Far from it. The barbarism has been imported for the most part (every region of the world has its homegrown fanatical and criminal types) and is not welcomed by the majority.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Oops, bad editing... I meant to say "not" all are barbaric etc.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

The problem is the "anti-war" types get quite a bit of media coverage, without any serious critical background, that then gives them far more influence than they should have.

For example.

More here on one of these types. Note the CTV clip.


7:16 PM  

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