Friday, October 21, 2011

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle. . .

. . . like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

Eric Blair, the artist more commonly known as George Orwell, was dead right about that. But once the book's published a harder kind of work begins, and this can be happy work, too, renewing old friendships and roving about. Which is what I'm doing now with Come From the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan. Speaking of which. . .

On Sunday (October 23) I'll be with friends to present the book and have a discussion at the Tommy Douglas Library in Burnaby, 7311 Kingsway, 2- 4 p.m., and my good friend Abdulrahim Parwani, the Afghan writer and pro-democracy partisan, will be there. Abdulrahim is figures quite prominently in the book. Sanjar Sohail, chief editor of the Kabul daily Hasht-e Sobh will also be on hand. So do drop by.

Anyway. Once the book is in print and making its first rounds, sometimes, people will actually thank you for making the effort. Sometimes, a reviewer will effortlessly take in exactly the story you're trying to tell, and will appreciate it, and say so. Michael Petrou of Macleans certainly got it: "It is fitting that Terry Glavin begins his book Come from the Shadows: the Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan with a quote from George Orwell — who once said it is not enough to oppose fascism; one must stand against totalitarianism in all its forms." Thanks, Mike. Coming from you, that meant a lot.

Today in the Vancouver Sun, somebody else gets it perfectly. Eva Sajoo, research associate with the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures at Simon Fraser University, gets right to the point. Plus the review is accompanied by a certain photograph that induces whimpering among the members of the West Point Grey Malalai Joya Appreciation Society and Aromatherapy Men's Group. The next time you've got a few minutes to spare and you want a proper explanation of Afghan history and why the heck so much of the world has been so busy in that country lately, you would do very well to put up your feet and take in Eva's own engaging presentation in this video. Eva will be with us on Sunday in Burnaby, too.

And it was a perfectly pleasant experience Wednesday night as well when I delivered my Travels in Absurdistan lecture at the University of Victoria. I spun some yarns about Afghanistan and about the imaginary country of the same name that floats around the western consciousness, and I tried to give an account of how a sweetheart like me ended up there in the first place. The hall was packed and everyone was perfectly sweet and attentive and all was swell except when some guy screamed at me and told me I was some kind of CIA agent and two stoppist bitties who took a shouty tone for reasons they themselves couldn't explain.

Taking the same tone, Charlie Smith, the editor of the Georgia Straight (where I once laboured as a columnist) was up to his old tricks in a passive-aggressive jumble taking the form of a book review under the headline Terry Glavin is up to his old tricks in Come From the Shadows. The tricks Charlie says I'm up to are things he seems to more or less makes up as he meanders along, and I don't mean only the hilarious errors and wowsers throughout the piece.

I mean the same kind of tricks he was up to, for instance, in the story he wrote under the headline U.S. antifascist to warn Vancouverites about dangerous global elites, when he somehow managed to pen a lengthy hagiography of U.S. Lieutenant.-Colonel Bob Bowman (Charlie got his name right, granted) without letting his readers in on the fact that Bowman is a far-right crackpot who claims to be the real pope and enjoys his own Holy See from some hicktown in Florida, and is also famous for having counseled the American military class to mount a putsch beginning with the "detention of executive branch officials."

What Charlie also found unmentionable for some strange reason in just that one story was that Bowman is perhaps the highest profile member of the "They Let It Happen" sect among 911 conspiracy theorists, and that he was presented to Charlie by the Vancouver 911 Truth Society, which was presenting Bowman to Vancouverites as part of a the far-right 911 / Patriot Tour, and that Charlie's "an antifascist group" is in fact a far-right 911 Conspiracy outfit.

Those kinds of tricks. Don't believe me? Buy my book. I probably shouldn't suggest this but it might be more efficient to just read an excerpt that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen that should tell you exactly what it is about the book that would cause a certain class of journalist to get so pissy.

I was well aware that this book would upset a whole lot of people in Canada. I fully understood as well that for a lot of very decent people, the book was going to sting. And some people would appreciate my attempt to make some use of myself, and some people would not appreciate it one bit. But I'll tell you what I didn't see coming.

I've tried to show that there is a country called Afghanistan in the real world, and there is also a place called "Afghanistan" that has been invented to make us feel better about ourselves - a country that does not exist in the real world, whose people do not exist on this planet, where things are said to have happened that never happened. . . you get the idea. What I didn't see coming was that there would be a review in the Winnipeg Free Press about a book called Come From the Shadows which I did not write, which alludes to contents the book does not contain, attributes wild claims to me that I do not make, refers to passages in my book that do not exist, has Afghans telling me things they never said and recounts events in my book that did not occur.

So I wrote a letter to the editor. It ran. Competent and principled newspaper toilers have delicately hinted to me that I am being a chump for settling for that, and that I should have brought in the lawyers. A better way: buy the dang book and you'll see what I mean. You don't even have to like it. For all I care it will make you want to throw it at a wall.

But if you want an unfiltered, unspun, no-tricks, no Ziocon-hegemony-false-flag-gatekeeper version, and a wholly first-hand account of why I chose to subject myself to such "a horrible, exhausting struggle" in the first place, it's all here in this interview. If you'd prefer to sit back and listen to me explain (after one too many espressos, possibly) what the book is about, here's my conversation with Dave Dickson at CFAX (mp3, starts around 7:38).

And on a not unrelated subject, here's my essay in today's Ottawa Citizen: We in the West become implicated whenever we behave as though democracy might coexist with despotism.


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