Thinking of a place such as Afghanistan as a place to vacation or retreat seems odd on the face. Work, mission, objective, focus... they are all adjectives for what becomes the same thing: a time away in a region of the world that consumes you and everything you set out to do. The longer you are there, the more normal the absurd becomes. What starts as a conflict zone evolves to a part in the movie "Brazil," a blend of insanity and chaos: "Don't fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating."
Afghanistan has been called many things, from "ancient civilization" to "the grave yard of empires." It is all of those and so much more. A place where time seems to take on a different form, where the laws of physics seem to have their own rules, and where the endless process of humanity and survival seem to be elevated to a level of time-honored tradition. At the center remains the theme this blog set out to answer... the narrative of a people and culture deeply removed from the verisimilitude of what might otherwise be told as a story of mythology and lore.
At the core of all of Afghanistan is its people. Tribal by root and steeped with traditions long lost or forgotten in the modern world, there remains a common thread of valuing the bond that is made with the spoken word. What you promise you must deliver.
We are now close to eleven years into a war. I think it is fair to say that collectively as a society we are tired, even exhausted, from it all. The memories of the origins of this fight have been lost to the more immediate concerns of job, house, family, loss, want and concerns for an uncertain future. When you overlay the complexities of a foreign people, an antediluvian culture and religion, and the compounding frustrations of trying to protect our interests while elevating a foreign people's existence, Afghanistan is that point of mental overload where we throw up our hands in despair and ask ourselves why we even bothered. Was it worth it? Was it worth the blood we shed, the emotional wounds or the financial cost? Should we have just leveled the place with a nuke and called it a day? Perhaps.
Like so many things with war, clarity is left for historians and time. Afghanistan knows that all too well. It has lived through countless empires mostly unchanged. As we interact with its people we see ourselves as we were over a thousand years ago. For most that provides a point of introspection as well as a question of how or why a people would choose to remain in a world the West has long since left in the review mirror of progress. That reality is rooted in its religion, void of reformation and steeped in the mystic power of a god and pages of text that most have not and cannot read.
There is always some piece of romanticism that surfaces, asking the questions about a simpler life and connections to the land... that reflection of ourselves, the challenges of modernity and our twenty-first century pace of life; it is a voice of genetic memory more than reality. Few would ever seek to live in dirt huts alongside with the goat, or cow or chickens that will eventually be part of a future meal. Or to live with fears of roaming bands of thugs that use a holly book as a cover for murdering your fellow tribal members that choose to deviate from the norm of repression of ideas and thought. Romanticism in Afghanistan is for the decadent and foolish of heart.
Afghanistan is a place of endless cycles of endless cycles. Change is slow, and too often based on looking back before moving forward. Accountability is about looking up to god and praying for the strength to get through the day. A land with hidden codes of conduct that take lifetimes to learn and lifetimes to forgive if violated. To seek an understanding of Afghanistan is a study in chaos and Zen awakening wrapped into a Sushi roll and served served on rice. It is a search into the extremes of our own art and convention where realities are blended with our own spaces of instability and insanity. Unless we are to accept the role of a "god" and provide as one would, Afghanistan will not change. Ironically, that is what we were in the beginning: the great power that delivered a people from oppression with offerings of hope and change. What we didn't realize is that we had were expected to pay the bill for the dinner at the end of the evening.
Returning to the movie "Brazil," a fictitious television interview offers a dark piece of wisdom:
"How do you account for the fact that the bombing campaign has been going on for thirteen years."