Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Time may not go backwards, but "progress" sure can

Over at the journal Foreign Policy, there is posted a most illuminating collection of photographs. They belong to Mohammad Qayoumi, who grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and 60s, where at least in the capital city some people could aspire to living like other people in the modern world. I suggest you look at these, then hunt around the web for pictures of what Kabul looks like now. Constant warfare can break the back of any local culture, no matter how dominant it may seem. I am sure Afghans in Kabul felt pretty confident when these pictures were taken. Just look at their expressions. Just think about the existence of this portfolio of progress.

An excerpt:

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan...
Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts -- when Kabul had rock 'n' roll, not rockets. View the photos.

On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it "a broken 13th-century country." The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He's hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by "barbarians" with "a 1200 A.D. mentality." Many assume that's all Afghanistan has ever been -- an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and '60s. When I was in middle school, I remember that on one visit to a city market, I bought a photobook about the country published by Afghanistan's planning ministry. Most of the images dated from the 1950s. I had largely forgotten about that book until recently; I left Afghanistan in 1968 on a U.S.-funded scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, and subsequently worked in the Middle East and now the United States. But recently, I decided to seek out another copy. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country's history didn't mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth. Through a colleague, I received a copy of the book and recognized it as a time capsule of the Afghanistan I had once known -- perhaps a little airbrushed by government officials, but a far more realistic picture of my homeland than one often sees today.

Go see these pictures!

Image: Kabul University, biology class.

No comments:

Post a Comment