A Curse on Dostoevsky

August 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

Andrey Volkok's Dostoevsky

Andrey Volkok’s Dostoevsky

This review was published at the Guardian. As so often, in places it’s been edited so it makes little sense and becomes clumsy. (Not a Guardian-specific problem, but a general problem with subeditors. I’ve never worked out why writers are paid to write, then non-writers are paid to mess up the writer’s writing.) Anyway, the unedited version is below.

As its title suggests, Atiq Rahimi’s “A Curse on Dostoevsky” puts itself in conversation with the great Russian writer, specifically with “Crime and Punishment”. Instead of Saint Petersburg, the action unfolds in Kabul. In place of Raskolnivok, Rassoul (though in his solipsism and misanthropy he may bear more resemblance to Dostoevsky’s underground man); in place of Sonia, Rassoul’s fiancee Sophia, a character who never quite comes into focus; and in place of the detective Porfiry, a series of commanders and militiamen. The murderee is, like Dostoevsky’s, a pawnbroker, also a landlady and a madam. Rassoul doesn’t know why he kills her, but potential motives include saving Sophia from her clutches, theft, and justice.

The text justifies its relationship with Dostoevsky’s novel thus: “This book is best read in Afghanistan, a land previously steeped in mysticism, where people have lost their sense of responsibility.” The murder of the pawnbroker sparks an investigation of crime and punishment (and law and lawlessness, sacrifice and vengeance) in Afghan society. Dostoevsky claimed that if God didn’t exist, everything would be permitted. Yet in Afghanistan God exists not to prevent sins but to justify them. Sophia’s father poisoned the director of the National Archives with counterfeit alcohol, a punishment for selling documents to the Russians. “These days,” he says, “any idiot thinks he can take the law into his own hands, with no investigation and trial. As I did then.” (The setting seems to be the period after the Russians and before the Taliban, when Islamist warlords struggled for power.)

According to the novel’s logic, Rassoul’s motto – “I’d rather be a murderer than a traitor” – could just as well be Afghanistan’s: “You can kill, rape, steal… the important thing is not to betray. Not to betray Allah, your clan, your country, your friend.” Yet the pages brim with real or perceived traitors, those who desert their friends for ideology or material gain.

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Ambiguous drone policies cast doubt on Obama’s lofty pledges

June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

An earlier version of this appeared in The National last week.

It was a “season of fear,” he said. Government trimming facts and evidence “to fit ideological predispositions”; making “decisions based on fear rather than foresight; setting aside principles “as luxuries that we could no longer afford”. “In other words,” he concluded, “we went off course”.

We “cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values”, he said. Institutions will have to be updated with “an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.”

It was a fine speech: thoughtful, bold, idealistic. US president Barack Obama delivered it at the National Archives in Washington, on May 21, 2009.

Last Thursday, when President Obama again addressed the question of national security, he sounded equally high-minded. But where in his first speech he had to address the excesses of his predecessor; this time he had his own to consider. The most serious of these were born of Obama’s inability to deliver fully on promises he made in 2009.

At the National Archives speech, Obama had vowed to end torture, shut down CIA black sites, and close Guantanamo. It was the clean break he had promised his base. But faced with a Republican backlash, Obama caved. Torture and black sites were abolished, but Guantanamo remained. Torture memos were released, but torturers roamed free. And to shield himself against charges of weakness, Obama escalated the covert war.

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Tales in a Kabul Restaurant

May 21, 2013 § 2 Comments

by Kathy Kelly

Afghan children

Twelve children killed in the Kunar province, April 2013 (Photo credit: Namatullah Karyab for The New York Times)

May 21, 2013 - Kabul–Since 2009, Voices for Creative Nonviolence has maintained a grim record we call the “The Afghan Atrocities Update” which gives the dates, locations, numbers and names of Afghan civilians killed by NATO forces.  Even with details culled from news reports, these data can’t help but merge into one large statistic, something about terrible pain that’s worth caring about but that is happening very far away.

It’s one thing to chronicle sparse details about these U.S. led NATO attacks. It’s quite another to sit across from Afghan men as they try, having broken down in tears, to regain sufficient composure to finish telling us their stories.  Last night, at a restaurant in Kabul, I and two friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers met with five Pashtun men from Afghanistan’s northern and eastern provinces. The men had agreed to tell us about their experiences living in areas affected by regular drone attacks, aerial bombings and night raids.  Each of them noted that they also fear Taliban threats and attacks. “What can we do,” they asked, “when both sides are targeting us?”

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‘We are those two Afghan children’

March 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

by Dr. Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Two young Afghan boys herding cattle in Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan were mistakenly killed by NATO forces yesterday.

They were seven and eight years old.

Our globe, approving of ‘necessary or just war’, thinks, “We expect this to happen occasionally.”

Some say, “We’re sorry.”

Therefore today, with sorrow and rage, we the Afghan Peace Volunteers took our hearts to the streets.

We went with two cows, remembering that the two children were tending to their cattle on their last day.

We are those two children.

We want to be human again.

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Obama’s New Strategy in Afghanistan

January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

On Fault Lines, Josh Rushing embeds with US troops on the front lines of Obama’s war and asks: What is the US trying to achieve in Afghanistan, and will it really make the US safer?

Why Afghanistan Can’t wait

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kathy Kelly and Dr. Hakim

Ali and Abdulhai

Two days ago, we spent three anxious hours in an outer waiting area of the “Non-Immigrant Visa” section of the U.S. consulate here in Kabul, Afghanistan, waiting for our young friends Ali and Abdulhai to return from a sojourn through the inner offices where they were being interviewed for visas to come speak to audiences in the United States.

They are members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and have been invited to travel with the U.S.-Mexico “Caravan  for Peace” that will be touring the United States later this summer.  We didn’t want to see their hopes dashed, and we didn’t want to see this opportunity lost to connect the experiences of poor people around the world suffering from war. The organizers of the Caravan envision and demand alternatives to the failed systems of militarized policing in the terrifyingly violent, seemingly endless U.S.-Mexico drug war. They want to connect with victims of war in Afghanistan especially since, as the top producer of opium and marijuana in the world, Afghanistan has a failing war against drugs as well.

It’s an unprecedented invitation, at a desperately crucial human moment.

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In praise of the 101st Airborne

July 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

They call them the ‘screaming eagles’; their courage is the stuff of legends. Men of the 101st Airborne are never daunted by impossible odds — especially if the odds are in their favour. They show a jaunty nonchalance in combat, a complete indifference to danger — especially if it’s danger that they themselves have created, to which only their enemies are exposed. As the following gun camera footage shows, they exhibit absolutely no sign of fear sitting in their AH64 Apache gunship while confronted with the real and present threat of destitute farmers armed with poppy seeds. They even sing before despatching their fearsome adversaries with a Hellfire missile. If I had the authority, I’d remove that eagle from their insignia and replace it with something more befitting–something like an image of George Zimmerman. What better avatar for men who stand their ground with such valour?

Amnesty shills for the US war machine

June 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

After the infamous babies-in-incubators fiasco, in which Amnesty International helped sell an unpopular war with false claims about specific Iraqi atrocities, one would expect that it would show greater concern for its reputation which in recent year had been rehabilitated somewhat. But as Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley show,  Amnesty International’s hiring of a highly dubious Washington insider to head its US operation and its blatantly propagandistic public diplomacy campaigns on Afghanistan suggest cooperation with the CIA to perpetuate a deeply unpopular war. 

The new Executive Director of Amnesty International USA – Suzanne Nossel – is a recent U.S. government insider. So it’s a safe bet that AI’s decision to seize upon a topic that dovetailed with American foreign policy interests, “women’s rights in Afghanistan,” at the NATO Conference last month in Chicago came directly from her.

Nossel was hired by AI in January 2012. In her early career, Nossel worked for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke under the Clinton Administration at the United Nations. Most recently, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State, where she was responsible for multilateral human rights, humanitarian affairs, women’s issues, public diplomacy, press and congressional relations.

Amnesty International’s “NATO: Keep the Progress Going” poster at a Chicago bus stop.

She also played a leading role in U.S. engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Council (where her views about the original Goldstone Report on behalf of Palestinian women did not quite rise to the same level of concerns for the women in countries that U.S.-NATO has attacked militarily).[...]

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Who’s On Second

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the brilliant Mark Fiore.

Thanks to Obama’s Kill List, terrorism is almost all wiped up with another Al Qaeda number two guy killed! With unrestrained drone attacks and assassinations, what could possibly go wrong?

Afghanistan: The Great Game

June 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

This is part one of a two party documentary about the history of imperial intervention, military and diplomatic, in Afghanistan. It is hosted by Rory Stewart, one of the very few western commentators who are knowledgeable about the region and have empathy for its people. I would also encourage viewers to read Stewart’s superb book The Places In Between.

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