Bringing Afghanistan’s democrats out of the shadows


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.

Orwell, a far-left anti-fascist who took a bullet in the throat while fighting Franco’s brutes during the Spanish Civil War, was angered by the inability of too many of his fellow leftists to counter dictatorial thuggery in those with whom they shared a common enemy. Stalinists got a free pass because, ostensibly, they opposed fascism; they didn’t deserve it.

Glavin, also of the left, is frustrated by the limits of his supposed comrades’ solidarity and internationalism. Afghanistan’s democrats — its students, human rights activists, women, socialists and secularists — should, by rights, be championed and supported by the western left. They are, after all, fighting for the same things liberals in Canada struggled for and earned over the last century. What’s more, they’re fighting for these rights against an explicitly fascistic strain of religious and ethnic extremism embodied in the Taliban.

Instead, much of the left over the last decade has preferred to rally against make-believe fascism and imperialism in the United States or Britain, rather than recognizing its real mutations in places like Baghdad, Tehran, and Kandahar. The NDP, for one, has distinguished itself only by the degree to which it has counseled abandoning those Afghans most deserving of our friendship. “Support our troops; bring ‘em home,” the party declared, aping an isolationism that Glavin rightly derides as “paleoconservative.”

This hardly matters now, though, as all of Afghanistan’s western allies will soon be bringing their troops home — leaving Afghanistan to negotiate some sort of deal with Pakistan, which backs many of the insurgent brigands still in the habit of bombing cultural centres and hanging children.

Glavin, a friend of mine, argues this is possible, in part, because of what Orwell described as “the sealing off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening.” The Afghanistan most of us are familiar with, a hopelessly violent and extremism-riddled backwater, is a distorted fragment, he says.

“If I do my job well, you will see that Afghanistan is a country whose people are more worthy of our sacrifices and solidarity than you might have imagined.”

Glavin does his job well. The best parts of Come from the Shadows involve his travels in the country, often in the company the Abdulrahim Parwani, a remarkable Afghan-Canadian man, well drawn in Glavin’s text. We meet democrats, partisans, activists and scholars. Some are powerful, some simply brave.

The book opens and closes with the students of Marefat High School, in the Daste Barchi slum of Kabul. In April 2009, they fought off a mob dispatched by a Khomeinist mosque whose members were furious because boys and girls at the school were studying together. The attackers threw rocks and sticks and demanded that the school’s principal, Aziz Royesh, be killed. Students barred the doors and stood their ground. The school remains open.

Glavin’s book is full of stories like this, from the sealed-off parts of Afghanistan. Blame for the obscuration that keeps so much of the country hidden can be cast widely, including among journalists. Glavin recalls speaking with a senior Canadian reporter who had been in Kandahar several times over a three-year period but had never interviewed an Afghan woman. I know of journalists whose bosses discouraged them from leaving Kandahar Airfield lest they miss a “ramp ceremony” for a fallen Canadian soldiers returning home.

I’m not sure that many of our diplomats see much more. Recently in Kabul I got a glimpse of the rules that govern travel for embassy staff. The security bubble is almost total. This is understandable, I suppose, but it’s also restricting. It means we don’t know the students at Marefat High School, and we’re less willing to fight for them. We should, and we must.



Bringing Afghanistan’s democrats out of the shadows

  1. Excuse me did I miss a decade of memos? Were the NDP in charge for the last 11 years without me noticing?

    So that was the NDP searching for Osama bin Laden and killing scumbags and inventing new missions to placate public opinion instead of standing up democractic activists and seeking peace? Well, darn them all to heck for ruining Afghanistan then!

  2. First off i’m in total agreement with Glavin, Orwell and someone like Hitchins who abandoned the left pretty much because of its tortured contradictions; namely failure to stand for liberal democratic principles everywhere and consistently. [You have to be willing to fight for your principles, sometimes violently. Nothing just happens.] Orwell made himself very unpopular by criticising middle class leftists who railed against empire yet continued to profit from empire’s dividend.

    But this bothers me:

    “Instead, much of the left over the last decade has preferred to rally against make-believe fascism and imperialism in the United States or Britain”

    It is also true that a good part[ perhaps the best part] of why we are there is to convince others there is a better way. Abu Graib, renditions to known torturers, callous disregard for international laws and norms, insufficient safeguards of the well being of detainees who are not all “taliban prisoners” as our loud mouthed moron of a DM asserts, undermines the good in us, the good we want to see happen., and in some measure helps to breed more cynicism and brutality, even needlessly created new enemies. It is not only the left who must be consistent in opposing all totalitarianism; we must not fail to uphold all our vaunted liberal principles to the degree that it is posssible[ noone’s perfect] We can walk and chew gum at the same time MP. Because we’re fighting barbarism is no excuse to resort to it. We continue to need to yell that from the rooftops if necessary.

  3. My paternal grandparents born in UK 1920 and both we taken out of school when they were 11/12 yrs old and sent to work because family needed money. My grand parents proper fabians, capitalism = child labour. Grand parents big fans of T Douglas and P Trudeau but disliked what came after 1970 or so.  

    Hated new left that formed in 1960s – my grand parents constantly talked about how their generation spoiled their children after world war two – baby boomers – in effort to make world more pleasant place but it made them self centred.

    People don’t think about what they can do for others less fortunate like use to, now people think about what they can do to make others help disadvantaged. Everyone now thinks they are boss and no one wants to actually help and do something tangible.  

    Liberalism changed in 1960 or there abouts when President Kennedy started talking about how people should ask themselves what they can do for their country. Canada, America and Europe are all fascist now, and have been for decades, if you use Mussolini definition. 

    Mussolini ~ All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state

    Daily Telegraph ~ The teenage moralism of the Occupy Wall St hipsters … 

    Occupy Wall Street, the gathering of angry actors, graphic designers and various other hipsters in the financial districts of New York City, might just be the most degenerate Left-wing movement of recent times. Its weird demands, plastered across tongue-in-cheek placards and on super-cool, self-pressed t- shirts, capture the descent of the modern Left into the cesspool of victimology, conspiracy-mongering and disdain for mass society and its allegedly dumb inhabitants. 

    Far from representing anything that I, a Leftie, would recognise as progressive and humane, this gaggle of rich kids spouts little more than snobbery and fear, seemingly incapable of deciding whom they loathe the most: greedy fat bankers or the dumb fat public.


  4. “Support our troops; bring ‘em home,” the party declared, aping an isolationism that Glavin rightly derides as “paleoconservative.”
    If it is any consolation MP, the lefties in New Zealand are even more vocal about bringing home the troops.
    http://thestandard.org.nz/keys-lies-getting-our-soldiers-killed/ “We have been lied to by our Prime Minister. He told us the SAS was going to Afghanistan to train government soldiers. 10% casualties (2 deaths, 2 injuries from 38 soldiers) in 3 months makes it clear we’re there fighting on the frontline for one side in a civil war. Justifying our losses and that the SAS wants to be there are not reasons to stay. The Jackel takes up the story.” “Key says we have to leave men in Afghanistan, killing and dying, to “honour” the ones we’ve lost. Typical chickenhawk bullshit. This isn’t about ‘tearism’ or ‘Afghanistanians’ or ‘honour’. It’s all about PR. All about politics. Before Smith’s even in the ground, this arsehole Key is spinning his death for PR. Just like Pike River. Just like the earthquake dead.PS. Oh, and the fuckwit is still lying to us and saying that the SAS aren’t in combat. Even though the Minister of Defence and head of the Defence Force have admitted the truth.” 

  5. Typical far-right shallow rhetoric. Most ‘lefties’ oppose the invasion of countries not threatening us, which does NOT mean we do not support those fighting for democracy in such countries. There are alternatives – remember the results of imposing a wide-ranging group of sactions against south African apartheid in the 80s? It worked, and the policy was dropped – the results were not perfect, but surely far better than bombing the country back to the stone age.
    And to call the accusations that the US, GB and even Canada are becoming more and more fascistic ‘make believe’ is just another manifestation of either more rightwing illusions about what is going on in the world, or simply denial of the obvious in the sycophantic manner of “journalists’ who know that not angering their masters is essential to keeping a good-paying job in a world full of bad-paying jobs. Fascism means, essentially, authoritarian governments, usually pretending to be democratic, with a close connection between business and government, and a determination to use ‘legal’ police violence to control the protesting population. Couldn’t ask for a much more realistic definition of what is happening today in these countries. Pointing a finger at even less democratic countries is not any kind of proof of your own ‘democracy’, just more typical capitalist diversionary tactics.
    Fascism also involves a state-controlled media feeding the people a non-stop propaganda monologue, which is also evident in western ‘democracies’ – in Canada, all major media support the new feudalist agenda of foreign imperialism, business dominance, cutting taxes and government services, etc.
    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it doesn’t really matter if the duck has a lot of money, buys the government and media, puts on a pretty dress and tells everyone it’s really a lovely damsel – the smell and actions give it away. As with our modern new-fascist governments in the west. People with money control the government and the media, and tell everone what nice people they are – but some of us, at least, understand the lies.
    Democratic Revolution – now or never http://www.rudemacedon.ca/vgi/backgrounders/revolution.html

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