American Author Says "I Admire Afghans Beyond Words"
American Author Says "I Admire Afghans Beyond Words"
By Aamir Latif
PAKISTAN, Oct 3 (IslamOnline) - William T. Vollman, American author of "An
Afghanistan Picture Show," who is currently visiting Pakistan in
connection with the ongoing rift between the U.S. and the ruling Taliban,
spoke to IslamOnline.net about his experience with the Afghans.
"In 1982, sickened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with its
concomitant cruelties, I had set out for the battlefield with a vague
notion of somehow being of use.
"I was young. I was American, which means sheltered and ignorant. I had
very little money, and I quickly became weak with amoebic dysentery. It
was the Afghans who helped me rather than the reverse.
"They carried my backpack through the mountains, fed me, cared for me.
Every time I remember how much I imposed on them, I feel ashamed.
"It was the month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink
from sunrise to sunset. An exception is made for invalids and for warriors
on a jihad [struggle], but my mujahideen [warrior] companions, even the
sick ones, kept the fast.
"I had hiking boots and they had sandals. Their feet bled. And they kept
walking and walking. They said to me that they were fighting only for God.
They said tranquilly, 'We will fight to the last drop of blood, but we
will never surrender.' And they didn't.
"I remember all the men in the refugee camps in Pakistan who kept speaking
of how much they longed to fight; they took turns crossing the mountains,
some of them staying to protect their women and children in the camps
while the others went to the homeland with their respective political
bands, many of whom were at war with each other within Pakistan.
"Sometimes, they didn't come back, and then, on the inner wall of the tent
or the mud wall of the house amidst other mud houses upon the plain of
gravel, the family would put up a photograph. They'd tell me with a fierce
pride that so-and-so had been martyred.
"I have never seen such widespread heroism as I saw then. They loved their
country so much; they loved their religion, which the Soviets would
eradicate if they could, and because blood revenge was one of their
culture's main determinants of honor, the shrieks of the women raped by
Soviet soldiers, the cries of old people deliberately burned alive in
their houses, the screams of the children who had touched butterfly mines
disguised as toys, these sounds all got carried on the mountain winds and
people heard; people set out to take revenge. I admire them for it beyond
"Outsiders have always quarreled over Afghanistan, and sought to control
it. I'll not go back too far, but the Russians and the British played out
their Great Game around Afghanistan for a century or two.
"When I went there it was the Russians and the Americans, with the
Americans, as represented by the CIA, being on the winning side. So the
Soviets finally departed from the country they had devastated without
being able to subdue.
"When I returned to Afghanistan last year, there were one-legged
minefield-beggars all along the road and so many rock-piled graves bearing
the green banners of victim-martyrs; and people were clearing mines from
the arid ground so slowly and wearily. This was almost a decade after the
last Soviet soldier had gone away.
"On my right I saw the low desert hills in which a CIA-financed war hero
named Osama bin Laden had won a particularly dangerous battle.
"Then came Kabul, gnawed away almost completely to ruins, with the women
in their burqas like ghosts amidst the snowy desolation.
"We did a very good thing when we helped the Afghans, and I for one will
always be proud of it. Naturally we didn't do it for them; we only wanted
to make trouble for our arch-adversary. The Soviet Union pulled out, and
then the Soviet Union collapsed, and we forgot Afghanistan. Well, maybe
all of us except the CIA already had.
"I remember coming back to the U.S. in 1982, more desperate than ever to
do something. I recorded a couple of radio broadcasts at a small college
in the Central Valley; I showed my "An Afghanistan Picture Show," which
was a slide show meant to raise money for the refugees and the insurgents,
whose slogan was 'Defend Bureaucratically Deformed Workers' States,'
meaning the Soviet Union, posted notices saying that my show had been
"I tried to find a magazine or a newspaper that would let me write about
Afghanistan; I tried, and for many years failed, to publish "An
Afghanistan Picture Show", but the executive decision maker invariably
told me, 'Nobody's interested in Afghanistan.'
"Oh, but now we are very, very interested! It seems that the atrocity
committed in New York earlier this month might have been committed by
Osama bin Laden, who might be in Afghanistan; or possibly other terrorists
who might live in Afghanistan may have something to do with it.
"I don't know how many thousands of Afghans died under Soviet occupation.
In the civil strife between the Soviet and the Taliban periods, around
20,000 perished, and another 40,000 have been killed in the fighting
between the Talibs and their opponents.
"Not that we really care. But about the 6,000 who died in the World Trade
Center affair we care very much; we're up in arms, in fact. And we should
be. I hate their murderers as much as I hate the Soviet murderers of
Afghan civilians. I hope that we find these terrorists and kill them,
preferably after a correct trial.
"All I ask is that you not hate the Afghans, who always called me
'brother' and took care of me, who would defend me or any other guest with
their own lives, and that goes for Osama bin Laden, whom they believe to
be innocent because the United States in its arrogant stupidity has until
now refused to answer repeated calls for proof.
"Last year, after the embassy bombings, my Afghan friends kept saying,
'Just prove to us that he's guilty and we'll cut his throat ourselves! Why
does your government not explain?'
"Try not to hate these people, many of whom are even now so grateful to
you with a personal gratitude you would not believe unless you met them,
because the CIA once helped them to get their country back without your
expressing much interest in the matter.
"And they are similarly grateful to all their Muslim brothers who came
from Saudi Arabia [as did Osama], and to the others who came from Chechnya
and Bosnia and Pakistan and all over the world to fight and sometimes die
in that absolutely justified jihad against the Soviets.
"Now some of those freedom fighters have become terrorists and some of
them remain in Afghanistan. Hate them if you like, don't hate the Afghans.
Don't hate the Taliban, that government of fanatics and semiliterate
dogmatists; so many educated people have died or fled since the Soviets
came in 1979. Taught in the madrassahs, the religious schools, these men
do the best they can, operating by the only law they know, the Qur'an.
Under them, Afghanistan has become safer and more peaceful than it has
been for many years.
"Their policy toward urban educated women is brutal. So is their treatment
of Shias, Tajiks and other minorities. But in their favor it must be said
that rural women, who make up most of the female population, were never
really educated and now they are much, much safer from rape and theft.
Believe it or not, many of them adore the Taliban.
"No Afghan government within sight is any better than the Taliban. In the
words of many people, 'The leaders are all war criminals,' and that goes
for their main opponent, the Northern Alliance, which controls about 10%
of Afghan territory, and who has recently assassinated leader, Ahmadshah
Massoud, the 'Lion of Panjshir,' who was a brave fighter against the
Soviets, and then in the civil war, a butcher of Afghans.
"It is the Northern Alliance that we are now extolling as our friends and
exemplars. Well, why not? Nobody's interested in Afghanistan.
"Who murdered those people in New York? I don't know. I hope that our
government does. But I swear to you that it wasn't 'the Afghans,' who have
suffered a thousand times more than we have and who still want in spite of
everything to call us 'brother'. That, no doubt, will change when the
bombs begin to fall."
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