Hope in Afghanistan

We all know how easy it is to cast the citizens of western democracies in a less than flattering light. Just ask them a series of loaded questions and you will get the answer you seek. Reporters can always find something nasty in the woodshed if they dig long and deep enough, and the same goes for war-torn countries such as Afghanistan. Many in the west tend to think only the worst of their Afghan brothers and sisters.

Displaced Afghan children, November 2008 (photo: Omar Sobhani)
Displaced Afghan children, November 2008 (photo: Omar Sobhani)

So what is going on over there beneath the often superficial veneer of mass-media reporting?

One should always cast a critical eye over opinion polls that paint a rosy picture of life in Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever, and question the political agendas of those promoting them. But such samplings of popular will are the best means we have of testing the waters. We saw it in Iraq with a sociological survey that managed to retain a large degree of rigour despite those involved being in fear of their lives. And we see it also in Afghanistan, says Canadian journalist Terry Glavin, who recently travelled in the country and engaged with its people without the insulation afforded by SUVs, tin hats and body armour emblazoned with the word “PRESS”.

Supposed preoccupations such as women’s rights, free speech and democracy – the shibboleths denounced as cultural imperialism by those opposed to humanitarian intervention – are universal. The language used to describe them may vary according to place and culture, but the desire to live free from oppression and violence can hardly be described as a western indulgence.

The Burkean assertion that while certain values may be true they are not universally held displays contempt for said values and those who hold to them. Even if only a minority favoured freedom, it would still be right to struggle for it, and support those fighting for freedom in other lands.

Terry says that the ideas of freedom have already taken hold in Afghanistan. I suspect that they have long existed there, but have so far been suppressed in the daily struggle to survive. People will always protect themselves and their own, and only give voice to their opinions when it is safe to do so. Such an environment is now being created in Afghanistan, and the views expressed in the polls cited by Terry do not surprise me in the least.