Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Burqas and Porn

There is a gender issues time bomb awaiting this country. Young men live in a society where contact with women and recognition of their equality is limited but they also have access to and a fondness for hardcore porn. If the history folders of web browsers at internet cafes are anything to go by many have progressed from bollywood fantasies to explicit and graphic depictions of highly sexed women. Indian porn (no I will not give you the link) is as popular as seeing white westerners making the beast with two backs. "Western women like it in the…", Abdullah (not his real name) says pointing at his rear. Once he realised I wasn't a Taliban spy, he showed me a clip on his phone of a horse mounting a rotund blond woman.

The system of restricted interaction between the sexes may have worked functionally to maintain a society (ignoring the analysis that our westen liberal eyes would put on the situation and leaving for another day the surprising prevalance of bachabas, or young boy buggery), but the combination of the idea of pure and distant women and the images of silicone porn stars is going to cause problems. How can the burqa'd madonna and the w.w.whore co-exist?

Men are building up unrealistic images of women which are not tempered by dialogue or interaction. Tradition and the sense that foreigners live by a different set of rules will do a bit to reduce the impact of porn on the young Afghan mind but as we know exposure breeds familiarity to the point where the ideals presented by the media are subconsciously accepted, slick editing or not. Coke anyone? Brown water and sugar.

This is particularly true of an illiterate population which stabs memorised patterns into internet keyboards. The ease with which beliefs can be transmitted when unchallenged by personal discovery and learning facilitates the extremist terrorist's indoctrination of young men. They have no other way of forming ideas about the west, westerners or even their own government. Those porn fans have no conversations with women that could present alternate models to their hardcore indulgences.

One theory about crime is that lifestyles depicted by the media are unachievable by the masses and out of frustration at the dissonance between expectation and reality people are driven to illicit measures to try to secure for themselves what they see on TV.

What happens when there is a discrepancy between the assimilated ideal of female behaviour and the reality? If in economy the gap gives rise to crime and illegality, the same could happen in the sphere of male female relationships. There could be an increase in the use of, and associated abuse and trafficking of, prostitutes; domestic violence already endemic according to the UN could rise further.

(this is a little taste of an article I'm working on.) The internet cafe I am posting this from has extendible privacy dividers.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Commander Re-education

A group of Afghan wartime commanders graduated today(a month ago) from a rehabilitation course having overcome old attitudes to women and foes, as well as developing useful peacetime skills.
To qualify for training, the commanders, some of whom had led thousands of men, had to surrender their weapons. In return, the month long course funded by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Program taught them business management, English and computers.
But perhaps the biggest transition they made was in their attitudes towards women and enemies from the past.
Abdul Khalid was a jihadi general in Balkh province. He joined the holy war leading 8 men as they hid in caves from the Soviet bombardment, but he attracted 1200 men to his side.
"At first I thought it would be impossible for women to teach us, but now I have respect for them," he said, "We didn’t know what gender was, we fought with our sisters, our women but when we go home we will behave in a good way."
Shoughla Aqdas, who taught the 20 commanders English and computer skills said, "At first we were very worried, and excited. People said they still had private weapons so at first we were very scared that they were dark minded.
"But after we taught them in class we felt comfortable. They told us that they were proud of us. We are women but they agree and respect us."
While there is a misperception that Islam encourages the denial of female equality, Abida Lewal, their human rights and gender issues teacher said she used the Koran to instil the old warriors with a sense of women's rights.
"In the first lesson I asked them if they were good Muslims, they all replied that they were," she said. Throughout the month-long course she then showed them passages from the Koran that support gender equality.
Their attitudes towards old enemies have also softened. Haji Fazel Hadi said, "We were fighting each other before. Now we are friends and we will miss each other. "
Supporters of the communist regime, and the mujahideen who fought them shared sleeping quarters and ate at the same table for a month. After the graduation ceremony they exchange laughs, bear hugs, and phone numbers. "I feel I have friends in all 34 provinces." Says Haji Fazel.
In his home province of Laghman, Haji Fazel now plans to set up a business importing cheap Chinese plastic goods. He wants Afghanistan to progress, but is realistic about his priorities. "I want to set up the business for myself, to feed my family, and hopefully help my country."
After more than two decades of war, Afghanistan needs to rebuild, and measures such as these seem like positive steps.
The head teacher hopes the country will allow these men to stay peaceful. "They were driven to fighting by the circumstances. There will be a problem again if the government and economy is not strong enough to provide jobs."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lessons learned writing from abroad

This is a draft of what I sent the Independent.
Link to the story they actually went with
The lesson, broader stories have scope to reference specifics. Specifics, particularly regularly repeated events, are subsidiary stories or hooks, but not stories in themselves. Also the relevance to the UK/US readership should be the focus. In their article it is the headline.Any other takes on this?

A suicide bomber killed at least 12 people and injured 42 this morning when he blew himself up near the interior ministry in Kabul.
Ministry workers were arriving for work opposite the Kabul Republic hospital just before 8am when the bomber attacked.
A man had aroused suspicions and was confronted by policemen just inside a checkpoint as he approached the Interior Ministry and a crowd of workers.
Before policemen could shoot, the bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body.
"It was a suicide attack. The bomber blew himself up as ministry employees were getting off a bus at the ministry gate," said Kabul's chief of criminal investigations Alishah Paktiawal.
A stream of ambulances took casualties to several hospitals throughout the city which, according to Mr Paktiawal made a definite tally of dead and wounded difficult to make.
After the 8 September bombing which killed two US soldiers and 14 civilians, US military sources announced they were aware of a terrorist cell operating within the city targeting US and international troops.
Residents however believe that there is more than a single cell. They say the terrorists pass through security nets because they can blend in with peaceful Afghans. Checks at access points to the city are arbitrarily policed, and a bribe can secure passage.
Along with a peak in military confrontations, this year has seen an increase in these types of attack. There have already been at least 50 compared to 21 last year.
The attack comes as NATO expands its sphere of operations to the whole of Afghanistan where the US has suggested that Pakistan's peace with tribal leaders has lead to increased attacks in this country.
At a meeting in Slovenia this week, it was agreed that NATO's ISAF force will take control of American troops in the east Afghanistan, unifying the command of all coalition troops within the country.
This step comes as attacks in some areas of eastern Afghanistan have tripled since President Musharraf negotiated a ceasefire two months ago with tribal leaders in North Waziristan. Under terms of the treaty, formally signed on 5 September, Pakistani army presence in the Pashtun areas will be reduced. In exchange the tribal leaders agreed to expel foreign fighters and gave assurances they would stop aggressive incursions across the porous border into Afghanistan.
The treaty designed to end 5 years of attacks on Pakistani army and installations in the area also included the release of thousands of prisoners held for suspected links to terrorist organisations.
Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf met earlier in the week with George Bush. Accusations of blame for the regional instability had been cast back and forth, though while Karzai referred to his Pakistani counterpart as a friend, Musharraf blamed him for not being in control of his country.

Suicide Bomber Sept 30

photos by Jamie Scott-Long
The deep thud of a nearby explosion shook the windows and as the senses scrambled to make sense of the sound, my eyelids flicked open. Ten to 8, wake up. The suicide bomber detonated the bomb he wore 500 meters away. We went into the garden, scanning the skies for helicopters to lead us to the site. Quiet. Last time the resounding boom was followed by dogs barking, sirens, and cars blaring their horns unaware of the traffic's cause.
Chicken street where souvenir and craft shops cater to tourists who don't come was awash with people streaming away from the incident. We walked against the current, shopkeepers still trying to entice us to buy a rug.
International troops were not hit so Afghan policemen were left use their own techniques to control the crowds. When ISAF is involved there are cordons and huge stern men with guns, people obey. Here everyone tries their luck. The officers charge, angrily waving telescoping batons or scraps of metal picked up from the road. Then they turn around and forget about the line for a while. One has a loudspeaker which he uses as a sonic gun to push people back.

A sucide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body as workers arrived at the Ministry of Interiors to start their day.
Just before 8am as workers were getting of the bus that brought them to the office, a man known to the police charged past a checkpoint towards the crowd. Before the police officers closing in on him could shoot, he blew himself up.
The explosion shattered shop windows and ripped through flesh. The leaves on trees all fell, shredded, to the tarmac in a gruesome early autumn.

The trend of intensifying combat which has seen 2400 people die has been matched by increasing numbers of suicide attacks. Last year there were 21. So far this year there have been more than 50. More than 150 civilians have been killed in these attacks, comprising more than 80% of the casualties.

This week NATO announced that its remit is to expand to include command of the American forces in eastern Afghanistan. They have been facing more attacks since Pakistan agreed to a peace deal with tribal elders. Some say though that the motivator for the pact on the tribal side was Mullah Omar. The agreement was made formal on the 5th of September and stipulated the reduction of Pakistani military presence in return for the cessation of attacks on military personnel and installations. Thousands of prisoners originally held for their links to Al Quaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist groups were released on the proviso that they would be peaceful. Bill Roggio claims that among those released were the killers of Dan Pearl, the Journalist murdered in 2002. Musharaff's attempts to paint this as a deal with tribal elders who would co-operate against Al Quaeda ring hollow as Mullah Omar, the Taliban commander seems to have motivated the agreement and ensured tribal militants signed.

The effect has been a threefold increase in attacks in some eastern regions of Afghanistan.
Musharaf claims the treaty was aimed at increasing stability in the area, though it looks like a concession to the extremists. Effectively it will mean that the tribal border areas are even less policed, permitting the freer movement of weapons and training of fighters.

Following from their meeting with Bush, Karzai and Musharraf have agreed to hold joint meetings with tribal elders.

Pakistan is seen in Afghanistan as the source of instability. Karzai called for the closure of madrassas or religious schools where men and boys are indoctrinated with the extremist beliefs in martyrdom an a hatred for the west. Tom Koenigs told me that there is an unlimited supply of fighters all willing to die.

To Afghanis, Musharraf, a general who seized power through a military coup, has an interest in a destabilised Afghanistan. Should the government here regain strength it could make demands for the return of the land south of the British bureaucrat created Durand line. That land would allow Afghanistan access to the sea and a way of trading Central Asian resources without having to go through Pakistan.

Friday, September 29, 2006

New Faction Story

new story based vaguely on the remains of the devastated darulaman palace seen in the background of the first picture of Golden Kettle and on the mausoleum

Following the orange stream

In the twisting streets of old town Kabul, a child squats by a gutter and a small fountain of urine arcs through the medieval air before joining the steaming bright orange stream. A man, his hair and beard white with the fine dust from the flour sack he carries on his back walks up a plank into the organised chaos of a noodle and fried chickpea factory. Heat from five spark spitting furnaces brings instant beads of sweat to his head where they clot with the dust. He walks, crouched under the weight of his load, past three giant tubs of chickpeas stewing in boiling water the colour of a setting sun lingering on low lying clouds. Hands stained by years of work scoop chickpeas into a big round pan then carry them to one of the furnaces. Oil bubbles in deep vats above the wood fuelled fire. The chickpeas sizzle as they slide off the pan and into the vats.
Sunlight filters into the room through gaps between corrugated iron sheets and spaces forged as warping wooden slats separate. As flour is sifted, small clouds of powder rise and catch sunbeams, making them tangible. Hakim makes fried noodles. He loads his syringe-like press with dough then flicks his hands at the oil. The hiss is not loud enough so he scoops some oil and throws it into the fire, it roars and flares, its tongues flicking the air outside the furnace mouth singing falling flour dust. He dips the end of the syringe into the oil and turns the handle, squeezing dough through a metal plate full of little holes. The oil froths as the thin threads of dough deep fry.
Its Ramadan, so the 30 men and boys working in the intense heat have not had a drink since 4 o'clock this morning. The boys are working their way up to working with fire and scalding oil, for now some pack the peas and noodles into plastic bags and others pack the bags into sacks.
Business is conducted as far away from the furnaces as possible. At the end of the row of sacks full of little bags of chickpeas sits the seller, his worn notebook on a small table. Around him sit men in neat, ironed loose fitting clothing and crisp black headscarves. They walk in and out briskly, the steps along their paths in and out are vacated just ahead of them in series so their entrance and departure is swift.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kabul zoo

The Kabul zoo is on the way to the bombed out west, before the river dries out and becomes a sludge of vegetable rubbish and holms where men sit on plastic chairs by plastic tables underneath plastic umbrellas selling minutes on a telephone to loved ones. At the entrance by the road, foreigners pay 20 times what locals pay, but the real moment you enter is when you go through the fa├žade of a building that has no back. You scrabble down the rubble and bent metal and en up in front of a black bear enclosure.

The bear takes three loping steps, sniffs the bars, then takes another three loping steps back and sniffs the stone wall. Over. And over. And over. The cage itself, while not adequate, would permit a mindless stroll about ten times as long. This bear's mind has gone. It hides behind comfort routines it picked up long ago. Perhaps three loping steps is how far away mother used to be.

Huddled as far away from the public as possible and breathing at the speed of rabbits, the jakals live in a perpetual state of fear. They dart back and forth, jostling for a space behind eachother, burying their heads in corners so they can pretend that the world is just black. That would be a comfort.

Playful monkeys fare better. They have society to structure their day. Their fur may be falling out, and their muscles atrophied through lack of stimulating activities, but they seem to just be monkeys in a closed space. A male turns around and stands on his groomers back legs while his pneumatic powered penis pounds him/her. Once satisfied he turns his back and allows the groomer to pick mites out of his back.

Young ones take turns chasing and being chased. Murky moat water designed to keep them from climbing out has become a playground. The younger they are the better they are at swimming. Some grapple underwater for ten seconds at a time, emerging with a green wig of stringy pondweed. Their colossal eyebrows fold over with the weight of water.

Vultures with wide wingspans scrabble along the floor. Those with hope left jump on and off of dead tree branches, reliving for the split second they stretch their wings the sensation of flight, the sensation of control over their own movements.

The predecessor to computer games: There is a box with a disc on it. The disc spins as the old man whose hands shake as he counts disintegrating notes turns a crank. On the disc are three toy cars of different sizes. Off the disc are two metal cars, racers. When a boy who has taken another note from his indulgent father pays, the old man takes a metal car and places it on a spot and begins turning the crank. The boy twists a steering wheel on the side of a box trying to keep his car out of the path of the cars coming in faster cycles at him. I imagine there is a magnet underneath the disc and the steering wheel moves it towards the edge or the center.