My photo
Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Enemy We Created

Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are two young Dutch and Germans respectively who have been living - on and off I assume - for a number of years in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I had first heard about them in a collective article they wrote for Foreign Policy two years ago, since they have published - to my knowledge - a collection of translated Taliban poems and edited the autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef a former senior member of the Taliban. Having lived in a working class part of Tunis for the better part of two years and having done an extremely short excursion to war-torn Libya last year, I can hardly contain my respect for the authors in light of the difficulties they must have faced and overcome in their daily - and not so daily - life. Modern day heroes in the daily fight against Orientalism's ugly face to be far too poetic.

Their book An Enemy We Created - The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2001 finds an apt expression in its title. The authors recount the differing histories of the Taliban and al-Qaeda through the years of the Mujhadeen fighting against Soviet occupation with American support, over the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan 'inheriting' al-Qaeda in the process, and finally the post-9/11 story of Western occupation and Taliban insurgency. It is an incredibly detailed - if at times sloppily edited and thus repetitive - account of the ideological, political and war history of two differing currents of modern - today might be more apt a word - political Islamist thought (and action).The reader is left with an appalling feeling of emptiness when faced with the lack of understanding in the West for the actual events on the ground in a country that same West has been occupying for a decade. He (she) also gains a more profound understanding of Islamist thought and especially of Afghan history.

An Enemy We Created easily is one of the most impressive works of intercultural scholarly work I have yet read, relying on Arabic as well as Pashtun sources and interviews, and dealing with a country that even in the 21st century seems to be as far removed from decadent Europe as one could imagine.

No comments: