Friday, June 04, 2010

The Muslims I Remember

Via Radley Balko comes this interesting piece on Afghanistan in the 50's and 60's. It's a surprising contrast to the 14th century hellhole it is today. The people of Kabul, all Muslims, were embracing the West, technology, reason and civilised culture. It was a place where women dressed much like their Western counterparts and embraced higher education, in a mixed sexes environment. Industry and infrastructure were growing and they were growing cotton and making textiles instead of exporting opium. The difference between then and now is stark and disturbing and the US bears a chunk of the responsibility for its descent into fundamentalist savagery.
Afghanistan was just one of many casualties in the USSR/USA Great Games of the 20th century. The Soviets wanted what little Afghanistan had and the US couldn't allow communism to expand, so we backed the foreign fighters who eventually morphed into the Taliban (who the US was giving money to right up till 9/11). Caught in the middle of this pissing match were the reasonable, secular Muslims of Kabul and the other cities. Needless to say, many of those folks fled.
These were the first Muslims I remember meeting overseas, when I first started traveling. Secular Muslims. Not the fundamentalists that have spread through many areas of the Middle East and now run Afghanistan, (with US blessings). People like YaYa, a Muslim from Indonesia and Afghan refugees I met stand out in my mind. They and many others never let their religious beliefs get between themselves and a new friend. The many Muslims I met during my years in Egypt were what some label "fundamentalists", but they sure didn't act as they were stereotypically supposed to. They were civil, kind and open people. They embraced the West and, almost to a T loved America and Americans. I was welcomed in their homes and businesses all the time. Shoot, even the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a "terrorist" organisation that I ran across were nice individuals. Civilised. They hadn't been caught up in the full fury of the Great Games of the superpowers. Just the machinations of their local despotic government.
Our participation in those games, with the now defunct USSR, is having ramifications, decades later and will reverberate for many years to come.
Sadly, we're unlikely to see that old Afghanistan or those Muslims anytime soon in Afghanistan. And that's sad. Education, free trade, industry and freedom were what they had and it was all for naught. I wish I'd had the chance to see that Afghanistan.