"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A day to think about Afghanistan: a memory of the place, a book review, and some links

What with the current runup to our president's dreaded annoucement of increased military involvement in Afghanistan, I thought I'd revisit a memoir I wrote a while back, about a day in my family's drive through the disputed territories in question, back in 1964. Here's the link to the posting. So much has changed, and so much has remained the same:
BTW, I regret the bad graphics of the site - white text on black background - which make it difficult to read, especially a long piece like this. I might republish it here as a separate blog. Let me know what you think. (UPDATE: I've also copied and pasted that article into a separate post, here.)

If we really want to help out, how about the success story of the small but effective organization called Women for Afghan Women:
This is a wonderful group I read about in The Nation  maybe some years ago and have been following; they started out very small but have accomplished amazing things in a short time, and really give you a bang for your "charity" buck (actually, isn't helping others an enlightened form of self-interest-serving for anyone anywhere?). I certainly prefer this to bombing and economic sanctions. But then the big corporations can't make a profit from generosity. So it's up to us individuals.

Finally, here's a fabulous book I'd recommend to anyone. Below is a review adapted from what I published in SLJ. The book gives an idea, first, what it's like to grow up there, and second, to be an American knowing what he knows about both cultures, and third, an unusually accurate picture of what it was like to be young in the West Coast counterculture of the sixties and seventies. There are also subplots that are a perfect example of why truth can be even more amazing than fiction: first, his brother's different choice (going into fanatical Islam rather than mainstream America); and second, how the author found his wife (a Jewish American) and why this proved to be the perfect solution for him, in the context of his Afghan family background. If this latter sounds unlikely to you, then read the book and find out how it worked! Just a perfect human story. Since West of Kabul, which was written right after 9-11, Ansary has written another (Destiny Interrupted), which I'll probably read too, and I think also a compilation of writings by young Afghans.

West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story by Tamim Ansary. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/West-of-Kabul-East-of-New-York/Tamim-Ansary/e/9780312421519#TABS 
Adult/High School-This powerful, illuminating three-part memoir is a fast and enjoyable read, richly embedded with stimulating insights. In a friendly and often humorous style, Ansary charms readers with colorful stories of his life in Afghanistan and America, and shows what it is like to belong to two very different cultures. Ansary's mother was Finnish-American, a feminist, atheist, and teacher, while his father was an Afghan from a distinguished and talented family engaged in the country's first attempt at modernization.

In the first section, The Lost World," the author shares amusing and touching memories of a 1950s' boyhood in an typical Afghan extended family, or "clan," yet with unusual parents. After moving to America as a teenager and then completing college, he became a dedicated participant in the counterculture of the '60s and '70s, and rarely looked back. This section is very true to the times and Boomers will identify strongly with it, especially those of us who lived in the Bay Area then.

In the middle section, "Looking for Islam," Ansary describes a frustrating, harrowing, and often ludicrous trip through North Africa and Turkey in the late '70s where he met Muslim extremists, as he sought to understand his brother's choice to become a Muslim fundamentalist; he casts much-needed light on the "weird" and "scary" internal logic of their belief system. In counterpoint to the inhumanity of fanaticism, he tells a sweet love story: how he found, fell in love with, and married a Jewish woman. Just why this proved to be the perfect solution for him, given his cultural background, is a jewel of a human story the reader will savor.

Finally, in the section titled "Forgetting Afghanistan," Ansary shares with readers how he renegotiated his family relationships and found his balance as an adult-he remains somewhere between cultures but determines his own course. Teens should be fascinated by this unusual life story, learn much from it, and identify strongly with the author's identity quest, while adults with a wider experience of the world will find much food for thought here as well.


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