We Are Protecting Afghan Civilians…from Ourselves

Today, a serial-killing rapist passed several women during his noon hour lunch break, and he thought to himself, “there are some that should really get it.” He did not act on his thoughts. He was safeguarding the welfare and safety of those women.

A shoplifter greedily eyed the expensive items in the store’s electronics section. She thought of making a move, then decided not to. She was taking anti-theft measures.

A gangster proposes to a baker that if he pays him a weekly sum, no harm will come to the baker, his family, or his store. He was offering the baker protection.


Hold Still While I Protect You

It begins with this article posted prominently on Yahoo! by the Associated Press for this date, titled “Marine mission to protect Afghans slows progress.” (In fact, the same AP article was reproduced by numerous news organizations on this date.) It was to me, and hopefully to anyone with a memory capacity larger than a gnat’s, possibly the most outlandish headline to be seen in a long time. The Marines are protecting Afghans? The Marines? Protecting?

One would have to ignore the thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion, that are directly attributable to the U.S. and NATO occupation forces, and that are caused by U.S./NATO actions and the responses they provoke. One would have to forget the torture and murder of detainees in U.S. custody at Bagram Air Base, where hundreds remain in detention without charge and without trial. One would have to be oblivious to at least several wedding parties butchered by the US Air Force. One could then choose to ignore the documentary made available below, Taxi to the Dark Side, winner of an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. If one successfully blinds and deafens oneself, then the AP headline is not so outrageous.

However, what is even more striking about the AP piece is the actual content of the report, which essentially reads in the same way as the three vignettes above. The Marines, in not being allowed to raze a village and mow everyone in their path, are “protecting” civilians, clearly from the Marines themselves:

The British jet called in by the U.S. Marines had the Taliban position in sight, but the pilot refused to fire, a decision that frustrated Marines on the ground….

The Marines themselves didn’t attack militants shooting at them from a compound Wednesday during the same battle because women and children were there….

By holding fire, McChrystal hopes to avoid the massive civilian casualty cases of past months and years and help win over Afghan villagers….

McChrystal’s order to protect civilians applies to all forces in the country.

“Sure, that’s frustrating, but we’ve got to deal with it,” said Capt. Zachary Martin, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines….

The Marines say they can avoid civilian casualties with the help of the sophisticated surveillance technology they have. Strict orders have also been issued for the Marines to use proportional response when attacked….

But many of the riflemen voiced frustration at the limited options they were left with when trying to expand control of the town on Wednesday. The orders to hold fire appeared to have slowed their advance in Dahaneh, where after a full day they held only a small foothold outpost.

Since the Marines are frustrated that they cannot fire, they are “protecting” civilians, as if they should be praised for doing what is legally required of US/NATO occupation forces under the international legal conventions that they signed on to, and that acquired force as part of their domestic laws. Not being excessively aggressive, and committing war crimes, is reconstructed as benevolence, rather than a basic minimum. Not being an outright brute, is represented as moderation. It’s a very short and smooth road to sainthood for warriors forced to respect the mandates of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) (see also here). This is humanitarianism, as a default starting point.

What this also affords us yet another opportunity to witness how the Western, and specifically American, news media fold in with the official propaganda of the government and military, reproducing the authorized rhetoric without so much as batting an eyelid in disbelief. The reason: the intention is to train all of us into credulity, sympathy, and obedience. The chosen vocabulary of doublespeak keeps growing, while erasing the more accurate, honest, revealing vocabulary needed to name reality. Thus we have collateral damage to mask the butchering of civilians through excessive force; we have private security contractors (sometimes shortened to just private contractors), who are in fact mercenaries, guns for hire, soldiers of fortune…and not innocent, ordinary security guards and dry wallers. We have incidents to gloss massacres. Now we have protection. One has to simply listen to/read the mass media — the terms of official-speak are plainly there, reproduced frequently, without question, with ease.

Newspeak Outlaws Reagan and Rambo

To some extent, the state and the media exercise in public re-education works, perhaps with just that part of the population that is predisposed to credulity, possibly the same part that believes that Jesus walked with dinosaurs, that angels exercise an active presence in our lives, that health care for the poor is the “dismantling of America,” and that stepping on a crack really will break your mother’s back.

Just today in Twitter, I spotted this statement: “Rough time 4 soldiers fighting terrorists and building communities in Afghanistan.” Building communities — after massive aerial bombings over a period of eight years. Building communities — as if Afghanistan had no communities before Americans slammed into the country. “Fighting terrorists” as if those who fight soldiers, foreign invaders, can now be re-branded as “terrorists” in spite of common definitions premised on the idea that terrorism involves the deliberate, indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, a category that automatically excludes soldiers.

What is equally astonishing is that these “terrorist” branders completely go against the rhetorical grain of their great American hero, the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan. It was President Reagan who said:

in Afghanistan, the freedom fighters are the key to peace. We support the Mujahadeen. There can be no settlement unless all Soviet troops are removed and the Afghan people are allowed genuine self-determination. (Applause.) (7th State of the Union speech)

“To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom. Their courage teaches us a great lesson—that there are things in this world worth defending. To the Afghan people, I say on behalf of all Americans that we admire your heroism, your devotion to freedom, and your relentless struggle against your oppressors.” (March 21, 1983).

At the time, popular culture followed. The closing credits to Rambo III dedicated the movie to the Afghan “freedom fighters” who battled the Soviet invaders. Having just seen the film, Ethnografix read the final dedication, to the “gallant people of Afghanistan.”

It’s a significant, successful coup in producing a newthink and newspeak that turns its back on figures such as Reagan and Rambo, and that leads some Americans, at the highest levels, to adopt Soviet-style propaganda. Let us not forget that many of these gallant, freedom loving, heroic mujahideen became what we know today as the Taliban. If they are now the terrorists, then the USA must now be the USSR.


Trying Again: The Armored Angels

The latest attempt to torture reality in order to exculpate American military aggression comes in the form of yet one more attempt at beautifying the story of Paula Loyd, herself an Army reservist, then a civilian employee for the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System when she was killed by an Afghan. Abdul Salam, her attacker, was then killed by a mercenary in the employ of HTS, Don Ayala, while  Salam was under detention, subdued, and unarmed — a war crime by the strictest interpretation. Don Ayala was let off with a slap on the wrist from a U.S. court, and not even charged under war crime laws to begin with (see here). The accepted excuse? He killed out of “stress” induced from being in a war zone. To my knowledge, such generous sympathies have never been offered to those who have lived, on an everyday basis, full time, in a war zone: the Taliban themselves. Nor was such a compassionate understanding expanded to embrace Loyd’s own killer. Of course not, American commentators and judges only invent such excuses for those they deem human to begin with.

The latest attempt I alluded to above comes in the form of an article by an American human rights lawyer currently based in Afghanistan, Erica Gaston, in her article in The Huffington Post titled “Has Kandahar Already Fallen?” (10 August 2009). In that article she produced the following paragraph:

Most humanitarian workers and journalists have simply pulled out of Kandahar because they cannot operate under the intense security restrictions. Those who remain are prisoners to their compounds. The incidents that have happened when they do leave their compounds are chilling. A brave researcher, Paula Loyd, was doused in cooking oil and set on fire when she ventured out of her compound last year.

Read it again. The paragraph begins with “humanitarian workers and journalists” — as if Paula Loyd was either one, yet that is where Gaston places her. Still speaking of independent civilians, not in the employ of an occupying army, and not residents of a military base, Gaston notes that they are “prisoners to their compounds.” Then Gaston continues, speaking of “incidents that have happened when they do leave their compounds” and immediately points to Paula Loyd. Loyd did not leave her “compound” when she was killed. She was stationed on a U.S. military base. She was in the company of a military patrol.

Don Ayala and Paula Loyd

Don Ayala and Paula Loyd

She was armoured and helmeted, indistinguishable from a U.S. soldier in most people’s eyes. Indeed, she was what journalist Robert Young Pelton described of other military patrols that take HTS employees with them, who “look like the ultimate Imperial Stormtrooper,” part of a “made-in-America, million-dollar-a-copy, fuck-you occupation parade” (source). It’s not just Pelton’s view, it’s also David Kilcullen’s, Kilcullen the counterinsurgency theorist, icon of the “small wars” crowd, in his book The Accidental Guerrilla: “We are aliens — imperial stormtroopers with our Darth Vader sunglasses and grotesque and cowardly body armor” (p. 136). One reader pictured Loyd’s entry to the village in these terms: “a young blonde woman parading around in a power suit (military uniform) surrounded by armed guards send[ing] the message to the locals that ‘I am what your future looks like,’ which is an antagonistic message.”

Paula Loyd was not just researching, nor was she as brave as someone who travels alone through Afghanistan, without an army. Loyd was most certainly not a humanitarian worker.

I don’t know what people see in that photo above, but I imagine that few would be willing to bet their wages that there is a woman in that photo. I also cannot imagine how she would look like anything other than a soldier to a Taliban attacker, and thus nothing less than a legitimate target, and nothing more.

Let’s finish with an exercise in newspeak turned against itself. Salam was a liberator. He liberated Loyd from a prolonged career of selling her services to militarism, and thus to terrorism. Never again would she be used as a human shield by the American terrorists. However, Salam did not kill everyone on her patrol: that’s because he was protecting them.

We’re all saints now.

[Addendum: I recognize that undereducated, lunatic members of the extreme right in the U.S., notorious for their reading comprehension difficulties, and willful blindness, will have difficulty understanding Orwellian newspeak, since they practice it ignorantly and unconsciously. However, if that paragraph above “We’re all saints now,” reads as “offensive,” then: one, tough, grow up; and, two, replace the details with those of an Afghan, and see how offensive you are in Afghan eyes. That’s the point. Missed by the irreparably dumb and the duped.]


Taxi to the Dark Side

Part 1 of 8
Part 2 of 8
Part 3 of 8
Part 4 of 8
Part 5 of 8
Part 6 of 8
Part 7 of 8
Part 8 of 8

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

49 thoughts on “We Are Protecting Afghan Civilians…from Ourselves

  1. Gary

    Good article. It is very seldom that these subjects are looked at in any other way than that all of our people are heros doing good deeds in foreign lands. To suggest differently gets you a strange look indeed, if not the distinct feeling that you are about to be waterboarded. It was interesting to me the reaction I got at lunch where I work part time, when I mentioned during a conversation about the invasion of Iraq that Sadaam had been our guy in the 80s. We had supported him in his war against Iran in every way we could, even reestablishing normal diplomatic relations, and takeing Iraq off the list of states sponcering terror. Of course you could write a very long book about this one subject alone. It was a grim and suspicious look that greeted my remarks. I mentioned other of our friends in the recent past, Pinochet, Noreaga, Somoza, and so on. It is hard for the good-guy bad-guy mentality to accept as fact that we could push for the violent overthrow of a government, install a military dictaorship in its’ place which would kill/torture/main/imprison tens of thousands. Yet we have done all of these things. Needless to say I don’t comment on the subject at work anymore.


    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks Gary, and I am glad that — when so many prefer to offer knee-jerk reactions that push them even deeper into the darkest recesses of their unquestionable propaganda “truths” — that you instead understood the nature and intent of this article, part of which was designed to invert and turn back the propaganda on itself. Too many still prefer to resort to automated patriotism, obsessive adulation of men in uniform, and Orwellian devotion to the latest official truth, to be able to ever walk in the other’s shoes. Instead, they fill the gap with ignorant bravado.

      Along the lines of what you wrote above, and going back to the AP article, I think it would be rare to find people anywhere in the world outside of the U.S. (or its bases abroad), that could ever accept the notion of U.S. Marines as a “protection” force, except perhaps for the gangsterist connotations of the term. This would be especially true in any of the dozens of nations where Marines formed part of the invading and occupying force that took over their governments and that installed some of the very dictators you named above. If there is an element of the American armed services which has earned especial hatred abroad, it is precisely the Marines, and of course the politicians who deployed them. They have killed far too many civilians, in too many countries, for too long, to ever be credibly seen as a “protectors.”

  2. Nimat Shah

    It is strange that you sound like you have been taking classes from Zabiullah Mujahid. These things that you say sound like the Taliban stories, which a short look will show to be false if you are present in Afghanistan. You are not in Afghanistan and I can not find in your CV or anyplace something saying that you have any knowledge of the land or the people or the culture other than what may be found in popular stories, movies and what may be found in Time Magazine… also not a good source of information on such matters.

    Your stories have been torn apart on another site and I am glad for it. I followed the link to here. The things you are saying do not make sense. There is a lot of suffering in Afghanistan. The NATO has killed citizens but the Taliban have killed far more. When the NATO kills a citizen it is a mistake and they pay for it as would an Afghan to the family. It would be better if the pilot should come to the shura and tell that he has made a mistake instead of a public affairs officer. But if you ask the same people who may complain about the NATO “Should they leave?” they will say “No!” The people do not want the Taliban to come back and be on the streets every day. The Taliban kill Afghan citizens for their purpose and do not say anything to the family. Sometimes they kill to warn the family to be quiet or to stay at home and not to go to work or to school. When they are gone the people feel free. We are only scared on the Marines that they will leave and the Taliban will come back everywhere. A man who does not behave strangely has nothing to fear from the ANA or the Marines or the US Army. The people wish that the NATO soldiers do not go back in the bases at night.

    Why do you tell such stories? Why do you say things that are wrong? This is not what Afghanistan needs for such educated people to try to tell those who are trying to learn about what Afghanistan needs something that will kill our country for another 20 years. I am glad that someone told the truth about what crazy things you are saying. I hope you will make your mind straight. Perhaps you should come to Afghanistan and meet and talk with the people and see what they need instead of making up stories about others who come here to help. If you sit with us and listen then you will know that your mind needs to change on this.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thank you for your very funny commentary, much appreciated.

      To say that I sound like I have been “taking classes from Zabiullah Mujahid” does not of course mean that I am wrong. Moreover, it contradicts your other statements: that I am an ignorant foreigner…who, nonetheless, manages to sound like an Afghan. That is quite an accomplishment.

      Then you invent the sources that I use, clearly missing the point, while ignoring the lengths to which I went to back up my statements with actual published materials from respected sources. If you had an argument, you would address my sources. Instead you chose the route of the classical loser: to attack the person in the hope of invalidating the argument. Unfortunately for you — but fortunate for comedy — that is not how logical and sound arguments work. I hope you learn something from this.

      In addition, if you had bothered to read more than one post, instead of rushing to judgment, you would have seen that this blog has several articles written by an Afghan anthropologist (with more to come), reports that incorporate Afghan voices, and reports of the work of an advanced anthropologist with over a decade of experience living and studying in Afghanistan and working with actual humanitarian organizations and women’s groups…not make-believe humanitarianism, like that of the offensive Marines with their history of attacks on civilian populations. Perhaps you missed the entire Iraq war.

      No, I have not been to Afghanistan, and I don’t need to be there to dismantle the propaganda of our media directed at members of the audience like me. On this front, you are very much the outsider, and I am the insider. So your argument went astray there too.

      As a citizen of country with troops in Afghanistan, I am perfectly entitled to speak about what we are doing there, and what our mainstream media claims we are doing. You may not like it, but that’s just too bad. Come back when you have an argument, or at least one that is not personal.

      As for anywhere else where my article was attacked, good for them. Defensive arguments are what losers offer. If the article was written by an Afghan, please forward the link to me (I am not seeing any links to this article). If the article was written by a respected analyst of Afghan politics, history, and warfare, again please send me the link. If the article was instead written by some anonymous, unqualified, right wing American coward who licks army boots, forget it, I have seen enough garbage like that already. Nor do I need to go to Afghanistan to get it. There is too much of that rubbish online already, travel is not required to meet it.

      As for you, who are you? Do you live in Helmand? Which party are you affiliated with? Who do you work for? What are your particular interests in defending the Marines? You see, until you establish your credentials, like I have established mine, openly and publicly, you are just another nobody on the Internet who demands that his word be taken at face value. Not here.

      Take care and have fun.

      1. Aaron Vlek

        Wow! Slam dunk response and a hell of a refreshing retort. Loved the article, thought “Nimat Shah” was transparently a fake “Afghan” and the shutout was a cool alternative to the usual tepid half apology people swing back with. I just discovered the blog today. Too bad the Republican narratives have steelcased the public’s ear canals to the point they are incapable of individual engagement with ideas.

    2. Maximilian Forte

      I had to come back for some more fun. Look at this from your first paragraph:

      “It is strange that you sound like you have been taking classes from Zabiullah Mujahid. These things that you say sound like the Taliban stories, which a short look will show to be false if you are present in Afghanistan. You are not in Afghanistan and I can not find in your CV or anyplace something saying that you have any knowledge of the land or the people or the culture other than what may be found in popular stories, movies and what may be found in Time Magazine… also not a good source of information on such matters.”

      So Time Magazine has a practice of printing pro-Taliban articles? Or maybe they hired Zabiullah Mujahid as their Afghan Bureau Chief (assuming they have a bureau there)? By the way, where do I even quote Time Magazine as a source? I am quoting the Associated Press. Do you see how silly your statements are?

      Speaking of silly: you sound like you have been taking classes from Mohammad Zahir Azimi.

      At any rate, you managed to miss the biggest point of my article, and one that cannot easily be disputed: the irony of the Associated Press article’s headline when compared with the contents of the article. The AP article makes it abundantly, repeatedly, clear that the Marines are protecting Afghan civilians from Marines themselves. That’s not my fault, and it’s not my doing. Go bark at AP.

      I am wondering now: can you even read? Apparently, if we believed you, one must not be in Afghanistan in order to understand irony (I am sure Afghans do, and you are an exception, if you are even an Afghan).

  3. Maximilian Forte

    And, of course, there is no “Nimat Shah” mentioned anywhere on the Web, nor a single item anywhere that includes the email address he provided to this blog.

    This is possibly another made-up entity, most likely an American in Afghanistan, trying to post with the voice of the naive-sounding local.

    1. Frenchguy

      “This is possibly another made-up entity, most likely an American in Afghanistan, trying to post with the voice of the naive-sounding local.”

      This seems a very likely hypothesis to me. If I listen to my paranoid self, I would even say it ressembles professional online-hasbara, (like during the last large-scale bombing of Gaza) but this time in defense of the NATO military.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Of course, and they make a point of “correcting” all “hostile misinformation” — except in this case it comes from the Associated Press. This is not paranoia either, it is an official part of the U.S. military’s policy to enlist the services of their own troops, their own web agencies, and sympathetic milbloggers to run propaganda online.

        This “Afghan” may or may not be part of that, but his refusal to even write one word about his own positioning in Afghanistan shows that he has something to hide.

        It’s easy to take clumsy pot shots at a CV…when it’s actually been provided. So far, it seems I am the only one posting his.

  4. Nimat Shah

    Ah. I see that you are not a man who wishes to discuss anything only you wish to make another man seem small. Here we see that a man who would need to make another appear small is likely very short himself. He speaks over the wall and will not open the gate.

    I have told you that I am arriving for first time on your blog just today. I have interested enough to see your CV. I will not decide on you by some other man who writes by you. Only by what you say. I am saying that these sources you quote are not in authority on issues of Afghan people. Who is a professor of womens’s studies in new Hampshire to speak about Afghanistan on a website so old? Who is Afghan Daily Count when they say that an attack was done by “Afghan Puppet Forces”? This is the language of Zabiullah Mujahid which you echo. You believe this over an Afghan only because your ears are sealed to that which you will not hear. You make an excuse that I am no one. Or you make an excuse that I am an American soldier.

    I do not say that you sound like an Afghan. I say that you sound like one man who is the propaganda for the Taliban as if he writes your blog for you and fills it with lies and what is half true and what is deception. You do not know how it is in Afghanistan. When one Afghan writes to you he is insulted and you yell over the wall to tell everyone he is a small man and no one should listen. You have fun and laugh at the man as you say “comedy.”

    First I find that you write things that are wrong as if you had been told the only truth. Now I find that you have no hospitality or ability to have a talk. You are very proud of your self and see nothing in any other who does not sound just like you. I attended university in Pakistan during the time my family was in the refugee camps in Pakistan to be away from the Taliban. I learned there Anthropology means some one who wants to know about another. But you do not. All you wish to do is make your sound and have no reply. Very proud in your self you are.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Nimat, if I can use that name (Nimat Shah has never been used anywhere else on the Internet, except here):

      You seem intent on personalizing issues, while demanding hospitality. Tell me, is it an Afghan custom to offer hospitality to disrespectful guests who insult the host? I didn’t think so.

      While you preach about my “making another appear small” (I guess you can give, but can’t take)…look at what you then proceed to immediately write:

      “Who is a professor of womens’s studies in new Hampshire to speak about Afghanistan on a website so old?”

      Why does that mean his information is wrong? You have not proved that his factual data, masses of it, are wrong. What are his sources? Have you bothered to study it? More than that, you want to know who he is. Want to know who recommends him, and how I learned of him?

      From Malalai Joya, who praises his site. She is an Afghan. She is an elected member of the National Assembly. And she is internationally recognized. Now, will you say she is repeating Taliban propaganda, when she detests the Taliban? Will you dismiss another Afghan? Of course you will, because unlike you, this is an Afghan, elected by her people, who condemns both the Taliban and the U.S. occupation, which you do not.


      I would have said your attempt at an argument is based on foolish premises. In actuality, what you are doing is producing an extremist argument, using the techniques of the fanatic. You are effectively arguing that EVERYONE is wrong, that the U.S. military has not killed civilians, even when they admit to, even when their “protecting” Afghan civilians amounts to nothing more than not harming them, the basic minimum that is required under international law.

      How does it feel to be defending the Marines when they kill your countrymen? Do their deaths not count to you? Are they not Afghans?

      Your mistake is in lecturing me on anthropology: “I learned there Anthropology means some one who wants to know about another.” Well, the Taliban are “other” too, and I am trying to learn what they also have to say because their voices are almost entirely absent from any discussions about Afghanistan. And to you, I am also an “other,” and you seem to want to learn nothing at all. Understanding and respect go both ways…but first take a look back at how you entered here, before protesting innocence.

      Finally, you have very selective attention. I made a number of points in reply, few of which you challenged. I assume that is because you were not able to. My duty as an anthropologist is to be skeptical of any unidentified source, a member of a tiny minority in Afghanistan who has any kind of Internet access, who comes here, dismisses everything, proves nothing, and ignores what he does not want to hear. I have no duty to respect that.

    2. Maximilian Forte

      “I will not decide on you by some other man who writes by you”

      That is good, that you decided to change your mind.

      “I do not say that you sound like an Afghan. I say that you sound like one man who is the propaganda for the Taliban”

      Well, that man is an Afghan, and you said I sound like I had been trained by him. Anyway, you call anything you don’t agree with “Taliban propaganda,” including Time Magazine and popular movies, so you’re not exactly credible here. By the way, do you recognize that the Taliban are Afghans too? Who is authorized to speak as an Afghan? Just you alone? Are Taliban views to be prohibited from the discussion? I am wondering, since you claim to have understood one principle of anthropology. I don’t let anyone command my sympathies or order me to erase the views of movements as clearly influential as those lumped together under the heading of Taliban. I would think that you would appreciate that as Afghans who have shed so much blood on their soil defending it, that at the very least they had earned the right to speak and be heard.

      But then this is where you do far worse than make propaganda for the Taliban: you justify their violence. If they cannot speak, if their sacrifices mean nothing, if they are to be totally erased, then their violence is absolutely mandatory. It’s thanks to people like you.

      I also I did ask:

      “If the article was written by an Afghan, please forward the link to me (I am not seeing any links to this article). If the article was written by a respected analyst of Afghan politics, history, and warfare, again please send me the link. If the article was instead written by some anonymous, unqualified, right wing American coward who licks army boots, forget it, I have seen enough garbage like that already. Nor do I need to go to Afghanistan to get it. There is too much of that rubbish online already, travel is not required to meet it.”

      Since there was no link, that pretty well tells me what kind of article you have been reading. Thanks, as I said, definitely not interested in reading it.

  5. Nimat Shah

    You may call me by my given name or by Nimatullah which is the complete name. Because you cannot google me that means I do not exist? Such is your world. You ask me to endanger myself for your pleasure.

    I did not insult you. You on your hand claim I do not exist and call me comedy and naive. Who is the insulter? Am I to offer you hospitality on your own blog or are you the host. I find the word that describes this as arrogance.

    You did not read my reply. I asked what qualification a man who teaches women’s studies has to speak of Afghanistan. I also see that he cried against the battle to throw out the Taliban in the early days of it. This event allowed my family to come back to Afghanistan and home. Read my words again and see who I said printed “Puppet.” Puppet is the name that the Taliban and Gulbuddin give to the government to tell people that it is not real. They claim only the Taliban is the true government of Afghanistan.

    You ask about me. I work to rebuild my country. I do not work for the government but I work with it. We work to help villages and districts to build services and improve the lives of the people and we are targeted by the Taliban who also find information on the internet. So you will please excuse me for not making danger for myself in telling too much or where exactly I am. Thank you for your kindness in this matter.

    You speak in circles. You talk of Afghanistan and then you ask why when I say you are wrong you ask why I do not interest myself in you more. I did not write and say to you that in Canada the police sometimes kill Canadians and why are they not important to you. You wrote about the Marines who have come here to help my country to be rid of Taliban and call them murderers and war criminals. I tell you as an Afghan that the Marines do kill sometimes by accident and pay the families and you say that I did not say this. You do not say that Taliban kill citizens on purpose and here we all know they do. You do not say that Taliban have killed more than Marines and here every one knows this is true. We do not want Marines to kill citizens and an article says they are being with care now and you say this is protecting citizens from themself. This is true in a sense but in this other sense it is Marines trying to make the Taliban leave is more danger to Marines instead.

    You think that we do not see this. But we do. You say you can find all you need on the internet and you do not need to come here because already you know all. Here we say this is foolish. From your words I can tell you do not know. You listen only to what agrees with what you have decided. This is not reason. It is just you talking and when any man disagrees you say he is small or you say he is not real. You say he is comedy and he is naive.

    You do not want to know who says you are wrong. You will only say he is a boot licker so there is no sense in providing a link to you. If you want to know you can find it your self. I think more people read it than read your blog. So if it is a boot licker then more like the boot licker than you.

    Tomorrow I will go to a new district and I am told there is no phone data there. You have my email but I have not got a mail from you. I say these things as an Afghan to you but you do not want to listen so I think it is a time not spent well in this case.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      First, don’t pretend to rewrite the history that is available to all of us immediately above. This is how you entered — by saying that I made up the stories (I quoted AP), that I get my information from trash sources, and that I say “crazy things.” If you think that was respectful, and deserved respect in return, then let’s be clear: I gave back as much as I got.

      Second, my point about your identity. It would be fine if Nimat Shah had been a totally invented name, just much more suspicious that the only time it has been used anywhere on the Internet is right here. More importantly, I asked you to explain your position, and now finally you have. You are a contractor. Maybe the people you work with are heavily protected by the Marines, or maybe you are far from the Taliban — meanwhile many other contractors pay the Taliban just to continue operating.

      Third, you wrote: “I asked what qualification a man who teaches women’s studies has to speak of Afghanistan.” And I said, who cares? Does that mean his information is wrong? Have you examined his sources? I don’t care for appeals to authority, and you are unable to prove that anything he says is wrong. You added: “I also see that he cried against the battle to throw out the Taliban in the early days of it. This event allowed my family to come back to Afghanistan and home. Read my words again and see who I said printed ‘Puppet’.” Right. What’s the problem? The expulsion of the Taliban from power has not decreased violence, it has increased it. The war lords are back in power. Women have no more rights than they used to. And Karzai was installed by the Americans. Your family was able to return, but in the meantime many other families have been forced to flee.

      Fourth, you say I speak in circles, but I what I am actually doing is what you refuse to do — answering each and every one of your points, as I am doing right now. If there are circles, you drew them. Another sign of respect is to actually answer what the other person says — it creates conversation and is the essence of correspondence, rather than two juxtaposed monologues.

      You wrote: “I tell you as an Afghan that the Marines do kill sometimes by accident and pay the families and you say that I did not say this.” Good, that did not stand out for me before and I missed it. Do the Taliban kill civilians? Yes, we all know they do. However, that does not change anything at all in the article, and AP was focused on Marine actions. As I said before, if you have a problem with AP, complain to them, I don’t speak for them.

      Fifth, you just wrote: “You say you can find all you need on the internet and you do not need to come here because already you know all.” WRONG. That is not what I said at all, and yet you spared no time in adding another insult, calling me foolish this time…when all you did was to stuff your words in my mouth. I said that when it comes to right-wing American macho militarists writing on the Internet, I don’t need to travel to Afghanistan to get it. In fact, you have not pointed me to one single Afghan source at any point in this discussion, even though I did. Perhaps you just refuse to read.

      Sixth, you don’t know what the traffic statistics are, so now you should avoid sounding foolish. You claim this other site links to mine — and that’s great — but clearly the favour is not returned here. I am a firm believer in the principle that there is no such thing as bad publicity, so I am glad for it, wherever it comes from. It sounds to me like I am unpopular with the wrong people, which is also great news.

      However, your additional comments confirm exactly what I thought was the kind of material you were referring to. If what you brought to this blog is even a fraction of what they have on their site, then they certainly did not tear anything apart except their own credibility.

      Seventh, my email address is plainly evident and available to anyone who visits this site. It’s on the same page where you got my CV.

      Lastly, check the posts by M. Jamil Hanifi on this blog, by looking at the Contents page or searching this site for his name. He has just posted two comments in the last hour or so. He is an Afghan too, and an anthropologist.

    2. M. Jamil Hanifi

      Nimat Shah! Or Nimatullah Shah! Salam! Te tsanga yae? Khodat chetor asti? Koranai de xa da? Familat khub ast? (Pashto and Dari, how are you, is your family well?). You have online access to my CV as a participant in Open Anthropology. I am not wearing a mask. Please share with me information about your cultural and professional identity. As a brave and patriotic Afghan man you don’t want to walk around with a chadari (women’s veil) unless you are hiding something or plan on using your body as a delivery system with which to harm your enemies. Please read “Interrogating Conventional Wisdom about Terrorism” on this blog.

      What is your cultural and national identity, your qawm (ethnicity or tribe)? Name is a crucial part of one’s cultural identity. Is “Shah” the last name for all members of your family? How did you end up with this highly unusual, even unlikely, family name for an ordinary Afghan? Perhaps you are a Sayid (descendant of the Prophet). For how long have you and your family used “Shah” as your last name? Where do you currently live? Where did you live before you sought refuge in Pakistan. What Pakistani university did you attend, when, and what did you study? What do you have in mind when you state that “I work to build my country. I do not work for the government but I work with it”? Are you a businessman, self-employed, a contractor? What are you building? Are you making a good living in this line of work? Isn’t the name “Zabiullah” correctly “Zabihullah”? I trust you know the difference.

      Once I have more information about you, I would be happy to discuss the issues and questions raised in your exchanges with Dr. Forte. In the meanwhile, as an Afghan and as an American, I am astonished by your observation that “when NATO kills a citizen it is a mistake and they pay for it as would an Afghan to the family”. And the American payment is usually about $2000. You seem to approve of this routine business exchange system. Have you heard of the concept “badal” and “enteqam”? Do you know anything about blood feuds among our people. Are you aware of the massacre at Dasht-e Laili in northern Afghanistan of exactly 3000 resisters by the occupying forces and their local collaborators during 2002? Do you understand the symbolic importance of 3000? Being a native South Asian, a university student, and a patriotic Afghan, how do you process the Euro-American militarized colonial and imperial presence in the physical, political, and cultural spaces of Afghanistan?

      If you are in fact a cultural product of Afghanistan, if you have learned your cultural content there, the American and other European occupiers of your country will never trust you no matter how low you bow.

  6. Maximilian Forte

    Let me post a remark that might lead to something better, Mr. Shah. You and I both seem to agree that there is no need for the insults. I see myself as having reciprocated, and I am quite willing to cease and desist. I should add: that just being an Afghan does not mean that you are right, or that you can speak for all or most Afghans. Now that is a mistake that no serious anthropologist is willing to make any more.

    You are free and welcome to post on this blog whenever you wish, and we might also get along, even if we disagree.

    On the other hand, you might not wish to post anything more. That’s fine, that is your business, and you sound like a very busy man.

    Best wishes.

  7. Pingback: The Political Economy of the Bullet in Afghanistan « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  8. Aaron Vlek

    I say that you sound like one man who is the propaganda for the Taliban as if he writes your blog for you and fills it with lies and what is half true and what is deception. >>>>

    “Nimat Shah” this is a classic American style argumentative formula. We have heard it before. If you don’t support the Republicans, you are a socialist/communist/terrorist supporter, if you are not a Christian, you are an amoral soulless satan worshipper, if you don’t support the Iraq war, you hate America and want “our troops” hurt, and now according to your cliche formula, if one does not support a unilateral and unquestioned sortee by US troops in Afghanistan, then you are a taliban supporter. And lets not forget the other all time favorite. If you don’t unquestioningly support any and all activities of the government of Israel, you are an antisemite. This kind of typical fallacy relies on a profound lack of awareness of historical narratives and the engagement of cultures and requires a kneejerk emotive reaction. Who are you really? Sarah Palin?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks for the comments Aaron. What also surprises me is this: if this Nimat Shah is hearing echoes of the Taliban seemingly everywhere, in the words of a non-Muslim Canadian, in Time Magazine, in “popular movies,” in the work of a professor of women’s studies (he didn’t dare touch Malalai Joya though, who praised that same professor)…then this should get him thinking. If the messages of the Taliban have such universal appeal, and so many different actors with different backgrounds, interests, and motivations, spread around the world, can all sound like the Taliban, then maybe Nimat is on the wrong side. He should try explaining, to himself, how this supposedly unpopular and hated Taliban can have such overwhelming universal appeal.

      However, I take that dealing with the consequences of his logic is not one of his strong points. All he wants to do is build, make money, and praise the protection of the Marines who, after all, “pay compensation” to the families of those they kill. I wonder what price Nimat would be willing to put on the head of his family.

      His dismissal of some of the sources I use, simply by virtue of who they are, would be fine if it had at least been a lead up to providing better sources and more accurate information. Does he? No, he just emotes and turns to more ad hominems.

      He can lecture me on anthropology, but note I did not reciprocate in that instance: I did not lecture him on what it means to be an Afghan. I did not offer some naive generalization, “Gee, Nimat, I thought that being an Afghan means you have some guts, some pride, that you would fiercely defend your homeland, and not sing the praises of foreign invaders.” I could have, but I didn’t.

  9. Aaron Vlek

    Max, I notice today there is a NY Times piece about female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is the fact that they are women supposed to make us feel all warm and cuddly and supportive of their role in these wars and of the wars themselves because they are women? Just curious what your take is on this. By the way, despite my name, I am a woman myself.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Right, I think you are referring to “G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier.” There was a related piece by the AP a couple of days ago: “Marines try a woman’s touch to reach Afghan hearts.”

      As you suggested, I think the intention is to make us feel warm and cuddly, and superior to the evil misogynist enemy…feminism gets safer and politically more attractive the further away that it is deployed. Back home, women tend to get life sentences, or execution, for killing abusive husbands, much more often than abusive men who kill their wives — so the “problem” of punishing women for fighting back is neither a monopoly of the Taliban nor the U.S., but seems to be shared. Deploying women soldiers also attempts to create an example for Afghans perhaps (bad example — if the Taliban were to enlist their own women, their fighting force might double).

      If it is meant to have a demonstration effect for Afghan politics, it isn’t working. That (in)famous Shia law, so protested by NATO governments a few months back (also wrote about it here: NATO and Afghanistan’s Shia Marriage Law: The Collapse of a Master Narrative) has not been pulled off the table, and whatever revisions were promised don’t seem to have materialized. In fact, some new provisions appear to have been added, such as starving a woman who denies her husband sex — see: Afghanistan passes ‘barbaric’ law diminishing women’s rights. Now these are America’s “anti-Taliban” allies!

      In a recent post I also spoke of the nature of this feminist, anti-misogynist American military…where raping women fellow soldiers is reaching extreme, alarming heights:

      as Congresswoman Jane Harman learned last year, at least 41% of American female veterans say they were the victims of sexual assault while serving in the military. In fact, 29% say there were raped during their military service. “We have an epidemic here,” she said. “Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.” Only 8% of reported sexual assaults in the military were prosecuted. The Pentagon went as far as ordering its expert on sexual abuse, Dr. Kaye Whitley, to ignore a Congressional subpoena to testify about the military’s handling of sexual abuse within its own ranks. It gets worse: the General Accounting Office found that perhaps as many as 50% of cases of sexual assault are never even reported. (Read more from Rep. Harman here.)

      To help fill the gap in support, a website was established: the Military Rape Crisis Center, for those who suffered sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or rape while in the military. It says that 80% of rapes are never reported, and that one in seven women will experience sexual assault while in the military. As many as 85% of those actually convicted of rape or sexual assault are honorably discharged, and the crime does not appear on their records. The overwhelming majority, more than 90%, of American women who report sexual assault while in the military, are discharged before their contract ends, 85% of those against their wishes.

      In general I don’t buy the feminist angle that is being exploited for the war in Afghanistan as anything other than an imperialist trope that plays on notions of civilization, superiority, and progress. It strikes me as especially cynical and it will have a very damaging effect on the already conflictual tensions between Western and non-Western feminists. Given the many varieties of feminism, the liberal bourgeois/imperial American version is going to suffer significant blowback, first abroad, then at home.

      My two favourites quotes from that piece above are these:

      The US Congress now cares about the Iranian people. This is as vapid as when the Feminist Majority (which used to sell on its website pieces of Burqah to express solidarity with women in Afghanistan–although it did not sell plastic black eyes to show solidarity with victims of domestic violence here in the US) feigned concern over the women in Afghanistan. — As’ad AbuKhalil

      We need to be suspicious when neat cultural icons are plastered over messier historical and political narratives; so we need to be wary when Lord Cromer in British-ruled Egypt, French ladies in Algeria, and Laura Bush, all with military troops behind them, claim to be saving or liberating Muslim women. — Lila Abu-Lughod

      For an Afghan feminist perspective I encourage people to read (daily if possible) the site of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), especially their news: Reality of Life in Afghanistan. In my sidebar I also carry the news feed for Rethink Afghanistan, which also sometimes has valuable reports from Afghan women’s perspectives.

      As for the female GI’s, I wish them a speedy trip back home where hopefully they can apply their new found fighting skills to kicking in the heads of wife beaters and fighting the many, mounting social injustices that plague their home nation.

    2. Maximilian Forte

      I wanted to add: in some ways all this means is that, in fits and starts, in bits and pieces, the U.S. military is merely catching up to what some “Third World” guerrilla armies achieved 20, 30 years ago or more, specifically in places such as Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

      Incidentally, there is an oldish Hollywood film set in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan — The Beast (1988) — that features Afghan women (ignoring the injunctions of men) going after a Soviet tank that is lost, and eventually butchering its crew, or at least its commander if I recall.



      (complete series)

  10. fnord

    “As you suggested, I think the intention is to make us feel warm and cuddly, and superior to the evil misogynist enemy…feminism gets safer and politically more attractive the further away that it is deployed.”

    Lol, sir, dont you see that you are stuck in the same narrative trap as are the rightwingers? Female troops are deployed in certain functions because females have social advantages such as the ability to search women, communicate with women, etc. without breaking local codes of conduct. That critiscism is an example of the blindness of much of your other writings: You keep on ascribing your subjects political motives, even collective political motives without considering practcal reasons for actions. Your basic narrative is that of the evil imperialist superpower, so everything must by necessity be a manifestation of this evil. Its like folks who instead of critizising Israel go into full-on jew-paranoia.

    You got some valid points of critiscism in there, but your smugness and arrogance as well as your lack of academic grounding really makes you look like a leftist version of Victor David Hanson.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      You miss the point entirely (deliberately so), and like the right wingers, you look for expedient labels that you think will shame critics. Anyone trying to ideologically convert an imperialist war into a feminist action, so that more of us might support it, is engaged in a cynical abuse of the struggle for women’s rights that will ultimately turn it into an object for heightened domestic and international scorn. That is already happening, as I described in my articles, as the Feminist Majority Foundation is already the target of a series of heavy criticisms from those who realize that to be pro-women, or pro-any human being, you first have to be anti-war. In this particular war, women and children have been suffering more than anyone else. Show some concern, and you might be taken seriously.

      “You keep on ascribing your subjects political motives, even collective political motives without considering practcal reasons for actions.”

      This is exactly the kind of blindness that I see routinely repeated by those who will not question, or who lack critical thinking skills. On the other hand, it can be the kind of studied chauvinism of those with a militarist axe to grind, because someone has benefited from the war. What makes an action “practical” to begin with depends on the prior political motives. The practicality is derivative of the larger imperial mission that places troops in close contact with civilians, and that turns those civilians into a primary frontline in the war of occupation. There is no practicality in a vacuum, in the abstract; that practicality is grounded.

      In your case, you simply buy into the mission…like “right wingers” would like us to. You take the mission for granted, remove it from question, place it outside the analytical frame, and then ask us to look at procedural and operational issues. No, sorry, we don’t do that here. Go elsewhere for that kind of creepy mission think, you will find it easily since the majority of blogs are doing it. Keep in mind — this may be asking too much — that as has been covered on this same blog with which you claim some familiarity, that some “right wingers” actually oppose the war. In this case, those are “right wingers” I can work with. In my case, I care for neither left nor right.

      So you say I am “blind” and lack “academic grounding” and apparently I don’t, especially as other academics are saying the very same things. But then that is “smugness and arrogance” — and the profusion of ad hominems in your piece (attack the messenger, not the message, that’s your supposed academic grounding), simply tells me one thing: you are bruised and feel very small.

      It’s very funny to come here concerned about “smugness and arrogance,” when we have the arrogance of those who assume the right to chart Afghanistan’s destiny, to rewire its society, and to remodel its culture, with smug assurances that now that we use women in the field, we’ll get it right (and the liberal anti-war feminists will get on board, or keep quiet). However, by all means, pick on me instead, I am certainly the biggest threat to world peace, with this blog and all.

      1. fnord

        “You miss the point entirely (deliberately so), and like the right wingers, you look for expedient labels that you think will shame critics. Anyone trying to ideologically convert an imperialist war into a feminist action, so that more of us might support it, is engaged in a cynical abuse of the struggle for women’s rights that will ultimately turn it into an object for heightened domestic and international scorn. ”

        You really make my point for me, sir. In your first line you ascribe me a motive. In your second you assert your narrative in a declarative sentence, as well as further ascribing me motives that are not my own. Nobody is trying to see Afghanistan as a feminist action, at least nobody that Im aware of. Having communicated with serving troops and other military folks for the three last years, I have yet to see that card played. Now, Im aware that this automatically sets me in your “wingnut” category, but I fail to see the “imperial mission” aspect of the screwed up occupation of Afghanistan as well. Rather, my narrative goes something like “We are stuck with the remnants of Rumsfelds follies”, and have a basic choice: Either we as intelectuals turn our backs and walk away from it all, or we engage and try to make the best out of a bad situation. You choose to walk away, fair enough. But by ascribing motives to those of us who choose not to, you come over like a rhetorical black hole, a person so established inside his own paradigm of beliefs that communication becomes impossible.

        “we have the arrogance of those who assume the right to chart Afghanistan’s destiny, to rewire its society, and to remodel its culture, with smug assurances that now that we use women in the field, we’ll get it right (and the liberal anti-war feminists will get on board, or keep quiet).”

        Newsflash: Women have been serving in Afghanistan all through the conflict. What you dont seem to want to think about is that the mission itself has changed, from a “war on terror” constructed by Rumsfeld and Cheney, to a pop-centric stability mission in order to get the hell out again. I “oppose” the war myself, but it is a fact that the conflict exists. I fail to see how letting Afghanistan fall back into the 12th century in any way helps the “Afghan people”, and I fail to see how breaking all our western promises and comitments there will make anyone but the Taleban happy. If that makes me an imperialist, then so be it.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Interesting points fnord, and I am glad we got away from the needless ad hominems. Incidentally, neither “wingnut” nor any of the other fine terms I just read here are ones that I would normally use.

        You will see my response, if interested, given in different ways in an upcoming, very short, video post on this blog.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        Ok, back to these points. You say I am ascribing motives, but then by the last paragraph aren’t you saying that I ascribed correctly?

        “I fail to see how letting Afghanistan fall back into the 12th century in any way helps the “Afghan people”, and I fail to see how breaking all our western promises and commitments there will make anyone but the Taleban happy.”

        No, I don’t accept this reasoning. First, stop defining other people’s “times” from the standpoint of your own metaphorical timezone. Nobody has appointed America as either the best representative or strongest defender of civilization and modernity either — not that I particularly adore either of those concepts. Second, if some leaders made commitments, they were both unsolicited, and unauthorized. As I said in response to your latest comment, the majority of Canadians want out, now. None were ever consulted about going in — so “we the people” made no promises. Leaving won’t just make the Taliban happy, it will make Canadians happy. So, I would think that makes me a democrat, and I can live with that.

        Finally, you say that no one has tried to cast the Afghan “mission” as a feminist one. That is simply incorrect, I mean factually wrong. Laura Bush clearly did so, and I showed the video where she speaks the words of women’s liberation in relation to the Afghan invasion (here). This was echoed by George Bush, reinforced by the Feminist Majority Foundation, and at the very least implied in the work of Greg Mortenson. So it’s simply neither fair nor accurate to say that nobody has played the feminism card, especially not in one week where two major media outlets celebrate, one, female GIs, and two, more female Marines in the field, as if this were a woman’s war after all.

  11. Maximilian Forte

    PS: I have no problem with ad hominem attacks, generally (some are too obscene to publish, even for what is formally a R-rated blog such as this). The usefulness of the ad hominem attacks is that they clearly place the attacker in a position of furious inferiority, which is at once comical to watch and funny to toy with, and it also preserves my original message in tact since I become the subject of the attack.

    The other utility of ad hominem attacks is that they show whose raw nerves have been struck, and what those raw nerves are, which can be useful information and tends to lead to the generation of even more articles that target those nerves. Even in the middle of personal insults, one can find the little message points that are at the center of the attacker’s sense of injury, and his/her chosen shields to deflect injury.

    Show me your little wound, and I will turn it into a hemorrhage.

    1. M. Jamil Hanifi

      To think that American women soldiers are in Afghanistan “to search women, communicate with women, etc. without breaking local codes of conduct” is either ignorance of local culture or a clever maneuver to side-track all the political and material resources produced in north America by Zionists of all strains for the fortification of fascist Israel. Given the plaintive tone of this wounded soldier, the latter is the likely reason. The humiliating invasion of the sacred space of an Afghan body—male or female—does not recognize gender. The destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan and the alienation of the Muslim world benefits no one except fascist Israel.

  12. Aaron Vlek

    Female troops are deployed in certain functions because females have social advantages such as the ability to search women, communicate with women, etc. without breaking local codes of conduct. >>>>

    Could you enlighten me? In which cultures are forcible searches of women, or anyone else for that matter, by the same gender as the searchee or not, by hostile occupying forces does NOT violate local codes of conduct?

    1. fnord

      In most cultures who have been through 20 years of war, and where searches are being done by all sides. You seem to forget that much of earlier Talib tactics were about blowing up civilians, often with explosives hidden under womens clothing. I would assume that the fear of being blown up would alleviate the insult of being searched.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        fnord, you are perpetuating a fairly worn myth here, a cherished item in the propaganda arsenal of NATO and the compliant media: that the Taliban go about purposely and deliberately blowing up civilians — “Talib tactics were about blowing up civilians” — and that it was frequent (you say “often”) that they hid explosives under women’s clothing. Of all the suicide bombings we have read about, this kind is a distinct minority. In no case was the intended target of those bombings civilian noncombatants — and to prove otherwise means more than just divining intent, it means getting Taliban sources themselves to back you up.

        Let’s put it this way: if Taliban bombings deliberately kill civilians as their intended target, then so do U.S.

        As for other possibilities, I will reserve my commentary for that video post I mentioned in my other reply.

      2. fnord

        “Let’s put it this way: if Taliban bombings deliberately kill civilians as their intended target, then so do U.S.”

        Humm, thats a interesting statement. To begin with, the whole “night-letter” system of intimidation is based on the threat of killing civilians. The whole campaign against schools is targeted against civilians. To be strict, the continual slaughtering of Afghan policeforces is aimed at civilians, though Ill cede that one as a grey-area since they are in uniform. As the recent bombing in Kabul shows, and as several others also show, the Taleban is perfectly willing to kill civilians in order to score symbolic points. As for actual massacres , see as an example http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2001/afghanistan/. This is a natural part of any insurgency strategy, and is quite obvious. The real scandal lies in the fact that it took 7 long long years before the NATO forces came up with a counter-strategy that didnt involve a merely kinetic answer. I have yet to hear of a deliberate act of punishment killing being carried out by NATO on purpose.

        We leftists have a tendency to forget the brutality of the Afghan reality, and paint the Talebs as noble savages. Theyre not. Theyre a bunch of misogynist medievalist conservatives, much like your basic christian zionist. They dont have the hearts and minds of a lot of the population, but they got them by the balls and nerves. If the west were to just pull out, as you seem to be advocating, a lot and lot of civilians would face a repeat of the fall of Kabul after the soviets pulled out, where massacres were an ordinary occurence.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        Sorry fnord, but you used the example of suicide bombings, and I responded to that. As for the above, yes, a lot of that is true, and of course some is not — the threat to cut off fingers of voters, for example, is one that the Taliban deny making.

        If they are misogynist medievalists, they are far from the only ones. Indeed, the most powerful ones currently occupy the government supported by the West — so if this was intended as an argument for “staying the course,” it’s not a good one.

        If they are misogynist medievalists, they are Afghanistan’s misogynist medievalists, and not mine to correct or sort out. There are many others, elsewhere in the world, including some staunch Roman Catholics I know, including the so-called Christian Zionists you mentioned. So, just how far and wide will our bombardments extend now? Again, not a good argument for the Afghan obsession.

        I don’t think the Taliban are noble savages. I don’t think they are savages, period.

        “If the west were to just pull out, as you seem to be advocating, a lot of civilians would face a repeat of the fall of Kabul after the soviets pulled out, where massacres were an ordinary occurrence.”

        Yes, I am advocating pulling out, and not just me: the majority of Canadians, who want to do so right now. You called it walking away in another comment — I would prefer something faster than walking. Incidentally, the Government of Canada had promised an earlier withdrawal date, years ago — we are there on an “extension” now. This is a question of democracy at home now, where it should count for Canadians: the will of the majority is being ignored by the government. So some of what I am doing is advocacy, and a lot of it is repeating the majority view.

        Now, a lot of massacres occurred before the Taliban took power, I think you forget that. Indeed, the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul was celebrated as the arrival of order, peace, and stability. And as GlobalPost’s correspondents found (see here), some people in Kabul still remember those days fondly, including at least some secular feminists and Communists.

        So really if these are arguments for staying, none of them hold any logical validity for me, and no political legitimacy with the majority of Canadians. Both NATO and the U.S. will have to learn to accommodate that fact.

      4. fnord

        In other words, sir, we messed it up, now screw them. Damn, I long for times when the Geneva convention and other international treaties were in action. Because it would also mean an immediate NGO-pull out, and that would lead to starvation since the fckin ecosystems of irrigation are all damaged and the water table is falling. You would leave behind a new Somalia of little fiefdoms of poverty and warfare, and you dare to call other imperialists? “Nah, not worth it, screw them”.

        Cartman-style argument, sir. Have you even studied the logistics of a withdrawal, the timeframe and consequences and contigency plans?

      5. Maximilian Forte

        Ah, but this is a complete switch now.

        I am all for providing generous aid to countries destroyed by the West, aid without conditions, and full restitution and reparations made.

        That does not require troops, invasions, and propping up unpopular governments. It also means that Afghans get to decide who they invite into their communities, when, and how.

      6. Maximilian Forte

        You can’t force aid on people, otherwise it ceases to be “aid”, or the aid is more like the Trojan horse that many critics of development aid see it as being. If the NGOs need security, then that would suggest it is not the time or the place for them to enter. On the other hand, even now Afghanistan has its own local NGOs, therefore it would seem appropriate to provide them with the resources, and let the affairs be managed locally.

  13. Aaron Vlek

    We are actually beginning to see more of this use of ‘women” as some kind of trump card that’s designed to level bridge the great cultural divide in the US, but it gors on all over. John McCain hoped to wipe Hillary Clinton off the map by throwing up (all puns intended) absolutely anything with tits and a skirt and we are still suffering from Palination. We women are stupid and blind afterall, and we enjoy absolute unilateral solidarity with all other females. Or so McCain thought. And now we see Ahmadinejad tossing around the female presence in his upcoming cabinet and all presumably will be forgiven. I guess I am supposed to love the US itinerary of global neoimperialism “lite” now because it’s an equal opportunity program and is using women. Somehow, I find it hard to believe the Afghan population welcomes body searches by female GIs.

  14. Pingback: Questions about the Taliban: Struggle against the USSR; Reagan; how popularity was gained « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  15. crank

    Hehehe, you’ve really stirred up the wingnut shitpits!
    I read about Loyd’ s story before and saw hundreds of assholes gloating about Abdul getting murdered by that merc. Now I bet some of these same redneck dumb fucks are the ones saying your gloating about Loyd getting zapped.
    You’re not but I sure as hell am!
    Fuck them, fuck her, and fuck the Stars Wars cruiser they rode in on.
    War’s hell, and payback’s a bitch!!!

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Crank, that was very “colourful,” thanks.

      My reply is just this:

      “‘We have been attacked,’ screamed the manager. ‘I know — I know. It’s all right,’ yelled back the other, as cheerful as you please. ‘Come along. It’s all right. I am glad’.”

      1. crank

        I think I exaggerated. It’s just a handful of drooling nut jobs who got upset at having their stinking mugs rubbed in the facts for a change.

        Great job. Thanks for your work.

      2. Maximilian Forte


        Well it must be just a handful, because I am not seeing any incoming links, so they can’t be sites that are heavily visited.

        And that’s too bad. That means they are not doing the job I wanted them to do, as well as I wanted them to, which was to increase publicity for the argument, and to heighten the visibility of the blog and boost its presence in the search rankings. Otherwise, I don’t care about their rants, they serve my purposes.

  16. Florence


    I think I read this enough times that I can understand it and I followed the comments too. There are a couple of questions that aren’t being asked by anyone.

    First off, let me say that I have a relative in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. Plus, I also have a BA in anthropology and I have friends in the US Army. So if anything about this seems defensive to you, you can guess why.

    My question is – isn’t Paula Loyd your colleague? Is this the right way to speak about a colleague?

    Second question – you don’t seem very sympathetic to the troops generally. Do you blame them for their circumstances?

    I’ll wait to see if you answer and then I might follow up.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I am glad that you asked those questions Florence, and that you chose to pose them in a calm manner, which is all too rare. You have also taken more steps toward self-disclosure, in terms of identifying your interests and connections, than most of those who choose to launch tirades from behind the cloak of a pseudonym.

      To your first question:
      Colleagues are those that I work with. (I was going to write that I never write about my colleagues on this blog, and then I remembered that there was one time that I referred to one in passing, for an event at Concordia: https://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2008/07/09/1968-2008-from-vietnam-to-concordia/. Concordia has a long history of dissent, even rioting, and all the wrong people — from the inquisitorial Zionist Alan Dershowitz who says it is not a “real” university, to the war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu who called it “Gaza U” — have understood that we are not a home to such scoundrels. We have warmly received Ward Churchill and many others like him. Those are my colleagues.)

      Paula Loyd had a B.A. in anthropology, like yourself. Is that what makes her a colleague? In addition, she was an American, and worked for the Pentagon, via an international arms corporation BAE Systems. I don’t have colleagues in such places. I realize that some would like to order me to be appropriately sympathetic, and command my loyalties, but this is taking the definition of colleague far beyond just a stretch.

      So to answer your question, no, Loyd was not a colleague. She was not a professional anthropologist, nor an academic. She was not in the employ of a university. She was not doing anthropological research in Afghanistan. She was not doing any kind of anthropological work, anywhere. She was neither a colleague nor a friend, nor an acquaintance.

      Your second question is related, on the issue of commanding sympathies. I understand why people like you and others flock to this blog to read perspectives like you read in the article above — it is due to the fact that you cannot find them anywhere else, at least not conveniently, and not in English. This shows that there is a dearth of real, genuine debate, and that most people, most of the time, are not really being challenged about their beliefs and assumptions. That they choose to react with such blind rage and violence, points us to two valuable realizations: one is that some are unwilling to “unlearn” their programming, and the second is that as we can see their blind rage over mere words, imagine how the resistance in Afghanistan must think of both their words and actions. Until we stop stomping on these people, stage managing their reality, and pretending we can remix and re-author their future, their hatred for us is nothing less than to be expected, and it should be fully understandable…as long as you are willing to stop thinking that you were ordained by God to be in Afghanistan, and start thinking outside the uniform.

      Some may not like the debate, and I realize that may be part of the reason why almost all of the anthropology blogs have not so much as mentioned Paula Loyd. They may not be celebrating her death (and neither do I), but they are certainly not indicating that they mourn her loss either (and nor do I). It does not matter to me what happened to Loyd, it was to be expected, and I have no respect for the work she was doing, nor for her mercenary colleague. That is not going to change, howl as some might.

      I don’t blame troops for their circumstances. You know as well as I do, however, that (at least until 2005, which was the last time I had personal contact with people in the Canadian Forces considering going to Afghanistan), the decision to go to Afghanistan is a voluntary one in Canada. They have to sign up for it, consciously and deliberately, and they get paid extra. In fact, those I knew who were considering this option, were very frank and unambiguous about the fact that it was all about the money.

      It does not matter how much fried bologna you have had to eat. When you make a conscious choice to seek payment for invading another country and killing the locals, you are no longer a mere victim of the system, untainted by the consequences of your decisions. Personal decision-making is what makes all the difference between the Canadian soldier who goes to Afghanistan and the one who does not — so that personal decision-making definitely matters and is present. In anthropology, we call this paying attention to “agency,” it’s not all about “structure” and “constraint.” If not, then the constraint thesis should apply to all, not just those who put on a uniform, but also drug dealers, gangsters, murderers, thieves, etc. In other words, once you activate that thesis, and you swear by it, then you no longer get to choose when the thesis applies. It does not just apply to your favourite “good guys” and only when they wear the right uniform. Otherwise the argument is a dishonest one and it can be dismissed.

      To make the point, some note (repeatedly) that Canadian troops come from impoverished areas of Canada, such as Newfoundland. I worked on a maritime campus where Canadian Forces set up recruiting tents, preying on gullible youths with limited prospects and living through extreme financial pressures, so I know what they are talking about. I also know that for the few who sign up, the majority walk away. Once again, if structure mattered so much, we would not see so much agency. However, the maritime one is a bit of a stereotype. A tiny minority of those killed in Afghanistan have been from the maritime provinces. Have a look for yourself: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/afghanistan/casualties/list.html. In fact, many come from the richer provinces.

      There has been this incessant harping on the issue of “support the troops,” and we see it here in Canada too. (Having said that, note that a not a single Canadian military blogger has ever protested anything on this site, unlike their American counterparts.) If anyone thinks it is absent from Canada, have a look at this report, which indicates that this sort of thinking comes from the highest levels of government politics: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060517/nato_afghan_060517/20060517?hub=CTVNewsAt11.

      That link provides us a number of clues, at least if you are new to the debate. One is that “support the troops” is actually intended as a means of purchasing silence, for free. If you are loyal, you will shut up, and support the…mission employing the troops. These are also “human shields,” for a rotten argument that is indefensible and rejected by the majority of Canadians, and that is the argument that we need to be in Afghanistan.

      In the American case, while not much different, the slogan incorporates a broader history. It is part of the Reaganite “America is standing tall again” ethos, backed up by George H.W. Bush who famously said, after invading Iraq the first time, that “we have finally kicked the Vietnam syndrome.” Imperialist America could now invade, conquer, and kill people in weaker nations, at will, without remorse, and without fear. “Support the troops” is the next piece of their puzzle, because they rely on voluntary enlistments (to minimize Vietnam-like political damage at home…showing us how much they really have not kicked the Vietnam syndrome), and they do not want people at home to scorn the troops as “baby killers,” not even when they actually kill babies. The amazing thing is that some Americans were damning in their criticisms of those who had been drafted, truly against their will, during the Vietnam war, only to have gone largely silent about those who voluntarily enlisted. “Kicking the Vietnam syndrome” has meant kicking the domestic opposition into respectful silence, and it has largely worked. It is only a very tiny, and courageous element, who will adopt “fuck the troops” as their banner…and you can check YouTube for this, and the reactions.

      If you are sympathetic to the troops, by respecting their circumstances, then why were these persons not getting any support at all until they put on a uniform? They have to kill, on the command of the politicians, before we care about them? If we really cared about the squalor and desperation of working class poverty in Canada, we would have more of a heart than to effectively say: here put on these fatigues, get your hands bloody, die, and then I will support you. It seems like a cruel argument, that dishonestly appropriates “circumstances” to support and reinforce the very system that placed these individuals in their state of constraint.

      If you care about them, care about them before they enlist. Do not wait for them to return in a casket before you decide to ceremoniously shed a tear for them (when there is no cost to you, and no cost to the system that devoured them).

      (And when I say “you,” understand that I am not necessarily saying “you Florence.”)

      That is my explanation, I do not follow simplistic lines of “sympathy” and “disloyalty,” I do not play the games that the powers that be created for us, and I do not let my sympathies be commanded or curtailed by anyone.

  17. Aaron Vlek


    Here is another interesting bit that should be added into the “Patriotism” kool-aid recipe that Americans are wont to imbibe. And while we’re at it, I think the very term “patriotism” is worth a lengthy discussion in an anthropoligical setting as well as who is best suited to defining it and determining its parameters, setting its measures for compliance and divergence. And yet, nobody does this. It’s just applied and everybody salutes.

  18. Florence

    The order of comments is weird, not in chronological order. Anyway thanks for your answer. I see your points much better and truthfully I can agree with them. They are hard to take at first but they really do make sense. Thanks for the response, like an essay tho, lol!

Comments are closed