OFF THE SHELF: LOVE AND WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

Posted by CODEPINK Staff


Love and War in Afghanistan by Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits & Alex Klaits (Seven Stories Press, 2005). It's hard to imagine arranged marriage if your culture does not practice it. It may be equally hard to imagine spending your honeymoon in two northern provinces of Afghanistan, collecting love stories from the field. But that is precisely what newlyweds Gulchin and Alex did to prepare this moving compilation of first person narratives from women and men trying to fit love into war-torn lives.

Both authors were NGO workers in the region, and Gulchin, as a native of bordering Tajikistan, is fluent in Dari. This allowed her to gather accounts from a broad range of widows, mothers, freedom fighters, and star-crossed lovers. The book does a skillful job of presenting authentic voices speaking of personal matters impacted by a series of wars dating back to before the Soviet invasion in '79. Worth a read as it captures the flavor of culture, tradition, and passionate emotions persisting among land mines, air strikes, and armed men at the door in the dark hours of the night. Several of the fourteen witnesses testify to the agonizing decision to take to the road as refugees -- in different circumstances, with various resources -- an act which always involves tearing oneself away from loved ones that may never be seen again.

Several of those interviewed complained that current President Hamid Karzai's government is full of warlords and criminals (note that this same assertion led to MP Malalai Joya being kicked out of the Afghan parliament). They wondered why the U.S. supported drug lords and illiterate thugs rather than supporting democracy in Afghanistan after driving the Taliban from power in '01. Tellingly, women consistently reported no real change in status or safety after '01.

Several women complained bitterly that confinement in an airless burqa is literally suffocating. "Mama, how do people see with these sheets over their heads?" asked a daughter, while another woman compared the view to looking out through prison bars. But one woman told how she put her burqa to good use, donning it to shout from the rooftop of and scare away away militia men ransacking her home.

The cycles of violence described seem as senseless as they are endless. One man told a friend in Iran who took sheltered his family,"...being a communist or a Taliban or a mujahedin or whatever -- that was just a pretext. Those who had power used their authority to murder their enemies, their family's enemies, their friends' enemies, and their neighbors' enemies. And then when the survivors got power, they would in turn seek retribution."

A famous Pashtun saying is quoted: "Everyone in Afghanistan has enemies. If you don't have enemies, it means you're just a woman." Never have I felt prouder to be a woman than when I read this sentiment.

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