Web Exclusive – March 29, 2011
Afghan culture and politics for a young audience
I didn’t want to write Shooting Kabul, really, I didn’t. I resisted it for many years. Why? Because it deals with many sensitive and personal issues—9-11, the war on terror, Islam, Afghan culture and politics, coupled with my husband’s family history and his escape from Kabul, Afghanistan. But no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, the story kept niggling the back of my mind. So finally, I was compelled to tell it. After much thought I decided to write a fictionalized account of my husband’s story while explaining the complexities and nuances of Afghan culture and politics in a way that could be understood by young and old alike.
My protagonist, Fadi, flees Kabul with his family and as they are escaping, his six-year-old sister, Mariam, is left behind. After Fadi ends up a refugee in Fremont, California, finding her becomes his mission in life. Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11th unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. Desperate, Fadi tries every harebrained scheme he can think of. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister.
My husband’s father was a professor at Kabul University in the late 1970s. Like Fadi’s father, he too received a Ph.D. in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and set up a communist puppet government, intellectuals like him were forced to make a decision: join the regime, go to prison and be tortured, or flee the country. Like my husband’s father, Fadi’s father is forced to make a similar decision. Although their escapes occurred at different times and took different routes, both embarked on a perilous journey that brought them to the United States.
For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a battleground for outsiders. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan came with their armies, as did the British and the Soviets. All attempted to conquer and occupy, yet failed. There are lessons to be learned as the United States currently contemplates its role in this country. It is a land still ravaged by war and ethnic tensions between various groups—Pukhtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and others. Despite these trials, Afghans remain a strong and proud people.
Shooting Kabul ends on a hopeful note with the election of President Karzai. By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been forced to the fringes of the country and a new hope had reawakened in the country. Unfortunately, nearly a decade later, the Taliban have surged again. The government in Kabul today, under Karzai, with U.S. backing, continues to emphasize a central government in Kabul while neglecting the rest of the country. This does not bode well for Afghans who want nothing more than the basic necessities—clean water, employment, education and security. It saddens me that Afghanistan is yet again at a crossroads, with its people caught at the center of indecision and conflict. They are a people with a resilient and long history, desiring peace for their children and respect from the outside world. But I, like others, still have hope—hope that peace, security and prosperity will come . . . sooner rather than later.
Author photo by Sylvia Fife.