As the American public continues to get weary of the Afghan War, and every day brings a new depressing development, our hearts -- the hearts of us Afghans -- are broken ever so slightly. There are daily more deaths, more schools demolished, more suicide bombers and more government corruption. Then, there are stories about drugs and Sharia law being implemented in Taliban-controlled territories. Twisting these to inform the public are foreign journalists and pundits. They churn out stories about my country that are good to read, but are unfair and unbalanced and even biased against Afghans.
Half a world away, I keep yearning for a day when I can turn on the TV, switch to CNN, FOX, MSNBC or CBS and see a discussion about Afghans where they actually question an Afghan. Day after day I wait, but in vain. I run through articles published about my country in the Washington Post and the New York Times to see opinion pieces written by Afghans -- but almost never see one.
At the least, give me an article in a major Western newspaper where the reporter actually goes and talks to an Afghan who can analyze the political situation in the country. But no, here in the west the news channels have panels of experts who know Afghanistan through books, seminars, classes or an occasional visit, and newspapers interview a pre-prepared Afghan with a colorful character to please your eyes and invoke your curiosity.
Your average media-approved Afghan won't have a last name. There will be a quip informing you that, "like most Afghans, he doesn't have a last name." And there won't be any women. Forget about the opinion of Afghan women. They are veiled and will never speak to a foreigner -- their voices censored by both the Taliban and the Western media. We work for less than a dollar day. Our names always include Allah or Mohammed. We have long beards and hopefully a turban around our heads. Did I mention the part where we can't read and write? Expectations fulfilled, your average foreign correspondent will ask this guy about Afghanistan and seriously expect a well-informed, well-balanced and to the point answer from an ordinary citizen. Then, they will publish this and inform you about a war that you've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on.
Imagine the same thing happening to a story about an issue here in the US. Imagine the journalist going down deep into the Appalachians, finding someone named Jedidiah or Billy Bob. To fit with the stereotype, he will be cleaning his gun, sitting outside his Church and drinking his moonshine. Imagine the journalist asking this character about hedging derivatives on Wall Street and the latest regulation. Imagine the journalist journeying to Berkeley, finding a stoned guy named Chip or Race sitting in front of his Xbox, and then asking him what he thinks about the health care bill's provisions regarding Medicare. Is that the prospective American you expect to see in the mainstream media?
Yes, the level of literacy in Afghanistan is low and finding people who have informed opinions is harder relative to America, however, it is not impossible. But it doesn't look good on a story about Afghanistan to find someone who's a bank manager or a university student or a doctor. Even a nurse would suffice. But no, the Western media would rather find someone who can tell you practically nothing about what's going on in Afghanistan. It is a time-saving measure -- less talk and shorter articles -- but most of all, no difficult and complex explanations on the part of the writer.
It is easier still to ignore Afghan intellectuals who live in the West. Don't expect to see a discussion about Afghans where they question an Afghan intellectual on news channels. Not even the supposedly unbiased BBC -- which some trendy and 'informed' Americans tune in to -- won't show you a glimpse of an educated Afghan unless by accident. The community of Afghan social and political analysts in the US is very small -- but they are not that hard to find. Yet, you turn on the TV and every discussion about Afghanistan is dominated by American intellectuals' particular university philosophy paired with their respective channel's political ideology.
We are rarely asked about our opinions on how to win the war. Those of us that are asked either don't know, don't care or don't wish it to be won and our intellectuals aren't intellectual enough to appear on American TV screens. How could someone from Afghanistan possibly know how to win a war being fought inside Afghanistan -- even if they have degrees from Western universities? Instead, they ask Americans or Britons who have the white or black skin necessary to assure you that they are one of you and not one of us. Olive skin just doesn't sell these days.
A cheery tree-hugging liberal on MSNBC who is willing to die for world peace will remind you for the umpteenth time that, "That Afghans have always distrusted foreigners and kicked them out. The war is a lost cause." A gruff retired general will tell you in a grave voice on FOX that, "We need more troops to defeat the terrorists, or it's Armageddon, folks." You won't see a tired-looking Afghan professor who will tell you the Afghan side of the story; whether this war is necessary or how to defeat the terrorists. Because the truth is, we -- the people on whose land this war is being fought -- don't really exist in your stories or your TV screens -- or presented for comic relief.
Neither does the idea that this war is winnable. Explanations like Pakistan's blatant harboring of the Taliban, billions of dollars pouring into Taliban pockets from Arab Sheikhs of the Gulf or the warlords who were installed by the Coalition and won't be gotten rid of aren't simple or romantic enough -- people without last names are.
We are a caricature developed to help ease the work of foreign correspondents. They'll warn you that we don't know about the world and don't care. We can't tell you anything about our country or its problems -- forget about extracting a solution from us. That's why when you think of us, you see the image of a terrorist enlisted by the Taliban, a corrupt official working for Hamid Karzai or a poppy farmer sucking on the hukkah -- the image faithfully brought to you by the Western media. Abandoning us will be easy in a year or two for there is no sympathy for us.
How could you have sympathy for the little girl who's getting a chance to go to school but has no one in her family left alive to help her with homework? How could you have sympathy for a widow who's lost her husband and sons under a barrage of rockets fired by the Russians, the Mujahideen or maybe the Taliban -- who knows? How could you have sympathy for the little boys who are watching the World Cup in South Africa and cheer, but have no legs to play football on the street? How could you, when our fathers -- according to your media - are out to kill you with bullets, send heroin to your children and blow up your high-rises.
At a time when your media was supposed to tell you that your blood and sacrifice has indeed helped Afghanistan and that we are thankful to you, they told you otherwise. We don't like you -- they say -- and don't want your help. We are ungrateful devoted murderers who are just dying to kill you -- they warn. Our picture has been so skewed that you won't even recognize us if we walked amongst you. I won't be surprised if you think that we have fangs and blood dripping from our mouths and are just waiting to bite your jugular.
This is who we are to you. And now that our war is becoming a liability, prepare yourself to hear this phrase more and more: "No conqueror has ever tamed this harsh and proud land." You will never have any idea how tired we are of this god-forsaken war that has destroyed generations of our young and old. Or how many tears we shed daily over our misery because that's not romantic at all and is entirely predictable. We will remain to you a mysterious and feared land that needs to be left alone to cannibalize itself -- proudly -- with quite a lot of help from our neighbor to the East and billions in oil money from the Arabs states in the Gulf. This image cannot be changed.
This does not change the fact that our voices are there. They are of gratitude to you for trying to give us a chance to live with dignity. But you won't hear our voices. Nor will you see our faces -- save for some National Geographic documentary about a long-forgotten Afghan refugee girl. Instead, you see fanatics with guns. You see illegal drug manufacturers. You may even get lucky and see the lavish lifestyle of a warlord. But we -- the children of the unending Afghan War -- won't be among them. If only you could hear us.
But you won't. We were forgotten for the first time the same day Ronald Reagan won the Cold War 'without firing a shot' -- thanks to an almost unmemorable part played by us where we fought the Soviet Union with our bear hands and lost two million of our brothers and sisters. But before we are forgotten again, know this -- we have last names.