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Come from the Shadows: part 1

Our Canadian comrade (and I mean that unironically) Terry Glavin has written an excellent book based on his visits to Afghanistan in recent years. Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan reveals, among other things, the enormous gap between to the media-fed Western understanding of the country (which Terry labels “Absurdistan”) and the real, existing country in which the Afghan people live.

The book also takes a scathing look at Canada’s “troops out now” movement.

Terry makes no apologies for taking sides in the conflict that Afghan and Western forces (including Canadians) are fighting against the brutal and murderous Taliban.

“I could have interviewed [the Taliban] anytime I wanted . . . but that’s something I won’t do, I confess, I am a partisan,” says Glavin. “If I had the opportunity I’d call in the fucking drones, make no apologies for it.”

It’s a fight that includes brave civilian aid workers as well as soldiers.

I’ll be quoting passages from Terry’s book in a series of posts in the coming weeks. But I urge you to get a copy and, as they say, to read the whole thing.

From pages 3 and 4:

In the activist polemics of North America’s wealthy privileged students, Afghanistan shows up as a project of American imperialism, an effort by “us” in the capitalist West to impose hegemonic, democratic values on “them.” It brooks only one response: troops out. At Marefat High School, in a cold, poorly lit classroom, the students have decorated the walls with oil paintings of some of the great champions of values that do not draw such distinctions between “them” and “us.” The students painted the portraits themselves: Jean-Jacques Rosseau, René Descartes, Rosa Parks, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, Immanuel Kant, Abraham Lincoln, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza and Jawaharlal Nehru. This may seem a mere incongruity, a touching detail, a small matter. It isn’t. It’s not just a mark of the distance between the the imaginary Afghanistan and the real one, either. It’s what the Battle of Marefat High School was all about.

Marefat High School is supported almost entirely by the poor of Daste Barchi. The school’s focus is on humanism and civic education. The school is accredited by the Afghan government, but it has had a rocky relationship with the education ministry, owing to the students’ demands for fully co-educational classes. The roughly three thousand students who attend the school are encouraged to use the Internet, set up personal web pages and communicate with the outside world. Elected class councils and discipline councils allow students to evaluate teachers, tutor one another and manage their own affairs, right down to the amount of the fines levied for overdue library books. The school is governed by a board of trustees elected by parents, students and teachers. There is also an independent student parliament. The idea is that these forms of self-government will encourage students to get into the habit of taking charge of their own lives. This requires practice, hard work and a lot of give and take. It is the art that is known in the West as democracy.