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It didn’t always suck to be a woman in Afghanistan


Women in Afghanistan were not always under house arrest and forbidden by law to leave their homes unchaperoned by a male relative. Once upon a time in pre-Taliban days Afghan women had access to professional careers, university-level education, shops selling non-traditional clothing, public transportation, and public spaces, all of which they happily navigated freely and without supervision.

According to a State Department report from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2001:

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society. Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Even under Hamid Karzai’s government, with the recently approved Code of Conduct for women, all of the women shown in these photographs, taken in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, could still can be faulted with improper behavior, according to clerics and government officials. 

record store in kabul
A record store in Kabul

A co-ed biology class at Kabul University

Afghan university students, 1967. Photo credit: Dr. Bill Podlich, Retronaut

Public transporation in Kabul

University students, early 1970s

Women working in one of the labs at the Vaccine Research Center

afghan mom kids
Mothers and children playing at a city park—without male chaperones

Queen Soraya reigned in Afghanistan with her husband King Amanullah Khan from 1919 to 1929. She would be slut-shamed or worse for wearing this dress in modern Afghanistan.

Compilation of vintage amateur footage of Afghanistan:

Via Retronaut and Zilla of the Resistance.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Getting High on Scorpions
11:45 am


Getting high

From Robert Arthur’s Narco Polo website:

A friend of Macdonald’s who witnessed a man smoke scorpion in the Afghan town of Peshawar described the reaction:

‘The effect was instantaneous with the man’s face and eyes becoming very red, “much more than a hashish smoker” …. He also seemed very intoxicated but awake and alert, although he stumbled and fell over when he tried to rise from a sitting position …. the smoke tasted “sweeter” than that of hashish, although … it smelled foul, and the intoxicating effect lasted much longer.’ (1, p. 247)

As with most drugs, anecdotal reports of scorpion’s effects vary widely. It is likely that the numerous Afghan scorpion species have divergent psychoactive properties. Scorpion has been reported to keep one awake, cause severe headaches, and rival the effects of a “strong mescaline trip.” (1, p. 248) One Kabul man who had smoked between 20 and 30 times reported the effects to last three days. During these periods he had difficulty opening his eyes, his head spun, and he had constant visual hallucinations.

Read the rest of: Getting High on Scorpions: The Afghan Drug War
Below, a video in which a 65-year-old Afghan man claims he gets high by eating up to 50 scorpions a day. Allegedly—according to the YouTube write-up—black scorpions will give you a “stronger buzz.”

Don’t try this at home, kids!

Via Boing Boing

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Please do not blow opium smoke into your child’s mouth
12:34 pm



Here’s a shocking example of an anti-drug poster campaign from the United Nations’ Offices on Drugs and Crime targeting the use of opium in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I guess this is one way to ease the pain for a teething baby?

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Theater of War: Radical Theater Group take the Afghan War to the Pentagon

The Pentagon has organized a trip for a north London theater group to perform its play on Afghanistan to hundreds of its military personnel. It is believed that The Great Game: Afghanistan, a 7 hour production examining 170 years of Afghan history, will help give greater understanding to the cultural, political and historical factors involved in the war - now reaching its tenth year.

The performances have been put together by the Tricycle Theater, in conjunction with the British Council and the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, after an invitation from the Pentagon. The Great Game: Afghanistan premiered at the Tricycle in 2009 and returned last year after strong reviews.

The drama is organized into three sections, each of four plays, and takes its name from the 19th and 20th century “Great Game” played out between the Russian and British Empires for supremacy over Central Asia. The UK feared Russia would use Afghanistan as a staging post to take over India, the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire. This led to the first Anglo-Afghan War in 1838.

The Great Game: Afghanistan is performed by the Tricycle Theater, a highly respected theater company, which has established “a unique reputation for presenting plays that reflect the cultural diversity of its community, in particular by Black, Irish, Jewish, Asian and South African writers, as well as for responding to contemporary issues and events with its ground-breaking ‘tribunal plays’ and political work.” Its director Nicholas Kent said last month to the London Evening Standard:

“I think it shows the open-mindedness of the current military both in the United States and here, that people are willing to learn and try to understand foreign cultures,” he said.

“It is very exciting because you don’t often get the chance as an actor to do something as important as that. I’m very honoured that they want us to do it.

“Anything that means these people know more about the history of Afghanistan can only help the whole intervention there. It’s very important people have knowledge of the story they’re dealing with.”

The Daily Telegraph reports that Douglas Wilson, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon, “said he faced doubts within the department that the plays would be anti-war and would deliver a counterproductive, negative message to a military audience.”

Addressing the apparent culture clash of a liberal theatre and a vast war machine, he said: “There is an assumption that the arts and our men and women in uniform are from different planets. It’s not the case,” he said.

“The arts can provide a means to discuss and explore and in this case learn about the history and culture of a very complicated country. It is tremendous food for thought,” he said.”

Indu Rubasingham, who directed half the plays, said her own “naive” anti-war views had matured while researching the subject matter.

“I realised I was prejudiced and judgmental. The international community has to take responsibility there, otherwise there will be a vacuum,” she said.

Last night was the first night of the production for Pentagon staff, and it received a standing ovation. It will be interesting to see if the play’s examination of the dangers and folly of imperialism will have any effect on current policy.

Previously on DM

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan

Further clips from the play ‘The Great Game: Afghanistan’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
John Pilger’s Must See Documentary About the Truth of News Reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq

The War You Don’t See is a must-see documentary by Emmy-award-winning journalist John Pilger, who examines the news media’s failures, mistakes and crass ineptitude when reporting the truth about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In The War You Don’t See, Pilger, himself a renowned correspondent, asks whether mainstream news has become an integral part of war-making.

Focusing on the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pilger reflects on the history of the relationship between the media and government in times of conflict stretching back to World War I and explores the impact on the information fed to the public of the modern day practice of public relations in the guise of ‘embedding’ journalists with the military.

Featuring interviews with senior figures at major UK broadcasters, the BBC and ITV, and high profile journalists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Rageh Omaar and Dan Rather, the film investigates the reporting of government claims that Iraq harboured weapons of mass destruction.

Pilger also speaks to independent film makers, and whistleblowers, including the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange and to former senior British Foreign Office official Carne Ross to investigate why what he believes were key voices and key details did not figure prominently on the mainstream media’s agenda. The film also includes hard-hitting footage from independent media sources showing scenes in Afghanistan and Iraq, including footage leaked to Wikileaks.

Dan Rather, the famous CBS news anchor, and BBC World Affairs Correspondent Rageh Omaar both reflect on their own roles during the lead up to hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq and the lessons they have learned.  Rather speaks about pressure felt by journalists who face the danger of becoming what he calls mere ‘stenographers’. Rageh Omaar speaks about the proliferation of 24 hour news and the effects this has on war reporting, including his own experience reporting on the liberation of Basra.

Fran Unsworth, the BBC Head of Newsgathering and David Mannion, Editor in Chief of ITV News, both face questioning on their news departments’ reporting of the Iraq war and the scrutiny of George Bush and Tony Blair’s claims about weapons of mass destruction.

The documentary also focuses on the abuse of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers and speaks to Phil Shiner, a lawyer who is representing a number of Iraqi victims. It examines the notion that our media distinguishes between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims of conflicts and how.

The War You Don’t See also looks at the balance of the media’s reporting on the hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis, with particular focus on mainstream broadcasters’ coverage of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla in Gaza earlier this year.  Both the BBC and ITV are asked about the influence of Israeli government efforts to shape the reporting of such incidents on their coverage.

Now in his seventy-first year, Pilger has lost none of his investigative skill as journalist or any of his anger at injustice and falsehood, and while it can be argued that he has his own agenda, Pilger is a very much needed David, pitched against the dangerous Goliath of Fox News.  As Pilger once said:

“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it”


Parts 2-7 of John Pilger’s ‘The War You Don’t See’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Stuck in Calais: Europe, Immigrants, and Jack Chute’s Reaching Albion

Over a year ago, Bournemouth University student Jack Chute released this truly impressive short film chronicling the hard lives of Sudanese, Afghani, Palestinian and other immigrants stuck in the French port city of Calais. On a clear day, these guys can see England, a country with far more lenient visa regulations than those of France. In short, they see their futures.

Located directly across the English Channel from the White Cliffs of Dover, Calais has been a historical touch-point between France and England since ancient times.  It was bounced back and forth between the two countries from the 14th through 19th centuries, and served as a crucial decoy to Hitler while the Allies invaded Normandy.

Now it’s a harrowing human locus of the New World Order. Since the film’s release, French police have raided and destroyed the migrant’s refuge, unofficially known as the Jungle.

Reaching Albion from Jack Chute on Vimeo.


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…
02:19 pm



Last month, Britain’s new Defense Minister, Liam Fox, described Afghanistan as a “broken 13th-century country” and indeed this is what we are told frequently, that Afghanistan is scarcely more advanced than a medieval society and its barren, rocky terrain indistinguishable from the lunar surface. But it wasn’t always that way. Not at all. And things were much different for women, too…. not long ago, in fact.

Mohammad Qayoumi, president of California State University, East Bay, writes in Foreign Policy:

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ‘60s. When I was in middle school, I remember that on one visit to a city market, I bought a photobook about the country published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry. Most of the images dated from the 1950s. I had largely forgotten about that book until recently; I left Afghanistan in 1968 on a U.S.-funded scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, and subsequently worked in the Middle East and now the United States. But recently, I decided to seek out another copy. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth. Through a colleague, I received a copy of the book and recognized it as a time capsule of the Afghanistan I had once known—perhaps a little airbrushed by government officials, but a far more realistic picture of my homeland than one often sees today.

A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.

I have since had the images in that book digitized. Remembering Afghanistan’s hopeful past only makes its present misery seem more tragic.

I highly recommend clicking through all 24 pages of this photo essay, Once Upon a TIme in Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating look at a society that was so vibrant and thriving in the 1950s and 1960s, but is now in a hell of a mess. Some of these photographs are likely to stop you in your tracks when you consider the implications of what happened to this culture. HOW could things have gotten this much worse in 40 years?!?! It’s just incredible to contemplate. A cautionary tale of the very worst, most depressing kind.
Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan (Foreign Policy)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Obama’s Death March


As we prepare to go back to war in Afghanistan, voices of dissent are ringing loud across the country and the Internet. Michael Moore:

Following President Obama’s announcement on Tuesday of a short-term troop surge in Afghanistan, an emotional Michael Moore told CNN’s Larry King, “I feel very bad for him.”

“I feel even worse for our troops,” Moore went on, blinking back tears. “And I feel a real sadness for the parents of those soldiers.of ours over the next eighteen months who will not come back home.”

“Our own CIA says there’s less than a hundred al Qaeda in Afghanistan,” Moore explained. “What are we doing in Afghanistan? This is absolutely insane. ... We have been in this war for twice as long now as the US was in World War II. ... We’re going to have 100,000 troops there to find these killers—who aren’t even there!”

And, even more to the point, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY):

The Bush administration permitted the world’s most notorious terrorist mastermind to escape because it needed additional justification to invade Iraq, according to a Democratic lawmaker from New York.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) leveled the allegation during an interview with MSNBC host David Shuster on Monday afternoon.

“Look what happened with regard to our invasion into Afghanistan, how we apparently intentionally let bin Laden get away,” he said. “How we intentionally did not follow the Taliban and al-Qaeda as they were escaping. That was done by the previous administration because they knew very well that if they would capture al-Qaeda, there would be no justification for an invasion in Iraq.”

“They deliberately let Osama bin Laden get away?” asked an incredulous Shuster. “They deliberately let the head of al-Qaeda get away right after he, right after the 9/11 attacks? You really believe that?”

“Yes, I do,” Hinchey replied. “There’s no question about that. The leader of the military operation in the United States called back our military, called them back from going after the head of al-Qaeda because there was a sense that they didn’t want to capture him.”

Time will tell how much longer America can keep this up. Hard to play World Police when you can’t pay your cops. Bad, bad times indeed.

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
Kabul’s Big Brotherization

“The suspect is followed from camera to camera, from every angle of view—until they’re identified as a threat or not.”  Spotted over at Wired’s Danger Room, the shape of the Afghanistan to come:

Surveillance cameras have a pretty lousy track record of fighting terrorism and crime, here in the West.  But that hasn?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Afghanistan: The Higher Price Of Opium
01:32 pm

Current Events


As the vote-counting begins today in Afghanistan, I’m reminded that politics, by design, can often assume dimensions that are both abstract and confusing.  I think we can all agree, though, those qualities are completely missing from the accompanying photos and this description of the living conditions in Saba:

Open the door to Islam Beg’s house and the thick opium smoke rushes out into the cold mountain air, like steam from a bathhouse.  It’s just past 8 a.m. and the family of six—including a 1-year-old baby boy—is already curled up at the lip of the opium pipe.  Beg, 65, breathes in and exhales a cloud of smoke.  He passes the pipe to his wife.  She passes it to their daughter.  The daughter blows the opium smoke into the baby’s tiny mouth.  The baby’s eyes roll back into his head.  Their faces are gaunt.  Their hair is matted.  They smell.  In dozens of mountain hamlets in this remote corner of Afghanistan, opium addiction has become so entrenched that whole families—from toddlers to old men—are addicts.  The addiction moves from house to house, infecting entire communities cut off from the rest of the world by glacial streams.  From just one family years ago, at least half the people of Sarab, population 1,850, are now addicts.

From The Sacramento Bee: Afghanistan—Village of Addicts

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment