Monday, July 07, 2008

If invading Iraq is a crime against culture, the Afghan war is one as well

People don't know much about the history of Afghanistan, largely because it isn't as famous as Mesopotamia, the fertile crescent that is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas of the world that's been literate for a very large portion of that time. Sumeria was in Iraq, and the Babylonians and Assyrians followed after. But Afghanistan has been the crossroads of a comparable amount of civilizations, albeit ones that were less invested in leaving material traces. Afghanistan is part of the birth place of Hinduism. It's been Zoroastrian, ruled by Greek Pagans, converted to Greco-Buddhism, a mix between the two, along with regular Buddhism, Manicheanism, and Nestorian (heretical Eastern Orthodox) Christianity. It's seen the Persian empire and Shi'ia Islam, seen Ismaili Islam, had invaders from Central Asia who later conquered most of northern India occupy it.

It's historical enough that one of the areas in the east is referred to as the 'Gandhara District'. The Gandhari's were a people that were featured in the Mahabharata. The events that the Mahabharata were based on have been placed at 1400 BC, with exact dates varying based on differing hypotheses. The area was also part of the Vedic civilization, which gave the world works like the Rg Veda that have been dated to the same 1000-1400 BC era. Before that the area may have been the home of the peoples who split up into the Persians on one hand and the people who would invade northern India on the other.

In other words, Afghanistan is just as much a cradle of civilization as Iraq is, and we're walking all over it seeing it purely in terms of wins, losses, stabilizations. One person sent over there as a diplomat from the U.S., a man who had been very active in his local Chamber of Commerce, organized a rodeo for fun.

Which is not to say that the troops that are over there are necessarily hostile to the people there, but the Bush administration has indicated that it doesn't give a damn about history with regard to either Afghanistan or Iraq, and as the saying goes "The Fish rots from the head down". Bush's understanding of Afghanistan goes back to the Taliban and the war between the Soviet Union and the Mujaheddin. His understanding of Iraq goes back to Saddam Hussein's regime after it became an official enemy.

I'm convinced that if the military really would put out the effort to be kinder and more respectful to the local cultures that the folks on the ground floor would be, but as it is now there's either official indifference or official hostility, with large parts of the officers fundamentalist Christians who wouldn't mind imposing their beliefs on these two countries. We know, I think, how fundamentalist Christianity views history. And that view is one of the contending forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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