Friday, August 06, 2010

Just 'cause

You've seen that notorious Time cover?

A long way down the road from why the US went to Afghanistan in the first place, we have now arrived at where, apparently, Aisha is one reason why they should stay. Or so (many of ) the folks in this comments stream seem to think.

Here's what the cover could have looked like.


Cheshire Cat said...

We could debate the rights and wrongs of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but the article itself is absolute tosh. This woman teaches English at Cambridge? How embarrassing.

Space Bar said...

Cat: Why's it tosh?

Cheshire Cat said...

Space: I was away, hence the delay in responding.

What exactly does Gopal suggest should be done? Does she really believe that withdrawing the American forces would improve the situation? She is comfortably vague about all the real issues. It's apparent from the article that she has no in-depth knowledge of the situation there - all she has is a compulsion to use the tired critical language of Orientalism. The article consists of a series of "readings" of books and media portrayals of Afghanistan, but it's nonsensical to pretend that this has anything to do with the political complexities there. A proper argument would show how the reality diverged from the portrayal, but she makes no attempt to do this.

In the last paragraph, the article descends from trivial to embarrassing. "In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about ...". This is WTF in so many different ways that I won't bother to give more than stream-of-consciousness critigue: modernity?, women disenfranchised in West?, Afghanistan irony, which welfare systems have been dismantled?, if she means the consequences of the finanical crisis it's quite a leap from that to Afghanistan is it not... As for "other ideas once associated with modernity", yes, I'm sure the peace that would follow from unquestioned Taliban rule would enfranchise Afghan women. "Social justice" - how nice to see that phrase so beloved of the most regressive Indian political alignments, and how exactly is it to be brought about? "Economic fairness" - I'm sure the entire meaning of that phrase is contained in the woolly mind of Priyamvada Gopal.

Space Bar said...

Cat: I figured. No problem.

First off, the representation of people, country, etc. is no less real than what you call 'the real issues'. For the US, it is even crucial, because they have to garner support for one war that no one believes in. If you don't cast 'the real issues' to be ones that, by contrast, have bearing on what horrify them enough to justify the war, there's no rationale (that they can confess to in public) at all for their being being there.

Secondly, the entire piece is about this representation of Afghanistan in media and books. When it's about one thing, why would you call it tosh because it's not something else?

You're right that these books and articles don't have much to do with political realities. But that is precisely what Gopal is drawing attention to. (She also says this in the very first paragraph: "The stated intention is to counterbalance damaging the WikiLeaks revelations – 91,000 documents that, Time believes, cannot provide "emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land"." I think we can take it as read that she considers - as does Time - that the Wikileaks documents provides some perspective on the political complexities there).

I entirely take your criticism about the last para. She says too many unsubstantiated things, and especially the kind of things and is counter-productive in it's angry equating of the women of Afghanistan and America. If she couldn't explain in great detail what she meant, she ought to just have left it off for another column.

Space Bar said...

Gah! Typos! Misplaced apostrophes! (Apologies!)