Tamim Ansary: West of Kabul, East of New York

I finished reading this book the day an article from the New York Times came into my inbox: “Afghanistan Has Become the World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis.”

A passage from page 59 immediately came to mind: “We just shared the towering profundity of our loss, tasting that resignation to fate that came to us from our Afghan soil, for even as children, we knew that loss would deepen us. That’s what it means to be an Afghan.”

Published after 9/11 when it was Osama bin Laden and the Taliban that put Afghanistan on the map of the majority of Western consciousness, and during a time when the world was angry and calling for the bombing of Afghanistan as retribution, Ansary felt an urgency to let the world know that the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. 

“It’s not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators… Some say, Why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, They’re starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering… There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets.”

“We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that’s been done. The Soviets took care of it already.”

Make the Afghans suffer? They’re already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did that.”

And yet, this memoir gave room to a heart-warming aspect of Ansary’s writing. From his childhood in Kabul and Lashkargah to adulthood in the United States, there was still space for life, love, friendship, and even for travel.

Unfortunately, 20 years after this book’s publication, the dam is breaking in Afghanistan once more.

History is like a river, except people can only live in lakes, so they dam the current and build villages by still waters — but the dam always breaks.”

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