Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I IS FOR INFIDEL by Kathy Gannon (✰✰✰)
One of the books on my list for this year is Steven Coll's Ghost Wars, about the history of the CIA in Afghanistan from the 1979 invasion by the Soviets through September 11th. I read this book by Kathy Gannon a number of years ago and remembered it as a history of Afghanistan, covering roughly the same time frame, and so decided to give it a reread before picking up Coll's book. Gannon is an American, married to a Pakistani, who lived in, and reported on, Afghanistan during those turbulent years. Culled from interviews with numerous of people-Taliban, warlords, taxi drivers, government officials of several countries, etc., in addition to her own experiences, this book is a feat of reportage. Her view is definitely biased by her love and sympathy for the Afghan people, but Infidel is nonetheless an interesting portrait. She is highly critical of the U.S. allied Northern Alliance and of the U.S. treatment of everyday Afghanis in the wake of the 2001 invasion. In her opinion, the western allies would have been complied with and welcomed as liberators from the hated Taliban had they not employed such a heavy hand. While her point was well presented, using terms such as "heavy-handed brutality" when referring to things such as leaving naked prisoners in rooms with the lights on, tends to lessen the impact of her arguments. Really, does this woman understand what they do to their prisoners? Her own countrymen? I think viewing a couple of video clips on Al Jazeera might cause her to reevaluate her definition of heavy-handed brutality. As my husband had just returned from Afghanistan, I ran her arguments, which were still valid, by him. His feeling was that the Afghans, sadly, are a people of such a harsh culture, that the only thing they respect, and would respond to, is a heavy hand. From the Afghan history I have studied, I can see his point, yet there is still a part of me which, like Kathy Gannon, believes there is an element of humanity within them that longs to break free of their subjugated, bloody past. Not the best book I have ever read on Afghanistan, but worth reading for the interesting "outsider on the inside" viewpoint.