I remember 9/11 in the same way every American does. We could all say exactly where we were when it happened (8th Grade, Mr. Barlup’s History Class). We all knew that life as we knew it was going to be different (though perhaps not as different as we thought). We also all knew that retaliation was in order, and it would be swift. We didn’t know it was going to take as long as it has (though some called it), but we knew it would be a long haul. President Bush was prepared to bravely lead us as a nation into the war on terror. His first target: Afghanistan.
At that age, I couldn’t have pointed out Afghanistan on a map (like most Americans), much less have said anything about the country itself. All I knew, from the rhetoric and propaganda all over the news at that time, was that we hated them because they harbored terrorists. Far as I was concerned, before 9/11/01, they were nothing more than a pile of sand that had somehow developed weapons, an extremist form of Islam, and a hatred for America. That was the whole of my understanding of Afghanistan. I knew nothing about its people, their way of life, or their tumultuous history. My views softened over the years, but my ignorance about Afghanistan remained.
On February 13, 2013, Jon Stewart hosted Fawzia Koofi, current Speaker of Parliament in Afghanistan, on The Daily Show. She was on there plugging her new book, The Favored Daughter. I didn’t get to see the interview at the time, but my wife did. As my wife describes it, after watching the extended interview, she immediately logged onto Amazon to order the book, and it was already on back order. Once we finally got the book, she had it read cover to cover in a few short days and told me I needed to read it as soon as possible.
So, six months after all that, I decided to pick it up as part of my examination of privilege. I’m wishing now that I had dropped everything to read this book immediately. I found myself weeping within the first twenty pages, shocked within the first fifty, and angered by part two. Most of all, however, I felt perspective. In the words of Jon Stewart in his interview: “It’s really humbling to talk to you.”
TFD is Fawzia Koofi’s personal journey from a child left to die at birth to her current place in Parliament. When she was born, her mother had wanted a boy (as did most parents in Afghanistan) and when she had a girl, she left her out in the sun for an entire day. They brought her back in, and her mother, regretting her decision, drew her close and promised to not allow any more harm to come to her. From there, Koofi recounts growing up in a remote province of Afghanistan, fleeing to Kabul due to the violence of the mujahadeen, her education, the loss of her mother to illness and her brother to violence, and her flight back to her home province in an effort to escape the rule of the Taliban. Her stories will inspire you, humble you, break your heart, and fill you with indignation at the Taliban, not because they backed a few men who flew planes into the World Trade Center, but at the heinous crimes they committed against their own people.
This book gave me so much perspective on many matters; the life of people in Afghanistan, the atrocities that the Taliban committed against women, and the hope that Afghanistan faces for the future, not just because of international help, but because its people are strong and full of pride. America claims that it brought democracy to Afghanistan, but, as Koofi makes clear, democracy existed in Afghanistan long before America’s forces arrived on its land. This isn’t to say that we had no part in helping stabilize the region (though I question our motives), but we must cease to label the inhabitants of these countries as ignorant and unintelligent. We’re not some savior, who comes bearing the gospel of democracy to those ears which have not heard it. Just last evening our president steered us away from an attempt at military intervention in Syria, a move which no doubt placates the war-tired peoples here in the US, but how long before we decide that we’re going t have to “bring democracy” to Syria? Tough to say.
Most of all I loved hearing a muslim woman’s perspective on all the goings-on in Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion right up to the reestablishing of the parliament. Koofi shows us that Islam can give rights to women, that to suppress the rights of women is not in the nature of Islam, but in the agendas of men who bend the Quran to their will, rather than submitting to it. I’d love for all Americans to receive a copy of this book to help them provide the perspective of someone who witnessed the rise of the Taliban, who witnessed Operation Enduring Freedom, and who fights every day for a new Afghanistan, proud of the country she was born to.
Koofi announced her intention to run for President of Afghanistan in 2014. Were I an Afghan, I would vote for her. Hands down.