Shortly before noon Thursday, waiting for a friend to show up for lunch, I flipped on MPR and heard the estimable Kerri Miller interviewing author/journalist Anna Badkhen about her book “The World Is a Carpet,” for which Badkhen spent years living in a remote Afghan village watching the women weave carpets, some of which would ultimately sell in the United States for thousands of dollars but for which the weavers earn only pennies an hour.
Badkhen arrived in the brief interval between the attcks of 9/11/2001 and the U.S. bombing/invasion/occupation of Afghanistan, which, of course, is still occurring. Badkhen said that when she asked the villagers about Osama bin Laden, they had never heard of him. But the whole reason the Americans are invading your country is to find Osama bin Laden? So what, they replied, someone is always invading Afghanistan.
Afghanistan had not been at peace since at least 1979, when the Soviets invaded, which turned into a civil war, which turned into Taliban rule, which was, in 2001, apparently going to turn into an invasion by another group of foreigners to drive out the Taliban.
That’s just my summary. The next paragraph is a quote, delivered in a world-weary tone, in slightly Russian-accented English by Badkhen:
Yes, the latest iteration of violence in a country that has been pretty much at war since the beginning of recorded history, which in the case of Afghanistan is the invasion by Alexander the Great in 327 b.c.
“So it’s very interesting and I think poignant, especially for policy makers in the U.S. To understand what the U.S. invasion means for Afghans and how that perception clashes with what Americans think the war is. It’s now the longest military involvement that the U.S. has had. Whereas for Afghans it’s just a blip, or, rather, the continuation of a flow of violence.
The United States is famous for its extraordinarily myopic foreign policy that has not changed over centuries. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been working as a foreign correspondent or war correspondent for many years. And it seems that every time we here in the United States talk about our engagement in some other country, we’re looking into a mirror and seeing ourselves in that country. But we’re not seeing beyond the looking glass. We’re not seeing into that country.
The country becomes a backdrop for our war. And I think It’s extremely important to see that for 20 million Afghans, it’s not the American war. It’s just another war in Afghanistan.