Interesting historical fact of the day: what’s in a picture?
First, here is a history lesson on Afghanistan. From 1933 until 1973, Afghanistan was ruled under a man named Mohammed Zahir Shah. While he was a devout Muslim, he had a Western education in France. His reign marked four decades of peace and stability. With the introduction of a constitution Afghanistan progressively developed into a modern democratic state with free elections and a parliament, as well as a massive push for women’s rights, universal suffrage, education, worker’s rights, and civil rights. So yes, Afghanistan was doing well in the 60’s as this photo suggests. However, the photo doesn’t give you context for what went wrong.
During this period in time, the Soviet Union had a strong influence in Afghanistan. They supported modernization and education in the Afghan state. The United States, not wanting to risk their hegemony in the region, clearly had a major problem with this. They were terrified of the spread of Communism and quickly developed a plan. Afghanistan would become the Cold War’s chessboard. In the late 80’s, the Saudis, Pakistanis, and the Americans brought in radical Islamists from around the world. They armed, trained, and directed them into a militant force, and they were called the mujahideen. They became the US’ main offense against the Soviets. It wasn’t to defend the Afghans against the Soviets who were ready to pull out, but to deliver as much harm against them imaginable. Carter wanted Afghanistan to be the Soviet’s “Vietnam”. And it was. When they finally retreated Afghanistan spun into chaos and a civil war ensued under the militant mujahideen warriors. Within this framework we saw the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and of course Osama bin Laden. All under the auspices of the United States security forces and American tax-payer monies. Clinton’s bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan was directly responsible for their rise. Oh, and then in what was most likely the greatest immoral injustice of the 21st century the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 only further driving the besieged nation further into turmoil.
What does this mean? The mujahideen, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda do not represent thousands of years of Afghan culture and Islam. They are a direct reaction to Western imperialism. The root cause for the disparity between the two pictures is foreign intervention. Not Islam, and certainly not Afghan people.
Second, here is a history on Iran. Before 1953, Iran was ruled under a democratically elected man called Mohammad Mosaddegh. Under his reign Iran saw a progressive movement of social and political reforms. During this time Britain tried to establish an oil company (British Petroleum) on Iranian soil, and promised to share profit and technology with the Iranian government. However the British, as usual, didn’t honor their agreement. They, and the United States, began to steal Iran’s oil. Prime Minister Mosaddegh would not stand for this and demanded the seizure of the oil fields and the ouster of the British. In response, the British and the United States overthrew him in a coup and installed the Shah who was a brutal tyrant and ruled the nation under an absolute monarchy. His security service, which amnesty international described as “the worst in the world” and “beyond belief” was trained by the CIA in torture techniques.
The women in this picture did live well, but that was because they were members of a very small minority and in the Shah’s social circle. Everyone else in Iran lived under harsh conditions. The economy was failing, education was abysmal, and the entire nation was rural and very religious.
Today, Iran’s health care is better. They have more political freedom. Education is improving. The economy is slightly better off, however that is quickly changing with the Western world’s sanctions against Iran in midst of their nuclear propaganda campaign at the behest of Israel.
What does this mean? Essentially, the Islamic Revolution had little to do with the rise of an Islamic state; it was the resistance of Western imperialism. Almost every social and political group was united in resisting the Shah, from the communists to the secularists to the Islamists. They demanded Iranian sovereignty and political freedoms. Is the current regime in Iran perfect? Absolutely not, and I’m passionately against it. But this picture is extremely distortive of the truth.
Unfortunately, we have gone full circle. Today, the United States is supporting terrorist cells in Iran in an attempt to oust the current Iranian regime. They want to establish another pro-Western government like the Shah and “try again” where they failed. They have been doing this for decades and it hasn’t been working well. That is why we have seen media hysteria against Iran, and supposed quest to achieve nuclear weapons. Iran is a peaceful nation, and always has been. They have never attacked another nation, and have absolutely no intention of attacking Israel or anyone else for that matter. The United States’ war against Iran is rooted solely to seek revenge for their failed foreign policy in the 70’s and to once again take control of their natural resources.
In conclusion, if you think you can understand decades of history in Iran and Afghanistan, or anywhere for that matter, by looking at a photograph or two, you have absolutely no right to engage in intellectual discussion or give your opinion on anything. Ever.
Photographer’s Note: In May 1973 I spent a few days in the city of Maimana, enjoying the
sights and atmosphere of this pleasant place, and at the same time
gathering strength for another three days of rather tough rides by
pick-up trucks on the Afghan northwestern “highway”. This is a typical
Afghan tea-house where it was common to sit, or even lie down resting
on an albow, on the “tables” usually
covered with simple but beautiful handwoven carpets. I quite enjoyed
having my tea the Afghan way, and I was probably sitting on a similar
table when I took this photo. As usual I have no specific memory of
taking it, but I find it natural that I had been here for a while to
make the other customers more acquainted with me before I started
shooting. This was actually the only photo I took here, long before the
arrival of the digital cameras. I probably felt that I shouldn’t test
the others’ patience too much.
Photographer: Gert Holmertz Date Taken: 1973-05-00 City: Faryab