From the Editor

by Chris Toensing
published in MER281

As the baleful administration of President Donald Trump bumbles from one scandal to the next, a set of deeply disturbing patterns have emerged in the domestic politics and foreign policy of the United States.

Class Reshuffling Among Afghan Refugees in Iran

by Zuzanna Olszewska
published in MER277

When I was interviewing Afghan refugee writers and intellectuals in Iran in the mid-2000s, I soon realized that there was a gulf between their occupations and their aspirations. [1] The young poets who were the subjects of my research in the northeastern city of Mashhad often earned a living as manual laborers, construction or factory workers, or small-time street vendors. Some had woven rugs or made handicrafts as children, or engaged in other piecework in small workshops. They came together to read their poetry and short stories to each other on Fridays, their one precious day off. Most of them—both men and women—had benefited from at least a secondary education in Iranian state schools, and most hoped to continue on to university.

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Letter from Kabul

by Konrad Ege
published in MER119

At night, dogs take over the streets of Kabul. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, roam the city, dig through garbage that’s dumped into the ditches during the day, and engage in vicious barking battles to defend their territories. The dogs are rarely bothered: Small groups of soldiers patrol the dark streets with machine guns, once in a while an army jeep hurtles by at breakneck speed or a lone tank rumbles over the pavement. The six-hour curfew each night—from 10 pm to 4 am—is a stark reminder that a part of the country is still at war.

Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living

by Chris Toensing
published in MER274

Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014).

“There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead.” In the simplest sense, this Pashtun proverb is similar to the common injunction not to speak ill of the departed. In the course of Afghanistan’s long civil war, Anand Gopal writes, the saying has acquired a metaphorical meaning as well: No one is to be trusted. All alliances are temporary. The sole imperative is survival.

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Interventions

Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

McJihad, the Film

by Jacob Mundy | published February 2015

The themes of Adam Curtis’ new documentary Bitter Lake should be well known to those familiar with his body of work: power, techno-politics, science, managerialism and the media. The film uses the contemporary history of Afghanistan to tell a story about how polities in the West have become incapable of understanding the complex and horrible happenings around them. Traditional forms of power in the West and Afghanistan have taken advantage of the fear and confusion to consolidate their control, but at the expense of an intellectually deskilled Western public and a world that is fundamentally less governable. Bitter Lake is more fable than scholarship, but the film is nonetheless a devastating examination of how Western interventions in Afghanistan refract the vacuousness of our own politics.

Modernizing Memorial Day

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published May 28, 2014

Whoever made the decision to open the National September 11 Memorial Museum just a few days before Memorial Day was both bold and intuitive. The theme of remembrance unites both events, but the 9/11 memorial is a departure because it is dedicated to those so often forgotten in the recollection of national sacrifice—civilians.

"Progress" in Afghanistan, Then and Now

by Darryl Li | published April 24, 2014 - 2:06pm

I recently came across a document in the archives, a reminder that the march of “progress” in Afghanistan sometimes seems more reminiscent of a never-ending marching band reliably circling a parade ground. The martial metaphor here isn’t accidental: As elsewhere, security forces have been central to nearly every attempt to make Afghanistan a “modern” nation-state, a pattern echoed in today’s Beltway anxieties over how many local troops are deemed “ready” to take over in the event of a US withdrawal.

Death and Taxes

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published April 15, 2014 - 1:25pm

Last year 27 cents of every income tax dollar in the United States went to the military. Even so, that proportion has not generated enough revenue to pay for the military’s operations over the last 13 years, which, in a historic departure, have been funded largely by borrowing.

In-Laws and Outlaws

by Darryl Li | published March 26, 2014 - 2:38pm

A jury today convicted on all counts Sulayman Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti preacher who made televised statements in support of al-Qaeda shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. As expected, war-on-terror liberals are seizing upon the outcome as proof that civilian courts are a superior alternative to military tribunals at Guantánamo. On Friday I blogged about some of the legal issues raised by the case and how it fits into broader US detention policies. Civilian trials are undoubtedly preferable to kangaroo courts at Guantánamo in principle and one hopes that the administration uses this verdict to finally close the prison in Cuba.