Giorgio Vercellin, Crime de Silence et Crime de Tapage: Panorama des lectures sur l’Afghanistan contemporain (Naples: Institute Universitario Orientale, 1985).

Giorgio Vercellin, of the University of Venice, has undertaken the unusual and difficult task of reviewing the mass of recent published material on Afghanistan in Western European languages and critiquing the ways in which that country has been presented. The title of his study is almost untranslatable—Crime of Silence and Crime of Blather would be a rough rendition. The point he is making, though, is extremely clear and direct: a lot of the recent writing on Afghanistan has been so strident and partisan as to tell us very little about the country itself.

Three themes among many bring out what Vercellin sees as complex issues. One is the nature of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan. This is often presented by opponents of the communist government as something “traditional” which post-1978 changes have violated and deformed. As Vercellin points out, Afghanistan was like every other society in the modern world in that it was changing all the time. The left-wing coup of 1978 was to a considerable extent a product of that change.

A second point he raises is the way in which Western writers rarely take into account the arguments of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The texts are available in English and tell us quite a lot about what the PDPA has been trying to do; these are rarely consulted, thus ignoring the existence of an indigenous communist movement, independent of Russian troops and promptings.

A third point which Vercellin highlights is the way in which the social character and diversity of the Afghan resistance is simplified in sympathetic accounts. To portray it as one homogeneous and popular movement is to ignore the fragmented character of Afghan society and the many different pre-nationalist factors that make up the resistance. If there is a unifying factor behind the resistance, it is not so much a sense of Afghan “nationhood” as a deep rural and tribal resistance to central government of any kind. Vercellin has little time for official Soviet accounts, with their omission and apologias, but he has cast an effectively critical eye over what passes for acceptable Western discussion of Afghanistan.

How to cite this article:

Fred Halliday "Vercellin, Crime de Silence," Middle East Report 141 (July/August 1986).
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