Thursday, November 01, 2001

They Don't Know Us Either

An interesting, under-reported thing about the world post-9/11 is the opportunity to learn -- for Americans, to learn more of a neglected corner of the world, and what our own role should be in improving the quality of life there; for the rest of the world, to learn what Americans are truly like. What we offer our neighbors, and what we expect from them; what we want, and what we are prepared to do to get it.

I wish that the people of Afghanistan had the same opportunity to learn about us.

Yes, I will concede, the average American hadn't given five minutes' thought to living conditions in Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the Middle East, previous to 9/11. The average Afghan knew even less of what life is really like here. However, we have the resources to learn, and this we have done, while the Afghans know no more than they knew then. After all, not only do they not have the books, references, or media from which they might get that information, but those media are illegal there.

This may be the single biggest crime of the Taliban, as it enforces everything else. Their human rights offenses, their treatment of their female and Christian population, the quality of their education, their lack of concern for quality of their peoples' lives -- reprehensible as these conditions are, they are underscored by the fact that the people of Afghanistan don't know there's any other way to live. They are forbidden by Taliban law to encounter anything else.

Sewage runs in open ditches beside the street in all but the best neighborhoods of the largest cities. Only boys go to school -- and they have no books. Therefore, there's no point in learning to read, so few people do. There is no clean drinking water: Everyone who can possibly afford one, owns a water purification kit of the type sold here in camping supply stores. Those who can't afford one tend to die young. (What is the point of a government if it can't even deliver drinking water?)

Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 47 years. I am 47.

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