"9/11 changed everything", the saying goes. While there's a certain amount of hyperbole there, there's no denying that it created ripples in the pond, causing changes both great and small. It's made the experience of commercial flight something to be dreaded. In 2001, it opened people's eyes to the reality that there is a big world out there beyond our borders. A large percentage of the populace who couldn't even find Afghanistan on the map were getting a crash course on Islam, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.
Most westerners, and particularly those of a liberal bent, were shocked and angered to see women treated like cattle, wearing bhurkas that completely covered them head to toe. As the U.S. attacked that country, there was some hope that besides destroying the machinery of terrorism, we could free the women from their chains. There was hope of creating a secular society.
Of course, after making initial strides, the Bush Administration dropped the ball and decided to destroy the only actual secular country in the Middle East, and invaded Iraq. The Taliban began to re-surge in the vacuum of jobs and security. Nearly 8 years after our initial military actions, we are still in Afghanistan. Has it all been worth it?
There are no concrete answers to that question. Al-Qaeda has been stepping up its game
, and while IEDs in Iraq are down to historic lows, they are on the rise
in Afghanistan. That is bad news for our soldiers. CIA Director Leon Pannetta says that al-Qaeda has been hobbled by US actions
, but is it really true? And isn't that an admission that the CIA is doing a lot of military work there? On the other hand, perhaps this is the proper way to fight a shadowy group with no borders.
However, we are beginning to see some positive developments. There are reports that the new Afghan government is luring Taliban members away
to fight for them against their previous leaders. While al-Qaeda is fighting harder than ever, the Taliban seems to be losing its influence on the Afghan people. The Afghans are tasting freedom from social constraints and fear, and they like it. Nowhere is this more dramatically displayed than with a TV show: "Afghan Idol".
HBO has a documentary on this recent phenomenon; you can read about it here
. I caught the last 20 minutes of it last night, but have DVRed the repeat and will watch it tonight. If you have HBO, I suggest you seek it out.
While it may seem that a show which mimics some of the worst of western culture (American Idol), it must be seen within the context of the setting. In Afghanistan, all TV was banned until 2004, so TVs are a rare commodity (as is the electricity to power them). Singing and dancing were also banned by the Taliban. Yet in this war-torn country where religious rule is still a fresh wound (and in more remote areas, still the law), it is amazing to read about women singing and dancing on TV, not only not wearing a bhurka, but not even wearing the hijab, the traditional veil. When questioned about not wearing the veil, one woman declares "I am not afraid of the Taliban".
Keep in mind this was not a single show, but - like its American counterpart - a series of shows that wind down to a single winner. Supposedly 1/3 of the country voted, the show was that popular. It may not seem like much, but when a woman declares that she is not afraid, and young women have the courage to show their faces on TV, singing with hair flowing, and the country loves it, the shift has already occurred. It won't happen overnight, but when the people cease to fear their oppressors, the oppressors have lost their power.
The ripples of 9/11 sent waves crashing the world over. In the US, we chose fear. 8 years later, the waves have watered the deserts of Afghanistan, and a flower has bloomed.