Posts tagged with: taliban

There are no more Christian churches in Afghanistan — not a single public house of Christian worship is left standing. In other news, NATO success against the Taliban may have been intentionally exaggerated, although we already knew that progress in that country is… slow. It’s no surprise, of course, that the United States hasn’t been able to establish self government-in-a-box in a country where, according to the State Department, religious liberty has declined measurably even in the last year.

Religious liberty must be at the heart of any free society, because if it is not protected, all other defenses are sure to fall. The abuses of Christians in Afghanistan violate not only their rights of conscience, but also their rights of property and even of free movement — their churches are seized and they are imprisoned. Contracts with Christians are not enforced, converts to Christianity are openly persecuted, and Afghan politicians approve of all of this.

We should not expect that in ten years our diplomats could have effected a constitutional transformation of Afghanistan. Liberty “is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” as Lord Acton said, “from the sowing of the seed at Athens, two thousand four hundred and sixty years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered” in Western Europe. (He delivered that address in 1877, so you’ll want to update the numbers.)

But a backslide is cause for concern. It suggests that there is something wrong with the conception of human freedom that is motivating our efforts.

The Dressmaker of Khair KhanaPoverty is inevitable in a war zone, right? One’s movements are restricted, buildings and businesses are damaged, people flee. Add to that random acts of violence brought by the Taliban and the already damaged economy of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and poverty seems unavoidable.

Never underestimate the entrepreneurial spirit. In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe, journalist and Harvard Business School student Gayle Tzemach Lemmon sets off in search women who are able to start and sustain businesses in the most harrowing of times: war.

In Kabul, Lemmon meets Kamila Sidiqi, one of eleven siblings who must find a way to support her family during the years of Taliban rule. With her father having to flee the city and her mother in poor health, it falls on her shoulders to make sure she and her siblings eat and stay safe. She decides to learn sewing from her eldest sister and literally turns the family home into a design-studio, production line and warehouse. She seeks out clients, develops new lines of clothing and makes good on delivery dates. In other words, she creates a successful business.

But Kamila Sidiqi is not satisfied with merely keeping her own family safe and sound. As a Muslim, she believes it is her duty to help those less fortunate. She begins to train and hire neighborhood women to sew and do the detailed embroidery and beading work that her business requires. Her hope is to not only grow her own business, but teach skills to women so that they, too, can start their own businesses.

Eventually, Sidiqi is approached by the Women’s Community Forum, an NGO that teaches and trains women in business. Sidiqi is asked to become a leader, to travel and give workshops to other Afghani women trying to start businesses. If trying to keep a business going in war-torn Kabul is not frightening enough, traveling with the Women’s Community Forum is absolutely terrifying. In fact, one of Sidiqi’s sisters tries desperately to take Kamila out of taking this role, fearing for her life (with good reason). Sidiqi plunges ahead, believing again it is her duty to help as many people as she can escape poverty.

By the 2005, with the Taliban out of power, Sidiqi has started another business, “Kaweyan” (after a prosperous Iranian dynasty), that seeks to train aspiring business owners in skills such as writing business plans, budgeting, and utilizing interns in Afghanistan and several other countries. Her goal at that time was to create mobile teams that were able to visit and teach those in remote areas.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a captivating war-time adventure story, but it is also a lesson in tenacity and courage. What will it take to overcome poverty? One person, with a great business idea, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to make that idea a reality.

GodblogCon 2007 hasn’t quite started yet, but one of the privileges of attendance at this year’s conference was an opportunity to see an early screening of “The Kite Runner,” (courtesy Grace Hill Media) directed by Marc Forster (who has also directed “Stranger than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland”). The film is based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.

Michael Medved helped to host the event late last night, introducing the film and as a special treat leading a Q&A session with the movie’s lead actor Khalid Abdalla. There was a decent turnout, including Dr. Al Mohler, who is giving the first address at the conference this morning. The film’s story revolves around the lifelong friendship between Amir (played by Abdalla as an adult) and Hassan, and is set in Afghanistan in the late 1970s before the Communist invasion, later during the rule of the Taliban, and in America.

Considering the depiction of Amir and Hassan’s relationship in the film, I often considered their relationship to have a similar dynamic as that between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are a number of parallels, not least of which is the fact that in one way or another both Hassan and Sam are “servants” or employees of their master’s family. Tolkien is said to have modeled Sam on the British “batmen” of the first World War, soldiers who loyally and unswervingly served their officers.

The story is very compelling, and as Michael Medved observed more than once (and quite rightly so), the movie isn’t successful because it is primarily political, but is a success because it is so intimately personal and human. Khalid Abdalla emphasized that this was the first Hollywood movie to focus on this region of the world from a primarily personal and familial perspective, rather than one focused on governments, military aggressors, or tyrannic oppressors. Of course those elements are present, but they are depicted from a much more personal perspective that is more familiar to us than pedantic political narratives.

Amir and his father, Baba.

There are some great lines in the film, and there are likewise some great performances, not least of which is Abdalla himself as well as that of Homayon Ershadi, who plays Baba, Amir’s father. One of the more poignant and telling lines comes from Baba, who says of Afghanistan in the late 1970s that the mullahs want to “rule” our souls while the Communists “tell us we don’t have one.” I don’t want to give away too much of the plot if, like me, you haven’t yet read the book.

My wife Amy has recently read the book, however, finishing it last week, and here’s her reaction:

It isn’t very often that I would say I’m haunted by a book I have read, but that’s the only way to describe my feelings after turning the last pages of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The novel follows the life of Amir, a wealthy boy who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, but later emigrates to California with his father, Baba, following the Russian invasion.

Amir may physically leave his homeland behind, but he is unable to escape many of the things that happened there as a boy, including his friendship with and eventual betrayal of Hassan, the son of Baba’s Hazara servant. Hosseini eloquently illuminates Amir’s complicated relationship with his boyhood friend and servant.

From the very beginning, Amir is a gripping protagonist with whom you cannot help but sympathize. While his actions are polarizing and selfish, the complexity of his life against the background of ethnically-charged Afghanistan provides not only interesting character development but also rich insight into life in Kabul, including everything from competitive kite flying to racial tensions and Afghan traditions. It is hard to believe that this is the first novel from Hosseini, a former internist-turned-novelist. Tackling topics such as fear, regret, honor and loyalty, he poignantly touches on just about every raw aspect of human life, leaving no emotional stone unturned.

Most important, through the story’s many twists and turns, Hosseini’s vividly detailed writing will have you physically gripping the book with your hands as you anticipate what beautiful prose might lie at the next turn of the page. This is a book you will never forget.

You may have heard that the film’s release date was pushed back out of concern that some of the children who played parts in the film and who still live in Afghanistan might be in danger of reprisal over the film’s content. The film was scheduled to be released on November 2, and while none of the children have been removed from the country, plans have been set up to place them into safe houses during the initial stages of the film’s release in order to gauge the local reaction. The new release date is December 26, and I strongly urge you to see this film. Mark the release date on your calendar and be sure to support this film in its early theater release. You won’t regret it.