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The war in Afghanistan: a big, broad topic that can’t be covered in one forum post. Over the past few years, particularly in conjunction with the Iraq War, the United States’ presence in Afghanistan has become more and more controversial. The root of this seems to be, primarily, confusion: many people tend to inextricably link the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when, really, they are two utterly separate enterprises. Before we get into details and debate regarding this decade’s Afghanistan war, though, let’s look briefly at the history of US involvement in Afghanistan (with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden). In the 1980s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; the Taliban, who had an extremely large presence in the country, fought back (they took control of the government in 1996 and were later overthrown). At the time, the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union was still very much estranged – the Cold War was still tapering out, really. It seemed to make sense, then, for the US to back the Taliban in fighting the Soviets. The US armed and supplied the Taliban; after all, isn’t the enemy of our enemy our friend? Anyway, once the Soviet Union retreated, so did the US: we stopped the funds and supplies, but never bothered to really keep track of the sub-machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers we gave to the Taliban. (Bit of an oversight there, I feel, though it would have been impossible to thoroughly do so.) As was previously mentioned, in 1996, the Taliban took control of the Afghani government; however, in November 2001, Kabul fell and the Taliban régime was officially over. Fighting continued, obviously, as an interim government was established; we all know that fighting still continues there today.

Right. Having given that small history, now we can discuss the Afghanistan war today. We went there after 9/11 for obvious reasons: retaliation against attack and a commitment to tracking down and eliminating terrorists. This action was deemed justifiable and reasonable by both the nation and the world; the nation gave Bush an approval rating of about 85 percent in November 2001, and Canada, France, Germany, and Australia pledged future support in Afghanistan. (According to NATO, in 2009, 42 countries had active troops in Afghanistan.) The US’s invasion of Afghanistan, at the time, was viewed as a necessary violent response: had we not responded as such, other terrorist attacks may have occurred. So in that sense, certainly, the Afghanistan war is rightly justified.

The trouble (confusion) arises when people forget that the US invaded Afghanistan for a reason; or, alternatively, that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. It is imperative that they be kept separate: Afghanistan was invaded as a reaction to 9/11, and Iraq was invaded to destroy weapons of mass destruction (which, we later discovered, didn’t technically exist).

So, having clarified all this, today’s Afghanistan War can be addressed to a slightly better degree. Now that troops are being pulled out of Iraq, there seem to be two major views on Afghanistan: one, that we should not be there now – that we’re not doing any good and that the Afghanis don’t want us there – and two, that we should stay in Afghanistan long enough. How long is long enough, though? Until the baby democracy really takes root and begins to sprout of its own accord, as any beginning government should? Until the Taliban is put down once and for all? Until peace is established?

It comes down to what our goals are, militaristically and politically, for the “new” Afghanistan. It seems incredibly unlikely that the Taliban will suddenly be snuffed out and peace will be established; on the contrary, the Taliban is probably the most resilient, determined group in that region – even the world. It would be unrealistic to believe that the world will ever fully be rid of them. As long as there is a Taliban presence in an area, though, any government established by an outside force (i.e. the US or the Soviet Union) is likely to teeter for a while before either being actively overthrown or simply crumbling; with either of those two results, one outcome is constant and that is a reigning chaos. The Taliban thrives is chaos; it is how they derives their power. As long as there is no central pillar (a powerful, dependable government) for the people to turn to, they are easily manipulated by insurgent forces like the Taliban.

This cycle is the true root of the seemingly insurmountable problems in Afghanistan. Despite having had a presence of one sort or another there for nearly three decades, the United States has not managed to make too much permanent, deep-seated change. Certainly, some good has been done, but the fact remains that despite attempts by the US (or any military, foreign or Afghani), the Taliban will retain their order and reform. Today, they’ve all but vacated Afghanistan (to some extent), but they’re not disbanded – they’ve simply moved next door to Pakistan (talk about the neighbors from hell!)

The big question being asked today, then, is whether or not we should still be in Afghanistan. A nation only supports a war as long as they feel it is both justifiable and, more importantly, winnable. Vietnam is the classic example for this: a war that dragged on and on, seemingly endless, sucking away at America’s youth, economy, and enthusiasm. There were troops overseas for years on end, and what did they have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing except a miserable defeat at the bitter end, a defeat which both the veterans and the country may have chosen to forget. No one wants a repeat of Vietnam; however, it seems to be that we’re well on our way to just that.

So will the Afghanistan war be “won”? It depends on perspective. “What the troop-contributing countries want to see is progress…” Gen. Petraeus says in the MSNBC clip. “I didn’t come out here to carry out a graceful exit or something like that; I came out here committed to achieving our objectives and doing everything can to do that.” Which means: we’ll have troops here until our objectives are reached. But what, the public wants to know, are those objectives, exactly? If it’s totally ousting the Taliban and their influence, removing Karzai and his corrupted government and replacing it, and bringing Afghanistan into the twenty-first century, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for that.

Afghanistan hasn’t been totally negative; we did go there with a purpose in the beginning. Once we branched out into Iraq, though, things got fuzzy – to say the least. The US experience in Iraq has definitely negatively affected the public perception of the Afghanistan war, and in situations like this, public perception is a large part of how things get played out. If the people want to leave Afghanistan and we don’t, then the country seems much more likely to turn to a Vietnam feeling of hopeless rage and, eventually (hopefully), protest.

For as long as my – our – generation can remember, Afghanistan has been synonymous with war, chaos, horror, and tyranny. Generations before us have known that and the generations to follow will know that. In the short-term view of things – say, the next decade or so – some positive progress may be made in terms of quelling the Taliban’s influence in the region and installing some semblance of a democratic government. However, in the long run, it seems inevitable that the country will fall back to its former ways – to the despair of the public and the world. Is this victory?

~ r

A few links for your reference and perusal:
Vision of Humanity’s 2010 Global Peace Index. (Afghanistan is ranked third most violent; Iraq is first.)
The Taliban in Afghanistan.
US in Afhganistan timeline.
Pie chart of troops in Afghanistan (by country).
Number of troops per country (overall, not just in Afg.)
Bush poll ratings.
Recent NYT article: election fraud in Afghanistan.


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Before I get into the issue – which really shouldn’t be an issue at all – I’d like to share this image and caption, found on Boston.com’s fantastic photography blog, The Big Picture.

Photo #38: Open doors, open minds: Emiratis and expats share an Iftar and talk about Islam and about the things that make us different and the things that make us all same – at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, in Dubai on September 3rd, 2010. (© Borisz Merei)

I strongly encourage everyone to go and look at the 40-odd public-submitted photos of the month of Ramadan. Having said that…

(Note:  debate is welcome, but keep it civil.)

The building of this mosque (and community center) is obviously an extremely inflammatory issue. Many Americans – 61%, according to a recent TIME poll – believe that building the mosque four blocks away from Ground Zero would be wrong: some merely view it as an action disrespectful towards those who lost their lives saving others’, while others go to an extreme, calling it a “monument to terrorism.” Because it is such a personal issue for so many, I’ll first delve into the purely legal aspect.

Freedom of religion is one of the most important beliefs in the US, one of the cornerstones of the Constitution. The freedom to practice any religion here is not limited to being allowed to enter a church, synagogue, mosque, or any other worship space. It also forbids anyone from being subjected to discrimination based on religious beliefs. If the ongoing debate over whether or not a mosque should be allowed to be built isn’t an example of religious discrimination, then I don’t know what is. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion no matter what the circumstances. The question posed is “Should the government allow the Islamic Center and Mosque to be built?” That should not even be a question. It is not the government’s right to censor, in any way, which religious buildings can be built. The matter of sensitivity is an entirely separate argument; however, that is the argument with which most people have come to associate the proposed mosque and community center.

One of the sadly ironic points of this situation is the fact that those who protest the mosque are exercising their freedom of speech to the fullest extent; however, rather than using that fought-for right to further promote justice and freedom, they are using it to condemn a religious group that is doing no more than exercising its right to freedom of religion. Why should one group be protected by both of those rights while another group is criticized and rebuked for doing the same?

Now on to the opinion/emotional aspects of the issue. Just like the Floridan pastor Terry Jones does not accurately represent the views of his entire religion, the 9/11 bombers – and indeed, every other radical Muslim – do not represent the beliefs of Islam’s followers or, necessarily, the Qur’an’s teachings. ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ the saying goes. Terry Jones received a ridiculous amount of attention for his stunt; now, religious (and otherwise) radicals across the country are planning Qur’an burnings of their own. Amazing how similar the situation is to that of the Islam extremists: the suicide bombers, hijackers, flag burners (hmm…) and crazed rally-holding members end up in the news, on television, and ultimately in people’s heads. The Muslims who say their prayers and don’t blow things up don’t get on the news. Consequently, the only image many Americans have of Muslims is that of the extremists. All Muslims are not related to al-Qaeda, just like all Catholics are not pedophiles. (Disclaimer: yes, I am Catholic. No offense meant to anyone else.) One’s perspective on an entire culture cannot be based off of a few of that culture’s outliers.

Another perfect analogy for the “Islamaphobia” today is the Japanese internment camps of World War II. While the US hasn’t quite reached that stage of unwarranted fear and hate, the situation is scarily similar. After Pearl Harbor, all Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion. They were not to be trusted; they were viewed as threats to our safety. This wasn’t a matter of mere stereotypes, this was a matter of sweeping generalizations about an entire culture, an entire people. Now, we see the same thing happen with Muslim Americans. After 9/11 – and still to this day – there is an unfortunate (to say the least) generalizing view that all Muslims want to wave guns around a burning American flag, chanting “Death to America.” An infinitesimal minority of that culturedoes feel that way; however, the vast majority – the other 1.5 billion Muslims in the world – are just like us, simply living their lives and adhering to their religious beliefs.

The issue we are faced with is a matter of narrow-mindedness and lack of acceptance – for the most part. For those who lost a loved one on 9/11, building the mosque so close to Ground Zero may seem insensitive. However, insensitivity – a purely subjective thing, I might add – does not make the Muslims who would like a mosque terrorists. That view is simply a bigoted, uninformed one that should not hold as much weight as it currently does; it should not influence the implementation of a fundamental right.

~ r

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So after all the controversy over this health care reform/overhaul/selling our souls to the devil/whatever you call it, it’s been passed. Or some skeletal structure of the original bill has. But hey, it’s a start. And for those of you who cry “Socialism!” – what’s so bad about that? Libraries, schools, roads, MediCare and Medicaid – it’s no different. And, as has been pointed out countless times over the past year (decade… whatever), we are among the last developed countries to not have socialized health care. It’s my personal opinion that those who argue that they don’t want to have to pay for others’ health care – that, to quote a classmate of mine, “shit happens” and people should deal with it – these people (in general) have questionable morals in my mind. They’re saying they don’t care about others, that they value money and the freedom to go bankrupt themselves over health care costs* rather than spread the cost over the country and have an equal bill.
*It seems to me that most people who protest the bill already have health care (IN GENERAL). How many uninsured single-parent types do you hear saying, “No! They’re going to insure us! Nooo! Freedom!” etc.?

For a handy little rumor-squashing 10-bullet summary of what the bill will bring about, check out PolitiFact’s article.

Well, now I’m all incensed about this. But, to change the subject:
Today at school, there was a presentation for Invisible Children and it made me want to do something. I’m not sure what, though… but I’ll think of something… That on top of the UN study that reported that more people die annually from contaminated water and contaminated water-related illnesses than all other forms of violence combined. That seems like it should be – is – a basic human right that needs to be amended as soon as possible. I mean, peace is desirable but war is inevitable – clean water is doable. Then there was Big Picture’s World Water Day photo series that drilled the point home. Take a look, people. It makes you think and look outside your own safe haven of a world and look at things that you probably don’t consider on a daily basis.


A boy swimming in a trash-filled lake in Manila Bay. (Reuters)


Determination in northern Kenya. After carrying gallons for miles, the women who gather these buckets compete with livestock to drink. (Nat’l Geo.)


Northern Kenya. (Nat’l Geo.)


A man drinking from a pipe in the ravaged city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Getty Images)


Mahendra Kumar surfaces to catch his breath as he dives into a polluted section of the River Yamuna to scavenge for ornaments and coins left by Hindu rituals at the river bank, in New Delhi, India, Monday, March 22, 2010. Officials say factories are ignoring regulations and dumping untreated sewage and industrial pollution, turning toxic the river that gives the capital much of its drinking water. (AP Photo)


A man paddling through a sea of dead fish in a tributary of the Amazon River. (Reuters)

Striking and thought-provoking, no?

~ r

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From NYT:

“Mr. Qashqavi drew comparisons with American election results.

‘No one encouraged the American people to stage a riot’ because they disagreed with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, he said.”

True, so true. This goes to further my point that our current culture is a degenerately complacent one. (Although on this particular subject, I tend to think that that election screwup was just that – a screwup due to idiocy – as opposed to a setup…. but who knows?)

Read the entire article here.

~ r

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[Started this post about a month ago and never got around to finishing it off, so with all my free time I’ve finally done it. Social activism stuff after the thermite. Oh, I’m not sure, but some stuff may be outdated by now… I don’t know. Let me know.]

Such a good day. School – who cares. Did a lot of nothing (biking and working out and thinking and writing) until dinner, after which my older brother and some of our friends got us some thermite and dun made big flames and sparks and steam and whatnot!

Yeah, it’s this great powder you light with magnesium and melt through stuff. Liquid iron (and other cool things) are biproducts, just to give you an idea of just how cool (err, hot – it gets above 4,000 degrees!) it is. A video by Brits who melt through a car’s engine using thermite:

Haha yes, I’m a science geek. Bill Nye is my favourite. Alrighty, moving right along to, umm, social activism/the 70’s/rock & roll – the real stuff.

JAK&JIL. Those glasses remind me of hippies, about whom we are learning (who? whom? As in, whom cares? Haha) in history. Hippies, who started and carried on and weathered out a fine tradition of a cultural revolution. Like it or not, that’s what it was: an uprising in protest of the government. …

Compared to today, where people are content with the way things are. Too content, I feel, and therefore not inspired or motivated to take action for something they believe in. The Vietnam War was the main antagonist of the time, of course, and why should the Iraq war (and all its related baggage it’s dragging along behind it through the blood-stained sand) be any different? Vietnam was to “contain communism”; Iraq is to “prevent terrorism” (although it’s obviously much, much more than that – for simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with Terrorism Prevention. Mostly). Don’t you see the huge differences between them?
Oh, you do? Could you point them out?
Ah, sorry, that was a bit snarky. But really, it seems to me that both wars have lots of similar characteristics:

1. They could have been pretty much entirely avoided in the first place. (This is arguable, and is a huge argument, but that fact of the matter is that they could have been avoided. It may have been a blow to the US’ pride, but… there it is.)
2. They’re far away and could have been over much, much shorter than they were/are being dragged out to be. (The ‘far away’ part is actually a huge deal; if Iraq were, say, near Canada, people would be prone to pay more attention to it. However, due to the distance – an ocean and a continent – people tend to brush it off).
3. Lots of people aren’t very happy about it. (The difference: people then saw the – for lack of a better word – inhumanity/injustice/unnecessity of it and did something about it. Now… well, I’ll get to now shortly).
4. The government played a dubious role in the whole thing. (No, I’m not referring to Watergate/Nixon, I’m talking about the Gulf of Tonkin resolutionduh. No worries – I only know about it because I’ve just learnt it.)
5. They were both an overextension of American power and, some would argue, imperialism (or something along the lines of that – a show of power, etc.); again with the avoidable/blow-to-pride bit.

Those are they key points.

But the differences? It’s all in the culture, society.
In one of the documentaries I watched, one man said: “You were active. Everyone was. You couldn’t sit back and not be active; your sense of decency prevented that.” That begs the question: are we indecent, as a society, today? Have we lost so much of our morality and lost sight of traditional American values? Democratic values? Even basic human rights? Most people will be flustered by hearing this, indignant, but I beg of you to sit back and think about that. The young people of the 1970’s knew that the war was wrong, but more importantly, their sense of decency made them act upon it. They took risks to make a strong point to their government, their culture, and their society.

What exactly is different about the time of the Vietnam war (a long time) and now? What happened between the 70s and now that made society complacent, content to forget about their country’s wars and be oblivious to current events?
Now it seems that social injustice and war and stuff don’t give rise to indignation (only insult can do that now, I feel), but only seems to dredge up a wisp of emotion, a memory of some feeling of obligation, and [generally] people today aren’t prone to act on that wisp. In some people, however, the wisps turns into a stronger force, provoking them and urging them on to expand their thoughts and experiences and opinions and eventually their actions.

[Protests were not, of course, limited to merely marching around with signs and whatnot. The entire counterculture – sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, their clothes, etc. – all lent to the cause. Some people went so far as to alter their entire lifestyle just to protest not only the war, but the entire culture – the way society was turning. They didn’t like it, so they protested. They acted on their impulses and emotions and thoughts. It seems to me that people today would be too uncomfortable by changing everything about their lives simply to make a point. It’s like we, as a whole, have lowered our levels of mental power and our wills to set things right.]

Another thing: people may say, ‘But what’s the point? It’s not like just because you protest, the war will be over.’ Maybe not immediately – which is another contributing factor, people today want immediate gratification, and they won’t wait for anything – but eventually, if enough people rise to the challenge, open their minds and thoughts and actions, we can fix this.

~ r

PS: no senseless, inane comments, please. Intelligent conversation only.
PPS: sorry, it’s a bit rough/unpolished – as I said, I started this over a month ago and just now remembered about it.

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Amazing song. It makes you think (or it does me, anyway) – it’s so true. People always talk about how terrible the world is and how we’re all screwed; blame flies, fingers are pointed, but really, it’s always been this way and always will be. That’s not saying we should be apathetic – just the opposite, actually. If we just stand by, the world really will go to hell. I mean, look at Iran: they could’ve sat around and grumbled about their screwed-up government, but they took to the streets to get results. Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone takes to the streets armed and dangerous, but we need to do something – not sit around and not care about current events – to take a stand. The Iraq & Afghanistan wars are just so ridiculously reminiscient of Vietnam that I don’t see how people can’t see that. If they see that, surely people will look and see and say, “Oh, hmm, that didn’t turn out so well… maybe we shouldn’t…?” But to get to that stage, people need to be aware of the outside world and care and actually have opinions. Oh look, there I go again.

“We didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it…”

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The famous “FUCK” cheer and “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die”:

That’s the mentality we need, not one of “Oh, there’s a war still going on? Our soldiers are still over there? Hmm. Oh, shh, the game’s back on.”

~ r

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