My grandfather was one of a cohort of students sent from Afghanistan to the United States for college in the 1930s --- he was "Charlie Shalizi" to his classmates at Urbana, who were mostly unable to pronounce "Abdussattar". He very much liked and admired America, though of course he knew it wasn't perfect. While he could easily have stayed here, he went back to Afghanistan because he wanted to help his native country be more like the America he knew. (You can read about what happened to him and his friends after they went back from the early chapters of Tamim Ansary's West of Kabul, East of New York.)
Today, there is an important political force in America which is dedicated to making that wish come true. It is large, splendidly organized, ruthlessly dedicated, tactically savvy, and overwhelmingly powerful, indeed the most powerful force in American politics; I mean the Republican Party. Unfortunately, they propose to fulfill my grandfather's wish not by making Afghanistan more like Roosevelt-era America, but by making America more like present-day Afghanistan. Whether it's electoral fraud, guns, domination of society by ignorant religious zealots, ensuring the state is too weak to collect taxes or enforce its writ over local magnates, weakening the military while encouraging freelance soldiers, or, indeed, torture, the present policy of the GOP makes sense once you suppose that it is aimed at re-fashioning the US in the Afghan image. This may, indeed, be the only way to make sense of it.
The party of Lincoln is long gone. Even the party of Eisenhower, which for all its flaws was the one which sent the troops to Little Rock in 1957 (which is to say, it stood for this), even that party is but a memory, as his son will tell you. Instead we have the party for torture, lead by a pro-torture president --- admittedly he hasn't yet explicitly come out in favor of beating people with funny names on the off chance they'll say something he wants to hear in order to make it stop, but I can't help but feel that's just because nobody's asked him directly. This was not how things were supposed to turn out.
At such a time, comfort comes from a previous high point in the synthesis of English-speaking and Persianate cultures, Edward Fitzgerald's free rendition of Omar Khayyam:
Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And --- "A blind understanding!" Heav'n replied.
Posted at October 03, 2004 08:25 | permanent link