Ahmed Rashid
October 9, 2001 4:01 AM   Subscribe

Ahmed Rashid and Idries Shah have been my best sources as I try to get a real appreciation for the mosaic of Pashtun tribesmen, Tajiks, etc., that is Afghanistan. The former's book (link to long excerpt) is chock full of facts about the background and makeup of the Taliban. The latter's is a page-turning 1986 military romance (no Arabs, no CIA mentioned, but the secret KGB phone number given was, famously correct), by an author better known for works on Sufis and the incorrigible humorist Mulla Nasrudin: a painless way to steep yourself in a (romantically idealized but extremely informative) Afghan worldview. So, you other news junkies, what have been your best sources for the deeper cultural background of this patch of rugged mountains with which the U.S. finds itself at war?
posted by Zurishaddai (9 comments total)
not all' deeper cultural background ' info, some statistical stuff.

amnesty international, new internationalist and the guardian weekly/washington post/ le monde.
also this series is being repeated on bbc two at the moment.
posted by asok at 4:25 AM on October 9, 2001

Zurishaddai, you're right. You've really got to read books. The Internet doesn't do "deeper cultural background" very well. Thanks for the excellent Ahmed Rashid first chapter.
Now, to contradict myself: is there no more Mulla Nasrudin on the web? ;-)

Asok: thanks. I really like Le Monde Diplomatique(link to English version). You have to pay for the Internet edition but the original newspaper is better. It's small but really compact so you get about 24 hours reading out of it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:39 AM on October 9, 2001

Nasrudin stories are fabulous, thanks for reminding me. Here's a good one:

Nasrudin was invited to give a sermon. When the people had assembled, Nasrudin asked:
"Do you know what I'm going to tell you?"
"No", they answered.
"In that case", said Nasrudin, "there's no point in telling you anything. You're too ignorant to start with. I'd be wasting my time."
The people were disappointed. They asked Nasrudin to come back the following week.
When he did, he started his sermon by asking the same question.
"Yes!", they shouted.
"Very well", said Nasrudin, "then I see no reason to speak." And he left.
But Nasrudin was persuaded to come back a third time.
"Do you know -or don't you?", he asked the people.
"Some of us do, and some of us don't."
"Great!", said Nasrudin. "Those who know can share their knowledge with those who don't."
Having said that, he went home.
posted by nyomi at 5:36 AM on October 9, 2001

Idries Shah is associated with a lot of New Age stuff, and could be described as a somewhat controversial figure--interesting, intriguing, but certainly not someone you could represent as "Joe Afghan".
posted by gimonca at 6:57 AM on October 9, 2001

I had no idea Idries Shah had written fiction! Thanks!
posted by username at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2001

is there no more Mulla Nasrudin on the web?
There are a number of Mullah Nasruddin (aka Nasruddin Hodja) stories floating on the web. Including but not limited to the classic stories, there are a few modern ones. There is also a Mullah Mailing List.

And as always, the Mullah is right today as he was then:
A certain man asked the famous Mulla Nasrudin, "What is the meaning of fate, Mulla?"

Mulla replied, "Assumptions."

"In what way?" the man asked again.

Mulla looked at him and said, "You assume things are going to go well, and they don't - that you call bad luck. You assume things are going to go badly and they don't - that you call good luck. You assume that certain things are going to happen or not happen - and you so lack intuition that you don't know what is going to happen. You assume that the future is unknown. When you are caught out - you call that Fate."
posted by tamim at 7:19 PM on October 9, 2001

[Sent by an Iranian-American friend]:

Nasrudin was walking along a lonely road one moonlit night when he heard a snore seemingly directly beneath his feet. Suddenly he experienced fear and was about to flee, when he tripped over a dervish lying in a pit which he had dug for himself, partly underground.

"Who are you?" the Mulla stammered.

"I am a dervish, and this is my contemplation place."

Nasrudin replied, "You will have to let me share it. Your snoring frightened me out of my wits, and I cannot continue any further this night."

"Take the other end of this blanket, then," said the dervish without much enthusiasm, "and lie down here. Please be quiet, because I am keeping a vigil. It is a part of a complicated series of exercises. Tomorrow I must change the pattern, and I cannot stand any interruption."

Nasrudin fell asleep for a while. Then he woke up, very thirsty.

"I am thirsty," he told the dervish.

"Then go back down the road, where there is a stream."

"No,I am still afraid." replied Nasrudin.

"I shall go for you then," said the dervish. "After all, to provide water is a sacred obligation in the East."

"No, please don't go for I am still afraid to be alone!"

"Take this knife, to defend yourself then," said the dervish.

While he was away Nasrudin frightened himself still more, working himself up into a frenzy, which he tried to counter by imagining how he would attack any demon who threatened him.

Presently the dervish returned.

"Keep your distance, or "I'll kill you!" said Nasrudin.

"But I am the dervish," said the dervish.

"I don't care who you are-your maybe a demon in disguise. Besides, you have your head and eyebrows shaved!"
The dervishes of that order shave their head and eyebrows.

"But I have come to bring you water! Don't you remember-you are thirsty!"

"Don't try and ingratiate yourself with me, Demon!"

"But that is my hole you are occupying!" said the dervish.

"That's hard luck for you, isn't it? You'll just have to find another one." replied Nasrudin.

"I suppose so," said the dervish, "but I am sure I don't know what to make of all this."

"I can tell you one thing," said Nasrudin, "and that is that fear is multidirectional."

"It certainly seems stronger than thirst, or sanity, or other peoples property," said the dervish.

"AND you don't have to have it yourself in order to suffer from it!" said Nasrudin.
posted by myl at 8:16 PM on October 9, 2001

is there no more Mulla Nasrudin on the web?

I heartily agree that there should be more, but please do note that you can get a little mileage from refreshing the top link I gave, which will keep producing a story from one of Shah's books. His three Nasrudin collections are available in two volumes: this one and this one.

The pages linked by Tamim are also good, but the one with the most stories seems to have a broken Java menu, so I had to hunt for the story pages, which are directly accessible from these links: Family Troubles, Neighborhood, Business, Town Conversations, World Questions. (I'm pretty sure there is something objectively wrong with the front page, but apologies if this information is superfluous.)

P.S. Here's Doris Lessing's obituary for Shah.
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:36 PM on October 9, 2001

Thanks(a lot)Tamim and Zurishaddai - I'm addicted.
I've circulated some of the stories and my friends say he sounds Portuguese! Isn't that the mark of greatness, that people outside the author's original culture and time, feel they're next-door neighbours?

My favourite: "When you are hunting bears, and when you are me, seeing no bears at all is a marvelous experience."

How can anyone criticize the Internet when it allows otherwise impossible connections like these?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:49 PM on October 10, 2001

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