"When Kabul had rock and roll, not rockets."
June 3, 2010 3:49 AM   Subscribe

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan. "It is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable. I want to show Afghanistan's youth of today how their parents and grandparents really lived."
posted by availablelight (8 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
That's heartbreaking.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:01 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter has had previous posts before on pre-1978 photos of Afghanistan, mostly taken by Western tourists or photojournalists and highlighting the exotic, as yet unspoiled countryside, traditional cultural vignettes, etc. The photos scanned in for this link by Mohammad Qayoumi are from the old Planning Ministry, designed to show off progress in technology, education, youth culture, and urbanization, and therefore like an even more poignant time capsule. As Qayoumi puts it, "Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real."
posted by availablelight at 4:28 AM on June 3, 2010

These are great. Very interesting to see what Afghani urbanism used to look like (not to mention very depressing in comparison to what Afghanistan looks like today).

I have seen photos like these from Iraq in the 1950s and '60s: basically an Arab take on Western fashions and architecture. There seems to have been a forty-year window where many Arab and middle Asian nations embraced modernist culture, but then for whatever reason ricocheted back to a strict conservatism. Marjane Satrapi mentions this in Persepolis where at the end of the seventies there was the Iran Revolution, and in a very short period of time women were all in hijabs and ground-length dresses and the men all grew beards. Not all middle-eastern people dress this strictly, as a quick Internet search would indicate, but it's a world away from these Afghanistan pictures, many of which would not look out of place in the background of a fifties sitcom.

In the case of Afghanistan, war is the factor cited many times for the reversion to traditional economies and strict gender roles. Religious fundamentalism seems to come with the breakdown of technologies and growing poverty. If North America gets hit with another recession, and especially if oil becomes scarcer and/or more expensive, I would expect that in twenty years there would be a similar reversion to a very primitive conservatism.
posted by spoobnooble at 4:30 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm at the ICC Review Conference in Kampala, and I just listened to a woman from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission describe how a mother was gang-raped on the order of a local warlord, for the crime of trying to find out what happened to her son after he was press-ganged into the service of that warlord. When her husband went to Kabul to find justice for his wife, he was assassinated. The entire Afghani government, from its joke of a President down to its local warlord-dominated provinces, is not simply complicit but actively involved in perpetrating this violence. And it was America that set the match to this kindling, because they thought that communism was the worst thing that could happen.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:35 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Especially fascinating for my woman and I - the last course we did there was hosted in Kabul Medical University, so some of these shots were taken in rooms where I actually stood. Some of my Afghan teachers actually brought up the exact point made in this article - that they had seen pictures of their mothers / grandmothers in the 1960s in miniskirts, and that it was incredible how things had changed so quickly. How to get back to that kind of liberal thinking and freedom? Who the fuck knows!
posted by Meatbomb at 7:04 AM on June 3, 2010

Meatbomb, I would imagine that if they could actually get 5-10+ years of actual peace it would probably go a long way towards that.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:39 AM on June 3, 2010

The US funded the most extreme Islamists after the Soviet invasion, on the advice of the Pakistani government, who fear a strong Afghanistan. Afghanistan got caught up in the Cold War in a particularly vicious way. The changes have a lot more to do with Charlie Wilson than with Osama bin Laden and company.
posted by QIbHom at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pictures of Afghanistan today: Scenes from Afghanistan

Embedded in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 1:07 PM on June 3, 2010

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