August is a slow month news-wise, everyone is off on holiday, leafing through September issues till the sun wanes. I would love, at this stage of the season, to be writing an upbeat piece about sandals I’ve trialled, or the latest fad cocktail, or the newly six-foot-three Diana or whether someone with Prince Charming–looks can play an actual prince. But despite my desire for easy, breezy sunlit prose, my attention is trained on more serious matters.
Since America began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan a week ago, the Taliban has taken control of every major city in the country. All international diplomats are being evacuated. Millions of civilians have been left undefended. I’m struggling to have anything in my head other than the awful footage of desperate men falling back to earth after clinging to the side of an airplane leaving Kabul. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, and I don’t urge you to Google it. It’s as harrowing and visceral and desperate as it sounds.
As with most international conflicts (whether small or full-scale), there are no moral certitudes here, but rather ancient history feeding current events. I try not to assign binary moral values to people, places, or things, but it’s incredibly difficult to see the good in the Taliban, a regime that has a near-medieval misogyny embedded in its structure. There’s been talk of a new Taliban, more inclusive, less miserably violent and chauvinist, but it’s difficult to believe in this reinvention as harrowing pictures emerge from the region. It’s one (utterly unfair) thing to be born into an oppressive regime, but the audacity to take over a city and force its free women to halt careers, mute their voices, and cover their bodies is mind-boggling.
I certainly am in no better place than most people to debate the Taliban and Afghanistan and, well, the war on terror, the climate of hyper-fear immediately after the towers fell in 2001, the fabled weapons of mass distraction, the fact that the criminal leaders of those wars have decent lives doing watercolors and vox pops about Brexit. If you’re looking for facts and figures, you’d be advised to read reporters on the ground.
What I can do I sympathize with you: that shock at the footage coming out of Afghanistan, that feeling of helplessness, that desire to react, to simply do something. Perhaps you agree that America shouldn’t have been there to begin with, and that this withdrawal feels abrupt and dashed. Hopefully we are all of the firm belief that women’s rights are human rights and they should be protected. All I can do is urge you to donate to on-the-ground aid charities, read and repost trusted sources without comment or embellishment—and keep the people who are suffering in your thoughts.
It’s a modern paradox: The more horrific the situation, the harder it is to stay engaged. It’s easy to be glib about armchair activism, but throughout all the world historical disasters of the last 18 months, action and awareness—even through your phone—are the first steps toward change.