November 27, 2009

Defining the Afghan Character

I've been reading a remarkable book, An Unexpected Light, about Afghanistan which I plan to review here soon. Today I wanted to share one passage in which Jason Elliot recounts how a drunk Frenchman sees Afghans (pp 440-1 in the paperback edition).

[The young drunk Frenchman] asked how I would define the Afghan character. I'd been trying for ages without success, I told him. "Well", he replied, as his glass traced faltering spirals between us, "I'll tell you then." The Afghans, he said, were un people qui reste debout -- a people who stay standing upright -- and he described the event that had left him so visibly troubled. He worked for the ICRC: earlier in the day he had been to inspect one of the city's prisons to check on the conditions of the prisoners. After their names had all been verified, he noticed a door which had remained unopened for the inspection. The prison guard had been reluctant to open it; behind it was just an old man in solitary confinement, he had said. But it was the Frenchman's job to count the prisoners, and he insisted on being shown inside.

When the door was open, he caught sight of a half-naked old man in the freezing and windowless cell.

"And what do you think he did then?" he asked, as the emotion welled up in his eyes. The old man had tottered to his feet, lifted the scrap of cloth on which he sat, brushed the dust from it and stepped back, smiling, to offer the space to his guest.

There is so much about that country that is outside our ken. Yet, we have soldiers there. Do we have a plan for what to do there?

Posted by Mary at November 27, 2009 12:00 AM | Philosophy | Technorati links |
Comments

That's incredibly touching. It makes me want to read the book too. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: David at December 2, 2009 07:51 PM

incredible and thanks for your information.

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