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One book leads to another and then you’re nose-deep in Middle Eastern conflict non-fiction. Lone Survivor inspired me to learn more about the Taliban for myself. So, I checked out a book at the library called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, who is a Pakistani journalist who has followed the Central Asian region (which loosely includes Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) for many, many years and has managed to condense his experiences into a succinct summary of the regional difficulties that have given rise to terrorism and the Taliban.

This is an overview of political, economic, and cultural strands that have combined to spawn a new breed of extremism that has infiltrates Central Asia, especially Afghanistan, and beyond. This is not a political finger-pointing book; no side is innocent and no side is responsible for everything that has taken place in the region. Rashid details the emergence of the Taliban, the role of jostling ethnic groups for power, the atrocities committed on virtually every side of the conflict(s), the West’s blind eye (especially when it benefitted the U.S. in their attempts to take shots at Russia and Iran) to the rise of extremism, and the wooing of the Taliban by oil companies.

This is dense reading, readers. One has to concentrate and underline and be able to refer back. There are several handy-dandy appendices, which help readers have the overall timeline, summary of major events, and definitions of unfamiliar words (in the West) for reference. The index is invaluable.  Still, even if I haven’t processed everything (and it would take many, many, many readings and outside research), I am aware that I had NO awareness about Central Asia before. If you’re interesting in learning more about it yourself, give this one a try.

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I think the bastards should die. And I think the bastards should live. Those are my comprehensive thoughts about war and the Other Side.

Listen. Let’s say you and I were driving somewhere, maybe to see my mother or camp or go shopping. You are driving. We are in a sharp curve, and a dog runs out in the middle of the road. I scream, “look out,” and you do and then you swerve to avoid hitting it. We crash into a tree. I die, you and the dog live. You are banged up. The dog is fine. The dog is not cute. The dog trots off, unphased. You were in a situation in which you had to react immediately, and you did what most people would do. Or what I/we would hope most people would do. What happens is I die and then you start second-guessing yourself. Not only that, but you’re overcome by the guilt that you and the ugly dog lived while a nice person (me) died. But you go beyond that because you are in such pain. You blame yourself, but then you begin to criticize all the people who ever liked dogs to begin with. All the fanatics who ever placed any value on dogs’ lives or expect others to. All those people are, in part, responsible for this tragedy and how you reacted.

End scene. Now listen. People are scarred by grief. Torture comes in many forms, and I’m most familiar with the self-inflicted kind. The selfish kind. Still, swerving to avoid the dog was the noble thing, no matter what the results were, no matter what the rules of war were, no matter what the “liberal” media says or does.

So, anyway, what I’m saying is this. We should die, and the dogs should live. But also, the dogs should die and we should live. We’re just all trying to live with what we can live with.

So I suppose I’m back to being a bleeding heart.

Even if you question yourself, my death, and the version of me that values the life of dogs.

I don’t question you. I know.

You did the right thing.

We’re in a café.

 

No, we’re in a warehouse where fish used to be processed that someone turned into a coffee house. A rustic, modern, pretentious little coffee house where we sit. We are the only respectable crowd here, legitimizing it for all the other bastards sitting in old chairs, stuffing oozing out of them like puss, and reading intelligent books. No, they are reading about how to lose weight and secretly admiring the glisten of body builders’ muscles, only they hide that trash in front of classic literature, as if they are fooling anyone.

 

We are the chosen ones, though we’re not supposed to admit it. We are talented. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. We actually come close to saying what we’re trying to say, even if that isn’t the same thing as coming close to saying what we mean.

 

We congratulate each other for recognizing art isn’t carelessly splashing paint on a white canvas and calling it a masterpiece.

 

We, as in the group of us

Seven, eight, maybe more or less

 

Outwardly, we are confident. We acknowledge structure and language and double meanings, and we even mean it. We are touched by the words of our fellow writers.

 

Inwardly, we are whatever we are. There’s always a catch, and here’s mine: I think maybe all of my writing, all of my work, might just be words carelessly splashed across a computer screen and not art at all.

SOB with me

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