Review on Winnipeg Free Press
Bleeding Afghanistan was reviewed by Michael Stimpson in the Winnipeg Free Press:
‘Propaganda of silence’ ignores U.S. Afghan role
Sun Dec 10 2006
Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence
By Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls
Seven Stories Press, 313 pages, $22
Reviewed by Michael Stimpson
THE terrorist attacks of 9/11 sparked a lot of new phenomena in U.S. popular culture. Among the most curious was an obsession over a blue garment.
Well-meaning U.S. liberals like Jay Leno’s wife and self-serving conservatives like Laura Bush agreed that a traditional women’s robe known as the burka — which covers the wearer’s head and body — represented the epitome of oppression.
Under Taliban rule, Afghan women were required to wear the burka whenever they stepped out of their homes. That made the garment, usually blue in Afghanistan, a symbol of “gender apartheid.”
To the California-based authors of Bleeding Afghanistan, the fuss over the burka helps illustrate how invasion and occupation of the Asian country was sold to Americans through a public-relations campaign that simplified complex issues and ignored Washington’s role in Afghanistan’s troubled history.
The burka “is a widely accepted part of conservative Afghan tradition,” Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls note. “Focusing critique on the burka as a symbol of oppression reinforces negative Western stereotypes of Muslim culture.”
Five years after being “liberated” from the Taliban, many Afghan women still wear the burka. And women and men in most of Afghanistan remain oppressed, by U.S.-blessed warlords now instead of the Taliban.
“No longer does one hear the Bush administration, or even just Laura Bush, speaking out about women’s rights in Afghanistan,” Ingalls and Kolhatkar write. “No longer do liberal feminist groups focus all their energies on the ‘gender apartheid’ in Afghanistan. No longer do the mainstream media sport front-page exposÃ©s about the mistreatment of Afghan women, despite the fact that the women and men of Afghanistan suffer in silence under new tyrants.”
The scant attention paid to Afghanistan nowadays in U.S. news media constitutes what the authors term a “propaganda of silence.” The White House and Pentagon have benefited from the media’s “supportive or non-critical role,” they say.
But propaganda seems an inappropriate word. Rather than consciously choosing to help government spin doctors by ignoring problems in Afghanistan, the media basically have just moved on to other things. There’s no conspiracy here; that’s just how the news business works.
This book is thoroughly researched (706 endnotes) and provides insight from two writers who have seen the country and worked for the liberation of Afghan women with a great deal more sincerity than Laura Bush.
They are co-directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a non-profit group that supports the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
Their publisher is a New York-based left-of-centre press that includes intellectual heavyweights Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn among its authors.
This book provides a perspective you don’t often get on CNN or in your daily newspaper. And it just might make you reconsider what business Canadian troops have in Afghanistan.
Michael Stimpson is a Winnipeg writer.