I had been debating for days whether to post something on Afghanistan (in light of our Great Leader’s brilliantly orchestrated ‘outburst’ about Pakistan’s involvement) when Time Magazine produced its most blatantly propogandist cover story for decades. The piece cynically manipulates Jodi Bieber‘s (a friend and ex-collegue from Network Photographers) dignified image of a mutilated woman to suggest that a withdrawl from this illegal, NeoCon war would lead to more barbarity. Presumably similar barbarity to the drone attacks killing countless civilians in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and the illegal, drug-infested, torture-soaked, Karzai government.
Let’s make no mistake here, the excuse that the brave forces of democracy are in South Asia to prevent another 9/11 is entirely spurious. Afghanistan did not attack America. The majority of those that did came from our staunch ally, Saudi Arabia – known for its robust defence of human, especially women’s rights. That a minority of Islamicists may have had bases in Afghanistan is more the result of Indo-Pak (and therefore CIA) intelligence machinations. Afghanistan has been raped and used by every invading army since the British had a go twice in the Nineteenth century. Are we surprised that such actions have spawned amongst the Pashtun tribes a spiteful and extreme Islam? I’m more surprised that it hasn’t been worse. My visits to Afghanistan (starting in 1994 to cover the Siege of Kabul for Der Spiegel) have consistently shown Afghans to be peaceful and kind – not that you’d get that from a whole generation of photographers and writers who have covered this forago ’embedded’ courtesy of the American Industrial-Military Complex. Surely they are all turban headed (‘rag-heads’ are Iraqis… obviously) women-hating, primitives. Still, if we can’t understand ’em and they don’t want our democracy, let’s bomb them, eh? Bomb them ‘back to the Stone Age…’.
According to Matthew Hob, the former US Marine who resigned his post as Political Officer in 2009, “The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies … I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.”
So, for the second time in a few days I find myself writing about Pakistani militant attacks designed to destabilse religious harmony. On Thursday night, at least 42 people were killed and hundreds wounded when two suicide bombers attacked a the famous Data Ganj Baksh Sufi shrine in Lahore. The Lahore commissioner, Khusro Pervaiz, blamed the attack on a “conspiracy in which locals are being used” – a euphemism often used to point the finger at neighbouring India. A dangerous remark that even if true does nothing to answer the charge that Pakistan is actually at war with itself. The so-called Pakistani Taleban funded by Wahabi and other conservative sects (the same groups conveniently used by the Pakistani army in the 1990s to attack Indian troops in Kashmir) are the likely culprits for this and the recent attack on the Ahmadiyya community. Despite what fanatics in both Pakistan and the West would have us believe, the dominant tradition within Pakistani society is a tolerant, peaceful Sufistic based Islam. Wherever I have travelled within the Islamic world it is the presence of Sufis that has reassured me and added to my knowledge of religion. Sufism – a mystical, internalised form of Islamic worship that centres on love and prayer and charity seems to spring up to defend Islam when repression threatens. I have met many Sufis – often practising in secret – and my admiration of their practice is matched only by my hope that this will be the last outrage against all people who seek only to practice their religion peacefully as they see fit.
I’ve never worked in the Data Ganj Baksh shrine but here are some other images linked by ‘Sufism’ from my archive:
So, as two further national newspapers swing their support away from Gordon Brown, all indications a week before the election point to a hung Parliament controlled by the Tories. My views on this are complicated: when all the parties represent the Market and the status quo there IS no choice, however my formative political years were formed under the Thatcher government and so I reserve a particular dread for the Bullingdon Club‘s entry into Number 10.
I haven’t photographed elections – or much British politics – for a long time. I do however remember a particularly depressing April dawn dropping rolls of film off at Der Spiegel’s office after photographing John Major celebrating victory in 1992.
Subsequent years of PR-dominated press conferences and stage-managed photo opportunities made me less interested and I turned my attention to the world outside the UK. I do occasionally get to photograph politicians however. Here’s one of the Man that would be King taken a couple of years ago on assignment for the Times Magazine.
I leave my final thoughts to one of my favourite essayists, Emma Goldman, whose views on the subject echo my own:
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal…”
It appears that the great Indian artist, MF Husain has accepted citizenship from Qatar after having to live in exile in London and Dubai since 2006. It may well close one of the saddest episodes in secular India: Husain, now 95, has been the target of Hindu fundamentalists after his depiction of naked Hindu goddesses. The Indian government has been unable to protect either his property or his personal safety and so one of India’s most famous sons is now unlikely ever to return to his home. I photographed him in Mumbai (then Bombay) about a dozen years ago for the Independent on Sunday Magazine. He was as charming as he was extraordinarily talented.
It’s been some weeks since the lives of two of the world’s oldest men came to a close. I’ve been out of the country a good deal recently and missed the chance to comment on Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, both veterans of ‘the war to end all wars‘. However, this morning, I noticed that the Hackney Gazette carried a story that Hackney Council is going to name a street after Allingham as he was born, like me, in Clapton.
I never met Allingham but I photographed Patch years ago for a Swiss Magazine whose name I’m afraid escapes me. Without criticism, it was Patch, buried without the military pomp that intrigued me more.
What stuck me about him was that he was a very, very ordinary man that by dint of a genetic fluke had lived on to become, very reluctantly, a living symbol of the Great War. An everyman. The Last Tommy. He seemed to me almost guilty about surviving and I suppose that isn’t uncommon for veterans who have seen their comrades fall. What was extraordinary was that he never spoke about the war until he was 100. When he did speak about it, it was to condemn utterly the futility and cruelty of what he had seen. I remember him, rasping in a soft, slow West country burr, how when he and his comrades were forced to open up on advancing Germans, they’d made a pact to try and shoot for their legs in order to avoid killing them. That to me seemed absurdly brave. His criticism of war (recently enshrined in a tribute by the band Radiohead) was no less telling. ‘Give your leaders each a gun and let them fight it out themselves…”.