Saturday, 8 March 2008


While there are a lot of global economic and political issues being played out in Afghanistan, it is the social issues -- the life of the people -- which most consistently gets lost in the "change" that is happening.

"Change," according to whom?

Whose life will be better for all this "change"?

Basically, we Euro-Americans are trying to drag the Afghan people into the 21st century (from our perspective), even if “we” have to drag “them” kicking and screaming (which they are).

“We” want to change thousands of years of culture, and do it virtually overnight. We're trying to change their whole society — everything they believe about who they are, and how their society "should" operate.

It is a kind of a cultural imperialism. But we are doing it because, you see, “we” think a liberal democracy “would be good” for “them.”

Change focus. We are in the early 1960s. The Americans are trying to get the Saudi Arabian royal family to effect a more “democratic” and “humanitarian” tone to their society. The response from the Saudis is instructive. “Do not send us your Coca Cola, Ford cars, or upstart son of a whisky merchant [i.e., President John F. Kennedy]. We have our own culture and have had it for thousands of years.”

Is real change possible in Afghanistan?

There are strong forces opposing change in Afghan society. Particularly the Taliban, but they are not alone. Traditional rulers, so-called "Warlords," really don't want much change, nor do many traditionalist clerics and ordinary citizens. No different from our society, where "conservatives" of all kinds oppose creative change.

A recent report for a knowledgeable Afghan woman, on International Woman's Day in Saskatoon, presented the situation in sharp contrast. (What she said is well known; she simply highlighted the problem.) "Redevelopment" money being spent three ways in Afghanistan. First, to arm and equip the new Afghan army. Second, to "pay off" the "Warlords." If there's any money left over after that, it might go into something else like a school or a hospital.

And that is the situation which the Canadian Government wants to support until 2011. Because the government thinks real change will happen if it supports this new "status quo."

If we are rdally committed to making change in "their" society, we'll have to leave troops -- army of occupation -- for several generations -- not years, or decades; generations. It will take that long for real change to take hold. Otherwise, the "conservatives" in that society will quickly reverse any changes that have been made.

And who will benefit from any of these kinds of "change?

Saturday, 1 March 2008


Listening to people talk about "politics" today, I feel very sad about the lack of basic understanding that most people have about "politics." I'm not talking about party positions or philosophical positions. I'm talking about the basics of politics.

To understand politics in our society, we need to reflect on "the cradle of democracy" -- ancient Greece. The Greeks had an wonderful word -- politeia. (That is the word from which we have our English words "politics" and "political.") That Greek word meant citizenship -- particularly "the rights and responsibilities of the citizen" — and citizens collectively.

But over the millennia we have developed "political institutions," of two kinds.

First, there are assemblies, which bring people together: city councils, legislatures, parliaments, congresses, etc. These are now filled with "elected representatives."

Second, there are parties: associations or groups of people who tend to think the same way about most things.

The flaw with these "political institutions" is that they have taken away — usurped — the rights and responsibilities of of citizens. Their actions deprive ordinary citizens of their politeia -- their "politics. "About the only thing left is the "right" and "responsibility" to put an "X" on a particular line of a particular piece of paper at particular times.

The loss of those rights is a historic study in itself.

There was a time when the leaders of the assemblies might have been "the brightest and best" — but more often they were simply the people who had the most power — either economic or military. With today's assemblies, there are lots of bright people on the outside — often brighter that the elected representatives. But because the elected hold the power — power which they are usually reluctant to share — we citizens have lost the core of our citizenship.

The time has come for us to reclaim our politeia -- our citizenship.