Thursday, August 20, 2009

Afghan Election: A Few Observations

Afghanistan had its third election today. Third since an American-led coalition of forces took down the Taliban regime, anyway.

Afghanistan hasn't had a particularly placid history. It was founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, a buffer between the Russian and British empires until 1919, and a fledgling democracy until 1973. Then it was another country with the usual coup - counter-coup - civil war experience. The Taliban took control in 1996, sheltered Osama Bin Laden, destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues, and did their part to make Islam look like something between a psychiatric disorder and an evil cult from a Buchanan b-movie.

Violence Mars Afghan Election!

It's a little hard to tell, even though Pajhwok Afghan News defied the Afghan ban on reporting terrorist activity: but it looks there weren't a lot of attacks on polling places. We'll probably know more later.

Remember Bamiyan? All 412 polling stations there were open for this election.

On the other hand, in one place people were so intent on getting to the polls that police were called in - and a gate was broken.

Rampant Irregularities!

Two words:
  • Hanging
  • Chads
In Afghanistan, there was a 13-year-old who voted by using an ersatz registration card - and was caught.

I'm pretty sure there were other problems, too. Like the polling station that was re-opened after the order came through that voting hours were being extended. The workers told CNN reporters that 1,000 people had voted so far. The reporters didn't think they'd seen 1,000 people come in.

Fraud? Maybe. Or, people who had been working for hours, looking forward to working more hours, and responding to some foreigner's questions. Or maybe a matter of language and culture. How many native speakers of English say "a dozen" when they don't mean 12?

Illiterate Isn't Stupid

Quite a few Afghans can't read, so ballots have symbols like light bulbs and books on them to identify political parties. As of nine years ago, about 28% of Afghans could read: 43% for men, 13% for women. (Yes: I know. It's sexist. Also un-American. Change takes time, but it happens: Indonesia has a 90% literacy rate, roughly, 94% for men, 87% for women.)

Here in America, about 99% of adults can read and write. In some subcultures, at least, there's a tendency to assume that someone who can't read isn't very bright. Or is ignorant.

Reading is a good way to accumulate knowledge: but it isn't the only way. Plato viewed the infotech of his day, writing, with lively apprehension.1 I think he was right, in a way: but the point I'm trying to make is that the ability to read is not necessarily linked either to intelligence, or to awareness of events, persons, and issues.

Afghan Election is Un-American!

I think CNN intended this to be an example of how illiteracy is affecting the Afghan election:
"...Afterwards, the elderly man admitted he wasn't sure who he voted for. "Whoever God wants will be king," he said...."
Okay: That sounds odd to an American ear. Afghanistan is electing a president, not a king. Assuming that the translation was done adequately the man was clearly ignorant - or quoting a proverb - or quoted out of context - or expressing a philosophical view - or something else. There isn't enough information in the article to tell.

Me? I've talked with enough people from other parts of the world to know that not everyone is like the Norwegian-German-American mix I grew up among in the Red River Valley of the North. We don't all see the world quite the same way, and we certainly don't express ourselves the same way.

It's even possible (however unlikely) that the old man in the article was expressing - overly-succinctly - a view of his election that's not all that dissimilar to my view of the recent election here in America. ("I Prayed, I Voted: Now We See What Happens" A Catholic Citizen in America (November 4, 2008))

Related posts: In the news:
  • "Afghans go to polls under threat of Taliban violence"
    CNN (August 20, 2009)

  • Background:
    • "Afghanistan"
      World Factbook, CIA (last updatedAugust 7, 2009)

    1 Actually, writing was viewed by at least one of the less-incompetent minds of the world as potentially dangerous for those who use it.
    "...For this invention of yours will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it, by causing them to neglect their memory, inasmuch as, from their confidence in writing, they will recollect by the external aid of foreign symbols, and not by the internal use of their own faculties. Your discovery, therefore, is a medicine not for memory, but for recollection-for recalling to, not for keeping in mind. And you are showing for your disciples a show of wisdom without the reality..."
    (The Phaedrus, Lysis, and Protagoras of Plato)
    There's a new sort of information storage and retrieval technology being used now. You and I are using it now: and it's viewed with the same not-unreasonable apprehension that pondered the use of writing.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.