Understanding Afghanistan’s Past: A Reading List

Some of you may be fully aware of what’s going on in Afghanistan right now, but for those who aren’t or would like to learn more information about what lead up to the recent events in Afghanistan, we’ve created a recommended reading list detailing some events that shaped the country into what it is today. Two weeks before the U.S. planned to withdraw from its 20 year long war in Afghanistan, the Taliban strikes. There are a lot of moving pieces to what’s going on right now like the President of Afghanistan fleeing the country and the Taliban claiming to want to uphold and protect women’s rights under their control. This article from AP News helped me understand the current events a lot more. Along with the below recommend reading list that details some of Afghanistan’s past, I wanted to make sure I included this article from The Washington Post that lists various ways you can help Afghan refugees and those trapped in Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover.


AMERICAN ORIENTALISM: THE UNITED STATES AND THE MIDDLE EAST SINCE 1945

BY DOUGLAS LITTLE

Douglas Little explores the stormy American relationship with the Middle East from World War II through the war in Iraq, focusing particularly on the complex and often inconsistent attitudes and interests that helped put the United States on a collision course with radical Islam early in the new millennium. After documenting the persistence of “orientalist” stereotypes in American popular culture, Little examines oil, Israel, and other aspects of U.S. policy. He concludes that a peculiar blend of arrogance and ignorance has led American officials to overestimate their ability to shape events in the Middle East from 1945 through the present day, and that it has been a driving force behind the Iraq war. For this updated third edition, Little covers events through 2007, including a new chapter on the Bush Doctrine, demonstrating that in many important ways, George W. Bush’s Middle Eastern policies mark a sharp break with the past.

IN A PURE MUSLIM LAND: SHI’ISM BETWEEN PAKISTAN AND THE MIDDLE EAST

BY SIMON WOLFGANG FUCHS

Centering Pakistan in a story of transnational Islam stretching from South Asia to the Middle East, Simon Wolfgang Fuchs offers the first in-depth ethnographic history of the intellectual production of Shi’is and their religious competitors in this “Land of the Pure.” The notion of Pakistan as the pinnacle of modern global Muslim aspiration forms a crucial component of this story. It has empowered Shi’is, who form about twenty percent of the country’s population, to advance alternative conceptions of their religious hierarchy while claiming the support of towering grand ayatollahs in Iran and Iraq.

THIS WE’LL DEFEND: A NONCOMBAT VETERAN ON WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH

BY PAUL CRENSHAW

In June 1990, Paul Crenshaw shipped out for basic training for the National Guard. By August, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. Each day brought more news of mobilizing forces. For weeks, Crenshaw was told he was going to war, but after graduation, he went back home to Arkansas and watched CNN every night, lying about how much he wished he had been deployed.

Later, after Crenshaw had gotten out of the army, he began to question the reasons for the wars we fight. The essays here follow his time in the service, from Basic Training to weekend National Guard drills and the years after. Crenshaw moves from eager recruit to father worrying that his daughters might enlist. He watches the airplanes strike the Twin Towers and sees two new wars ignite out of the ashes of the old. He writes as a soldier who did not see combat but who wonders what constant combat might do to U.S. soldiers, how it affects them, and how the wars we fight affect us all. These essays reflect deeply on American culture and military life—how easily we buy into ideas of good versus bad, us versus them; how we see soldiers as heroes when more often than not they are young boys barely old enough to shave; how many return home broken while we only wave our flags instead of trying to fix them and the ideas that sent them to war.

DIVIDED BY TERROR: AMERICAN PATRIOTISM AFTER 9/11

BY JOHN BODNAR

John Bodnar’s compelling history shifts the focus on America’s War on Terror from the battlefield to the arena of political and cultural conflict, revealing how fierce debates over the war are inseparable from debates about the meaning of patriotism itself. Bodnar probes how honor, brutality, trauma, and suffering have become highly contested in commemorations, congressional correspondence, films, soldier memoirs, and works of art. He concludes that Americans continue to be deeply divided over the War on Terror and how to define the terms of their allegiance–a fissure that has deepened as American politics has become dangerously polarized over the first two decades of this new century.