Saturday, December 15, 2007


It seems a long time since I have felt able to say that the Guardian is the home of some outstanding writing, but this is certainly the case today.

First, there is a moving account by the novelist Khaled Hosseini of his return to Afghanistan. Amid his shock at the devastation of war, the legacy of the unimaginable brutality of the Taliban, the continuing desperate poverty, and the disillusion with the pace of reconstruction, is a feeling of hope.

But here is the most amazing thing of all: amid the despair, sickness and destitution, I saw beauty and kindness that brought me to my knees. And I saw what I had come to Afghanistan to see: signs of rebirth and hope, signs of a people allowing themselves to dream again. I saw men planting grapevines and trees on the hill that leads to Bagh-e-bala, King Abdur Rahman Khan's old palace, which overlooks the city. I chatted with a young shepherd playing the flute on that hill, the bells on his sheep jingling as they fed on grass. He thought his life was much better since the Taliban had been largely ousted - he could play his flute again. Children flew kites from rooftops and young men in pirhan-tumban played volleyball at the Shar- e-nau Park. People smiled and little schoolgirls sang songs as they skipped to school, holding hands. I saw people painting old homes, building new ones, digging gutters, going to the movies and playing Bollywood soundtrack songs and rubab music at street corners.

The article is a robust reply to the negativism of those like Simon Jenkins. However, it is also a call to speed up development and, in the words of a policeman he talked to, "to find ways to put the aid money where it was most needed, in the pockets of average people". Read it all.

The second is a long report from inside Burma. It is a recounts a nation in the grip of fear, of ever present violence and brutality, of suppression by a remote military elite. But still there are voices of hope.

Thet Pyin:

"There are divisions in the army. The core of the dictatorship is small, it is at odds with the military in its larger role. This government will fall."

Ludu Daw Ahmar:

"People are very much afraid of the government but this can't go on forever. There will be a day when the people break this"

A senior cleric in Mandalay:

"But we know it will not change tomorrow. It might take five years, it might take 10, but it will be go. It has no solutions."

A political activist in hiding:

"Nobody won in September because it's not finished"

If there is one thing that gives hope, it is that the human capacity for horror, brutality, genocide and sadism is always confronted by a greater power, the capacity for resistance. That longing for freedom, for an assertion of all that is best in humanity, is indestructible. It wins in the end. It is where we, with our privileged lives, should stand, not with the cynics and the 'realists' who would abandon hope and thereby betray the oppressed.

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