Friday, January 17, 2014


There are two types of activists on the political left. The first group is the one we see more frequently - the protestor, demonstrator, occupier. They are the people who take direct action, run risks, face arrest and become the public faces of dissent. In violent regimes these acts of civil disobedience and mass protest take a special kind of courage.

The second group is less visible. It consists of community development organisers and grass-roots educationalists; of people who build projects, work with the homeless and the victims of violence, support the marginalised, run alternative economic programmes such as credit unions and LETS schemes, and do the research that shows precisely what is happening in the real world, whatever the public perception may be.

I wouldn't privilege one over the other. I think that both are complementary to each other. But things go wrong when the first group divorce themselves from the second. That allows activism to be based on ideological fictions. One prominent example today is the section of the anti-war movement that opposes all western military action and justifies this in terms of it always being a disaster, sometimes accompanied by atavistic views of the people and nation. Which brings me to Afghanistan and this splendid, detailed rebuttal of the negativity of press reporting. Lauryn Oates is a Canadian working in health, education and human rights in Afghanistan. She is a prime example of the second group of activist and this is what she has to say:
The extent of the transformation is so drastic that it's difficult to articulate, but suffice to say it has given me every reason for ardent optimism. Today in Afghanistan, people live longer and better, they are on average wealthier, better educated and healthier. More of them have access to clean water and sanitation facilities. 
 Roads have been paved, homes rebuilt, police trained, and parks re-opened. Women are in the work force, the parliament, the universities, and the media. Major changes in attitudes and opinions on topics like whether a woman should be able to run for president are recorded in the annual Surveys of the Afghan People, from The Asia Foundation. 
...a minuscule minority of Afghans sympathize with the Taliban ... Indeed, my own experience has been that the overwhelming majority of Afghans -- in the West, North, South and East -- loathe the Taliban, and greatly fear the terror they continue to subject civilians to. The challenges that remain are significant and they are copiously documented elsewhere and do not require repeating here. But the challenges should not overshadow the progress, and what can be concluded from the state of affairs in Afghanistan today is that Afghanistan is far better off today than it was in in 2001. 
That's one victory, if not a military war won.
It is worth reading it all, especially if you are one of those other activists who call for disengagement and withdrawal. A little reality would do you no harm.

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