“…scared to our bones.”
“We are all scared and we are scared to our bones.” – The BBC, 19 August 2021, quoting a young female Kabul University student.
I am not going to write a lecture on blame. The exit of American and British and other troops from Afghanistan had to take place sometime. Whether now was the right time or not, nobody knows. Whether it could have been better planned – well, yes, even I think so, but I am not certain. I don’t know Afghanistan. I do not know what better planning to hand over to the Taliban might involve.
But I do know one thing. No civilised world with all its armaments, all its physical force and all its organisational capability should ever allow such a disgraceful, shameful exit from any scene of trouble, from any theatre of war, from any field of battle. It is not the planners of the USA’s exit that I seek to point to. It is us. ‘Us’ – the voters in democratically elected parliaments. ‘Us’ the people who purport to civilise and educate. ‘Us’ the audience for news and comment.
We, through our elected representatives, set up the United Nations. We support the Red Cross. Some of us contribute money to NATO. All of us pay heavily for our defence. And we do this for the scenes at Kabul Airport? We do this to see desperate people clinging to aircraft undercarriages until the plane has reached a height where drop is unavoidable and death is the inevitable result? We do this to leave behind people who cry “We are all scared and we are scared to our bones”?
I don’t think so. Whatever else we pay our money for it is not to create such a shambles for people’s lives. It is not to hear the President of the United States say that the people of Afghanistan who helped the American Army are “…as important as American citizens, almost”. It is not to feel, as we settle down in our comfortable beds, that it is someone else’s problem. It is our problem and each and every one of us should be writing to our elected representatives, to the UN, to the Red Cross and to any other organisation we can think of that represents for us decency and order, that we are not prepared for these organisations to stand aside.
Everyone has a soul, whether they believe in its immortality or not. It is visible every time we look in a mirror. It is audible every time we listen to a piece of music, illustrated whenever we study a picture of art, powerful as we pray a silent prayer for someone else. We can’t run the world. Our individual voices are tiny. But our collective voice, our collective soul and our collective mind must be able to make a difference. Now, for this time; later, for next time.
The Taliban have effectively taken over Afghanistan. They did it pretty fast. What sort of political masters they will turn out to be this time is unknown to anyone. Lots of people, especially women, think that their lives are going to be constrained and ordered in a way that denies even the basic freedoms of life, of the life they have been used to for the past few years. And as I write the crowds wanting to flee Afghanistan grow, the terror of being trapped in an inhuman situation intensifies.
Forget the times before that we didn’t do it. Forget the overwhelming weight of opinion that has to be moved. Forget – for the moment – the many issues the human race has to deal with in order to survive. Remember one thing. The little child that is your grandchild, the smart young man striding out into the world to make his way and maybe even his fortune, the ageing parent whose life is nearing its end, the sum of all of these is the civilisation we tried to pass on to make people treat each other with respect. To make humanity itself something sacred, not an irresponsible rabble. To make each person a vessel worth piloting, to make all of us worthy to be called ‘Us’.
Let us abolish the need for any people ever again to be “…scared to our bones”.