by Peter Lehu
Now that the Obama administration has committed our troops and tax dollars to a prolonged war in Afghanistan, people living in the US need to educate themselves on this country’s tragic modern history.
An excellent place to start is filmmaker Meena Nanji’s 2006 documentary, View From A Grain of Sand. This film interweaves a history lesson for those who know little about Afghanistan with the intimate, personal experiences of three Afghani women and their families. The history, which covers from the 1960’s to the near present, does not go into great political detail but highlights the role of the United States as a major reason for Afghanistan’s wars starting with its provoking of the Russian invasion in 1979. The film convincingly shows that the US was responsible for prolonging the Russian-Afghanistan war by funding the Mujahideen rebels.
Riveting and often disturbing footage accompanies the history, capturing both the politics and the grim realities of war on the ground. A major revelation of the film is the reappearance of warlords who terrorized the country in the 1980’s in the UN ceremonies inaugurating the post-Taliban government. The understanding is that even if coalition forces are to defeat the Taliban they will be delivering the country into the hands of serial human rights abusers. One particularly gripping scene showing women on the streets of Kabul being beaten is taken from footage from cameras hidden underneath the burkas of members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, a grassroots organization opposed to both religious fundamentalism and foreign intervention that is featured heavily in the film. In other scene a woman is executed in a football arena filled with Afghanis forced to watch by the armed Taliban.
Even more interesting is the film’s original material. Nanji takes viewers into the homes and lives of the featured women, all who live in refugee camps in Pakistan having fled their war-ravaged homeland. The film lets them narrate their own stories with the help of subtitles. They smile and laugh even as they sit in homes with no furniture or stand in front of barren landscapes that resemble post-World War Europe.
View From A Grain of Sand is an introduction to Afghanistan’s political history but from a personal perspective. It is an ideal film for introducing Americans to the country’s recent history and to the livelihood of Afghanis. World Can’t Wait members who want to stimulate discussion about US policy in Afghanistan and how we as citizens should respond can use this film to great advantage.