Dropping the Ball in Afghanistan
I apologize for two nearly consecutive posts on essentially the same subject, but this breaking story is so illustrative of the incompetence that has pervaded America’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that it just begged to be discussed.
In short: the US military used a helicopter to drop soccer balls for children in Afghanistan. OK, nice gesture, right? The soccer balls were decorated with the flags of various countries, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudi flag has a passage from the Koran on it, which includes the name of Allah. Muslim’s are very sensitive about where and how Allah’s name can be used. And to put it mildly, putting this passage from the Koran on a ball that children are going to kick around in the dirt is blatantly offensive to many Muslims. Afghans complained bitterly about this incident, and there was a demonstration against it in the city where it was done.
I mean, we have been in Afghanistan for five years and the military didn’t even think to ask one of the locals about this idea beforehand? The good will of the Afghan public is crucial if we are going to win them to our side, and if we can’t even do something like a simple PR stunt without blowing it, one has to really wonder about who is running the show over there. Is anyone is running the show over there? It’s not the end of the world of course, but still, this would be like if China decided to engender good will in the USA by giving out doormats with Jesus’s face on them. It might get China some press, but I doubt many Americans would want one on their doorstep…and some Americans most definitely would take offense.
So this soccer ball case was just a stupid waste of money that probably did as much or more harm than good, which frankly when one is fighting to win people’s hearts and minds is pretty lame. I think this is a fine illustration of just how insulated and isolated from the locals our troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a whole other topic for discussion some day. It’s hard to win people’s hearts and minds when your representatives live in fortified isolated air conditioned splendour and luxury while the native people live in poverty and need.
I’m not arguing that westerners need to defer to non western mores in all things, this sword cuts both ways obviously. My premise here is that whatever our justification for having troops stationed in hostile foreign lands, be it conquest, liberation, democracy, or what have you…aren’t these troops going to have the best chance of success if they understand the locals? Whether fighting someone or making friends with them, the better you understand them, the better your chance of success however it’s defined. And this incident like so many others just illustrates once again how our efforts are simply being wasted (at best) in Afghanistan and Iraq, because in our arrogance or incompetence, we couldn’t even be bothered to read “Colonialism for Dummies.”
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is central to illustrating the post. And no offence is meant or implied toward the Islamic faith, the opposite in fact. Credit: BBC)