There are things that will stick with me forever. Memories that never fade. Stories, events - things that strike a chord and a burn a hole in me that stays and can’t be patched. Most of these memories are of stories I read about the horror humans can inflict on their own. A story I read years ago about a grandmother, given charge of her grandchildren, who beat her eight-year-old grandson so badly because he wasn’t doing his homework that he died in his sleep of his injuries. The terror of Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. The more recent reign of terror in parts of the Sudan.
And, since I was a teenager, for more than thirty years now, the serial war, torture, and destruction inflicted on the Afghani people. Most of the terror and death in that country has been brought and wrought by outsiders, but there is a special place in hell, I hope should such a place exist, for the Taliban.
For five years, they ruled the country and committed barbaric acts of cruelty on their own people. In the name of some narrow, twisted idea of their religion, the Taliban ended civility and society in Afghanistan. Beating men for not growing beards. Stoning women to death for being in public unescorted by an appropriate male. Denying women and girls any opportunity for an education or work.
One of the Taliban’s centerpieces for its reign of terror was the main stadium in Kabul where stoning and beatings took place, where individuals were executed for the most ridiculous of “crimes.” And many of the spectators “cheering” on the spectacle were forced to attend and participate by the Taliban’s goons. (For a fictionalized account of the brutality of the Taliban read The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini; or for another take, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad.)
Ten years ago, after our own horror of 9/11, we invaded Afghanistan and ended the Taliban’s reign. Ten years later, we still fight them. I will never know if it has been worth it. The thousands of Americans who have died there. The thousands more who have suffered life-altering injuries. The hundreds of billions of dollars spent. And, of course, the continuing destruction of a distant and beautiful land and a people who deserve nothing more than the opportunity to live in peace and chart their own course. (For an idea of what Afghanistan is read The Places in Between by Rory Stewart).
Every once in awhile, however, something comes along to give hope. Today it was this L.A. Times article. A simple story about a stadium in Kabul, once the place of such horrible evil, has now been reconstructed and is a place where, imagine this, sports will once again be played.
I look at Afghanistan as an example of both the worst and best humankind has to offer. It is a place that has been ripped apart, mostly by outsiders, for 35 years. First, by the Soviet Union using it as a pawn in the Cold War chess game. Then by its own people, often as proxies in that continuing Cold War, then by the Taliban with an assist from the terrorists of al-Qaeda, and finally, for the past ten years, by our country. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, but no longer know if it was the right thing to do. Too much lost, too much waste. Just too much.
At the same time, Afghanistan still has so much. Its people are fiercely proud. They have fought and will continue to fight the invaders who keep coming and, while doing so, continue to do what people do all over this world. Try to find a way forward. A little stadium in Kabul, where sports can be played once again. It’s a little thing, but I only hope that in the time I have left here on earth, I never hear that the stadium is returned to the purpose divined for it by the Taliban.