Afghanistan Through Western Eyes

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Current Affairs editor at large Yasmin Nair and editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson have both written articles that deal with the country of Afghanistan. Yasmin's Evergreen Review piece, "Sharbat Gula Is Not Lost" is about the woman pictured in the iconic "Afghan Girl" photo that appeared on the cover of National Geographic. Nathan's essay "What Do We Owe Afghanistan?" (co-authored with Noam Chomsky) appears in Current Affairs and is a history of the American war from 2001 to 2021, looking at the hideous consequences of U.S. actions for the Afghan people.

In this conversation, we talk about how stories and photos shape Western perceptions of Afghanistan and how Americans came to believe that they were part of a noble endeavor to help Afghan people even as their actions actually severely damaged the country. The "Afghan Girl" of National Geographic is Sharbat Gula, who didn't want her photo taken and tried to cover her face. We discuss the photographer, Steve McCurry, whose work exoticizes (and sometimes even fabricates) the lives of non-Western people. We discuss how the aspirations and wishes of Afghans themselves are left out of Western depictions of the country.

Laura Bush's speech using Afghan women's rights as a justification for the war is here. A critique of the way Afghan women were cynically invoked to justify U.S. geopolitical goals is here. A scathing New York Times review of McCurry's "astonishingly boring" pictures is here. The photo of Gula covering her face is here. The photo of the adult Gula holding the magazine is here.

Photographer Steve McCurry with the portrait that changed his life (although not the life of the anonymous child depicted, who did not wish to be photographed).

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