Montag, 06.11.2017 / 14:07 Uhr

Freiheit und Haut

Thomas von der Osten-Sacken

Wer hat die Bilder noch nicht gesehen? "Teheran 1979" oder "Kabul 1980" und dann eine Gruppe junger Frauen im Minirock. Damals, so suggerieren sie, war alles noch irendwie gut, danach begann der Abstieg ins Mittelalter. Nur, war es wirklich so? Und warum werden solche Bilder so begeistert von leuten in sozialen Medien geteilt, die sicha ansonsten herzlich wenig für die Realität vor Ort interessieren?

Diesen Fragen geht Alex Shams nach:

For the broader English-speaking public, the point of these articles is often not reducible to dreams of a better future, nostalgia nor historical learning – especially when one considers how few other articles about Afghanistan on any other topic manage to go viral. Why is it that non-Afghans only care to learn about Afghanistan when there are pictures of women in miniskirts involved?

Bild entfernt.

The point of these essays is to suggest that before 1980, Afghanistan was on its way to becoming a “westernized” society. Some even note that if the US hadn’t supported Islamist extremists, it might have remained one. This appears to be how the images were explained to Trump, essentially to suggest he shouldn’t give up on Afghanistan because Afghans could, essentially, be “civilized” again.

The idea that these photos reveal a time when “women were free” seems to equate “women’s freedom” with miniskirts. This is essentially the same standard, albeit in reverse, used by those who measure women’s freedom in terms of how covered women are.

Instead of defining women’s freedom in terms of social, political, and economic rights – like literacy, access to healthcare, and so on – both positions reduce “freedom” to how much skin is showing or not showing. A photograph becomes all it takes to decide that women are free or not free.

The problem is not that these images are inaccurate. Indeed, some people in Afghanistan did live the lives of those pictures. But this was a tiny segment of the population, comprising a Kabul middle class that enjoyed the support and patronage of a King who built a bubble of prosperity in Kabul but kept the rest of the country in utter poverty – part of the reason for the 1973 coup and the 1978 Revolution.

In the 1979 – at the end of Afghanistan’s “Golden Age – only 18% of Afghans were literate – and average life expectancy was only just above 40, meaning that half of Afghans died before that age.

The average Afghan was certainly not wearing miniskirts and attending Kabul University, nor were they taking fashionably-dressed vacations to the mountains in imported cars. This was a very small urban elite and middle-class segment of society shown in the pictures of Kabul in the 1970s, and one that did not reflect the conditions of the majority of Afghans.