Cycle of Violence: A Series of Plays about the History of Foreign Intervention in Afghanistan Conveys a Mixed Message, Writes Raymond Whitaker

By Whitaker, Raymond | New Statesman (1996), May 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Cycle of Violence: A Series of Plays about the History of Foreign Intervention in Afghanistan Conveys a Mixed Message, Writes Raymond Whitaker


Whitaker, Raymond, New Statesman (1996)


On the Kilburn High Road in north London last Saturday, I embarked on a journey to Afghanistan. The Tricycle Theatre was staging all three parts of The Great Game, a series of 12 half-hour plays, of varying quality, which seek to examine that country's history and the usually disastrous attempts at intervention by foreign powers. With Gordon Brown having been in Afghanistan just the previous week to announce the deployment of more British troops, the Tricycle's mission seems especially timely.

Unlike anyone connected with the production, apart from the Tricycle's artistic director, Nicolas Kent, I have travelled to Afghanistan several times, starting in 1992 when, more through luck than judgement, I happened to be there as a correspondent for the Independent as President Najibullah's communist regime collapsed. Consequently, I reacted to some scenes differently from the rest of the mostly grey-haired, Guardian-reading audience.

In David Edgar's Black Tulips, for instance, there is a briefing on the dangers of landmines by a Soviet soldier, which is presented as a sinisterly comic turn. I attended just such a briefing in Kabul, given by a British ex-officer. The Soviet sapper warns his comrades of "mines set on top of other mines"; that is how the Briton I heard later died. The old tank he was using for mine clearance detonated an anti-personnel device, as it was meant to do, but beneath it was a much more powerful anti-tank mine, which killed him and his two colleagues.

The story of Marjan, the one-eyed lion in Kabul Zoo who survived all the city's upheavals, has been told by almost every journalist to have visited. In one of the best plays, The Lion of Kabul, Colin Teevan imagines a confrontation outside Marjan's cage between a female UN official of British Asian origin and a smugly fanatical Taliban mullah who refuses to address her except through a male translator, even though he speaks English. She is demanding justice for two murdered Afghan employees. In accordance with the retributive principles of Taliban justice, he proposes handing over the culprits to her, to be fed to the lion. The irreconcilable differences between relativistic western liberalism and hermetic Islamist certainty are expertly explored.

Just as I was drinking that the plot was slightly far-fetched, even for Afghanistan, I remembered a story a British aid worker once told me. The worker, who was running a project north of Kabul, said he had tolerated a series of petty thefts by his Afghan workforce until his transistor radio, his only means of getting news of the outside world, went missing. He complained to the local mujahedin commander. A couple of days later the radio reappeared in his room, and he thought no more about it until the following morning, when he found the bodies of two men, shot through the head, in the road outside his compound. After that he kept any complaints of theft to himself.

The violent deaths of two Afghan leaders - Najibullah, who was dragged from a UN compound by the Taliban before being beaten, castrated and strung up in the street, and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the renowned commander who defied both the communists and the Taliban until he was killed by al-Qaeda suicide bombers, two days before the 11 September 2001 attacks -are recounted in two of the plays. Having tried without success to talk my way into Najibullah's I UN sanctuary in 1994,1 wondered if David Greig I was drawing on the report of a more fortunate colleague for Miniskirts of Kabul, but he makes clear that the interview it depicts is imaginary. Having met Massoud, however, I am less sure than Ben Ockrent (or his sources) that all might have been well if the US had supported Najibullah during and after the campaign to drive out the Soviet forces who invaded Afghanistan in 1979. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Cycle of Violence: A Series of Plays about the History of Foreign Intervention in Afghanistan Conveys a Mixed Message, Writes Raymond Whitaker
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.