Review: Rashid’s Taliban

Read in 2001
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Second Edition
Ahmed Rashid

The original edition, written before the September 11th attacks, this book went from minor work to one of the best selling books in the history of the Yale Press overnight. I bought it, in the Strand, about a mile from ground zero two weeks after the attack.

It’s a strong, if now dated, narrative of the rise of the Taliban from the time of the mujahedeen’s fight against the Soviet Union, up through the alliance with Al-Qaeda through to about 2000, when everything changed.

Looking back, its an interesting historical reading of the Taliban, focused largely on their ability to disrupt the flow of natural gas across asia and not in their role in the world wide terror networks. In 2000 or so when the book was written, concerns were very different from what they would be just a year or so later.

Although dated, still recommended for the history information and interesting historic view of our opinions on the movement.

Review: Stewart’s The Places in Between

The Places In Between
Rory Stewart

In theory, it is easy to hate an Eton educated upper class Scotsman who decides it’d be a lark to walk across Afghanistan six months after the fall of the Taliban. The idea reminds me of the stupidity and adventurism I encountered in my twenties with people going to the West Bank or Chiapas on a lark. People vacationing in other people’s misery so they can go home and brag about it is not really my cup of tea.*

But after reading Stewarts book, I have to say it is extremely good. We learn next to nothing about Stewart here outside of the details of daily walking. He is cold, he has dysentery, other than that, the focus is almost entirely on the people he meets, and I cannot think of a travel book that does a better job of honestly relating the lives of the people he meets.

Not every Afghan in this book is a noble tribesman; some are downright unkind to Stewart. Others are incredibly welcoming. Some are Taliban supporters; some are not. Some are drug dealers and some are subsistence farmers. I think the honestly in Stewart’s portrayal of the Afghans he meets is very respectful and his writing of this book is the best outcome of this kind of experience I can imagine.

*Which isn’t to say someone should never go experience another’s struggles. But if you’re going to do it, do it with humility and purpose, thanks.