Monday, December 31, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

This is the title of a book by an excellent journalist, George Crile that deals with Afghanistan and how American involvement escalated during the Russian Occupation of Afghanistan. I would have added a parenthesis – How The U.S. Got Shafted.

A motion picture is now making the rounds with Tom Hanks as the womanizing and party loving Congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson. He enlists the aid of an attractive Southern belle Joanne Heeren played by Julia Roberts. Certain puppet masters in Hollywood are talking loudly about the film being Oscar nomination material.

What??? The film is pure kaka. Don’t actors ever read books? In particular, do they deign to read the original books from whence their scripts; changed, re-changed, drafted, re-drafted, censored, added on, subtracted, invented re-invented and censored some more originated?

Probably not. I always considered Ton Hanks a creative, courageous and innovative actor unafraid to tackle challenging roles. Well. Querido Tom, con esta pelicula te has ido al cuerno. Bien, beloved Tom, with this film you have perched on the horns of the devil - in plain English, you have gone to hell.

During the Conquest of India in the eighteenth century, Britain’s foremost spy, who remains unequaled to this day- Captain Richard Burton highly recommended leaving the Northwest Frontier of which Afghanistan comprises a large chunk. “To the fate to which Allah has destined for them whatever that may be.”

The soldiers of the British East India Company received such brutal defeats at the hands of the tribesmen, which then as now call Afghanistan their Homeland that the English turned their backs on the Northwest Frontier. Burton favored striking a rapprochement with Iran. One could sit down in a warm tent by the fire, enjoy pilaf and roast lamb, quaffed down with Shiraz limes and rosewater and palaver about doing business. Which is not to say that Burton did not return to the Khyber Pass, the Swat Valley, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Kandahar.

In my opinion, Richard Burrton’s exploits, his writings, books, essays, reports, and vast knowledge of the world and its peoples render him the best spy the world has ever known. As an explorer he would discover the source of the Nile. As an ethnologist his observations of various tribes and their traditions in India, Indonesia, Africa and the Middle East are unequaled to this day. He was fluent in over 26 languages. Most probably he was a Sufi. We owe the translation of the Kama Sutra as well as the Ananga Ranga to him. One of his greatest achievements was his superb A Thousand and One Nights’’ from the Alf Layla WA Layla, a collection of stories within stories often plagiarized into “The Arabian Nights.”

Sindabad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Thief of Baghdad, Aladdin and the Jhinn, The Rose and Pearl and countless others have been made into block busters . Disney has reaped billions out of Burton’s great literary works and guess what - they did not pay a farthing!

Burton made a pilgrimage – a Haj to Makah disguised as a Persian from Afghanistan. Do we realize what this means? He was perfect in dress, speech, demeanor, and attitude. His prayers and intonations so impressive that no one was any the wiser. Discovery would have signified instant death. But then, he was not a white man impersonating a Muslim. He was a Muslim.

One would venture to say that with the brilliant examples of Burton anyone venturing into Afghanistan would take the time to read his books. Even several biographies would bave been of great value. How does one quantify Hubris?

Afghanistan was tacitly a Soviet sphere of influence. The Bolsheviks did not suddenly discover it. They inherited this tres cordiale entente from the Czar. They doubtless knew of the horror stories vested upon the English. It happened to be true. The Czar’s Secret Service had all of Richard Burrton’s books on every topic. His accounts of the war in the Northwest Frontier was a must read. Even the women in their dazzling colored turquoise burkhas fought the invaders and occupiers. They abused the men sexually. This was done by repeated acts of fellatio on the men. At a certain point, blood instead of sperm would flow into their mouths. After much ululation, the women would flay the men alive and mount them. Curved daggers sliced off their penises and testicles piece by piece. The immediate cause of death would be suffocation. The women stuffed the soldier’s sexual parts into their trachea, impeding the flow of air. The men suffocated slowly and horribly to the sound of the women’s frenzied whoops. Therefore, the prudent Soviets kept out of the Northwest Frontier. Indeed, few Russians could be found lollygagging about.

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 because they had no other option. The heirs of Josef Stalin forgot that treaties and political entendre lasting centuries are meant to be broken at the right time. The United States broke “ the understanding”. They needed an “Arc of Instability” in Central Asia close to Iran, Pakistan, and Russia. They trained a group of fanatic religious thugs, zealots and fighters called Mujahiddin to overthrow the pro-Soviet regime of Babrak Karmal. They succeeded, but only if we view history as a brief spasm of time.

A dear friend of mine, one of the rare Gentlemen left in the world, Charles Fernley Fawcett, embarked on a personal series of journeys into Soviet occupied Afghanistan. The money he spent came from his own hard earned money. It’s true that the Fernleys and the Fawcetts were an old landed Anglo-American family antedating the American Revolution in which they played an important role in the Carolinas and in Virginia. Charles had a lucrative career as a fine character actor. I’ve never known him to be out of work in all the years I’ve known him. Amidst danger of every sort Charles made documentary film after documentary film. I reiterate, financed by him alone. Danger was ever present in Charles’s long life. He had served with the O.S.S. in Europe. In Lisbon, seventeen Ashkenazi Jewish women owe their lives directly to him. He married all of them without any thought of private gain. The documentation they presented to the authorities in Lisbon and in New York were proper and could not be challenged.

The valiant struggle the various tribesmen were putting up against the superior firepower of the Soviets was like a toy puddle’s piss in the ocean. I will not mention the tribe Charles admired the most because he has not authorized me to do so. Even if he had done so, the quicksand situation confronting everyone who has had anything at all to do with Afghanistan and I might add Pakistan would surely place Charles in more danger than he is already.

I must say that both Charles and April Fawcett (his wife) are relieved that the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” does not mention him by name. There is a scene where Joanne- Julia Roberts tells Congressman Wilson.” I would like you to see a documentary filmed in Afghanistan by a friend of mine.”

That scene is one of the few that is true. Charles Fawcett had given the video to Joanne since he had known her for quite a few years.

That was Charlie Wilson’s introduction into the Afghan war. Indeed, dear straight-arrow, ethical and idealistic Charles Fawcett had introduced Joanne to Wilson in the hope that he would be moved enough to stir up the House of Representatives and the Senate. Billions of U.S. dollars were appropriated. The Saudis saw more than a few golden opportunities handed to them. What an effortless way to spread Wahabism. Bring on the Taliban, and bring on the fanatics. Billions of dollars pelted down upon Afghanistan. Only a fraction of this largesse was ever bestowed on the honest and ethical leaders of the tribes. Those which Charles from first hand experience would the interests of their people before their own.

Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan. We would all have to be dumb oxen not to realize that they would have high stakes in the Mastership Game. One of the leaders on whom they had pinned so many of their hopes was Ahmed Shah Massoud, known as The Lion of the Panshir.

The movie makes much ado about Massoud - “The Lion of the Panshir”. Excuse me the CIA, the Saudis, the Secret Intelligence Service of Pakistan, the Soviets, and most of all the Mujahiddin: all wanted Ahmed Shah Massoud stone cold dead. There was a price on his well-formed head dead or alive. A short time before the 11th of September 2001, Massoud was brutally assassinated. Someone posing as a journalist had blown him to bits. There was still a price on his head. Significant? I would say so. Massoud, a Sunni was someone who could reflect, ruminate even ponder. No one wanted a reasonable man. The Intelligence reports could not have been more wrong. Massoud was not anyone’s man. In other words he could not be bought.

The film makes much ado about Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Shiite thug and bandit. Hetmatyar is crafty and so ruthless he would not hesitate to gun down a brother or a sister if he thought they had betrayed him. He would not even stop to question whether the information/suspicion implanted in him could be true.

Today Hekmatyar reigns supreme in the opium business. Afghanistan supplies 80 % of the world’s consumption. The Taliban are back in full strength. Where once they burned the opium fields, they now actively encourage it. Wars cost money. Opium provides it. Wars make money. It is the best business in the world. Some might say the best racket. That too brings in cash, not commodity money, debt money or printed money – real money probably backed by gold and silver.

That is the reason why my friends Charles and April Fawcett are not going to waste their time to watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”. It mocks Untouchables like them. A few weeks ago, Charles celebrated his 90 some odd birthday. He was lucid and joyous, but nauseated and angry at how everything went so gruesomely awry in Afghanistan.

It makes a mockery of all of the men, women and children who have died so far in that tragic country. As I write this, the blood lust goes on unabated. Afghanistan has been blown back to the Stone Age.

I was in Afghanistan in 1979 a few weeks before the Soviet Union invaded. It used to be one of the most exquisitely beautiful countries in God’s creation. The Grand Canyon, the Sierra Nevada and the Himalayas paled before the kaleidoscope of colors that one witnessed in silent awe over its snowy mountain peaks, its jeweled rocks and its plains with its rarefied air.

As we near the end of 2007 and approach with hope and prudence 2008, the bombing continues. But there is nothing left to blast! Its majestic mountains, its snow which shown like diamonds, its turquoise dawn and its violet sunsets. Everything’s gone. Not even a hundred years will suffice to rebuild that once naturally dazzling country.

Boycott the movie. Why would anyone want to see lies, blood and more lies? Read Richard Burton’s accounts instead. Read James Michener’s book on Afghanistan “Caravans.” His imagery is superb. A few Sufi masters who fled to England have written masterful accounts of their country. Those works are the only ones, which will give you a view of the beauty.

Charles Fawcett has his memories of Afghanistan, as do I. They are indelibly imprinted on our hippocampus. The world could use more men like Charles Fernley Fawcett. May he live to be a century. I pray they are around somewhere but I have yet to meet them.

It’s time that God have mercy on Afghanistan and its entire people because no one else in the various governments seem to show any quality of mercy.

Author’s Note:

I have written a book on the circumstances which led to my invitation to visit Afghanistan and my experiences whilst there. The book is called "Turquoise Dawn, Purple Dusk and Velvet Nights.”

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