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The Weaponization of Nostalgia: How Afghan Miniskirts Became the Latest Salvo in the War on Terror

AAN 2 min

Ajam Media Collective, 23 October 2017
(article originally appeared on 9 September 2017)
Alex Shams, an Iranian-American writer and a PhD student of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, takes a look at the report that US national security adviser McMaster showed Donald Trump 1970s-era photos of Afghan women wearing miniskirts in order to convince him to maintain the 16-year-long US military presence in the country, as the Washington Post had reported:
This isn’t the first time Afghan women’s clothing has been used to justify war. Back in 2001, Republicans took up the blue burqa worn by many Afghan women – and enforced as law by the Taliban, then in power – as a symbol of women’s oppression. (…) The point (…) 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 explainedto 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. (…) 
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. (…) 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. (…)
 PS: According to this report, the author of the pictures now seves as an advisor to President Ghani.