"Potent, indeed poignant...required reading for Americans."
The Best Reviews
Memories of Afghanistan is the story of the extraordinary Afghanistan citizen who is educated in the West and undergoes cultural shock at attempting to integrate Western political ideas with the Islamic fundamentalistic mode of living in the Middle East. It explores questions that must be answered if there is ever to be peace between the two political entities.
For it is not just the outrage and acceptance the author experiences toward the Islamic mentality about education, women, politics, Koranic law and idealistic vision about American and British ideas and intervention in Afghanistan's financial and political life. As one character in the memoirs states so aptly, "No, religion, ignorance, greed and hunger are the only factors manipulated by our domestic and foreign foes...We must put a stop to it."
The ideals of such writers like Thomas Paine hardly fit the world to which Anwar returns but he is a brave soul who is willing to tackle the conflict without abandoning either reality. He is forced to make several critical choices during his lifetime but ponders them often along with his acquaintances who are both rigid adherents of Islamic fundamentalism and those believing in a future where East and West can be integrated. The latter, though, does not always behave in a manner conducive to that integration. For example, how does one process the building of a needed dam that winds up leaving the soil damaged by salty soil and thereby impossible to farm while the builder of the dam enjoys his wealth from the dam's creation? Other aid is thus needed from the West, costly and ineffective [in] the ultimate outcome.
Anti-imperialism is discouraged and yet lurks beneath the surface of even the most enlightened thinkers. Study abroad and progress are encouraged but at the same time become the evidence used in trials for treachery and uncertainty.
This is a potent, indeed poignant, account that should be required reading for Americans as well as other nations. Complex and haunting, it also celebrates the relationships that produced and profoundly influenced this intelligent, reform-minded but patriotic Afghanistan individual. These memoirs leave the reader thinking about a much larger picture, and the Afterward written by the author's son finishes the job well by contrasting the ideals of his father with the acts of the last five American Presidents, acts which have further estranged the Islamic fundamentalist world from so-called Western visionary ideas and progress.
Amazing book - read it and ponder! Maybe, do more because of your reading experience! One thing is for sure - you will be talking about this book to your friends and acquaintances frequently after you are finished!
Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on January 17, 2005
"Roots of the Afghan Revolution"
New World Review, November-December 1982
The US State Department and the mass media have made every effort to portray the Afghan revolution of April 1978, and especially the developments of the last three years, as the work of a small elite out of touch with the sentiments of the people of the country. The governing People's Democratic Party is depicted as an artificial creation — undoubtedly conceived in Moscow — and without roots in Afghan history.
Dr. M.H. Anwar's fascinating memoir of his childhood and youth, and his brief return to his homeland following study in the US, demonstrates the falseness of this picture. The author vividly depicts the grueling poverty of the great masses of the Afghan people, as he himself experienced it in the first half of this century. He recounts the hopes raised during the brief period of progressive development under King Amanullah, who reigned from 1919 to 1929, and describes the overwhelmingly repressive character of the feudal/tribal forces which, aided by British imperialism, removed Amanullah and returned Afghanistan to stagnation and despair. In each episode he conveys the ferment of protest and struggle which gripped Afghan society in those years.
Born of a father with Arab ancestry and a Tadjik mother, and brought up in the minority Shiite Moslem sect, Anwar observed first-hand the special oppression visited by the Pushtoon ruling class on peoples belonging to minority nationalities.
In his moving description of his mother, a highly intelligent and warmly loving woman, Anwar demonstrates graphically the suffering of the ordinary Afghan woman, deprived of education, economic independence or any degree of control over her life, condemned to watch child after child die before the age of five, and often dying herself at a young age.
Dr. Anwar was born into the family of a poverty-stricken Kabul shopkeeper in 1914. Among his early memories is the bombing of Kabul by the British after King Amanullah proclaimed the unconditional independence of Afghanistan. The boy early observed the misery of those even poorer than himself: "Poverty induced an unimaginable vicious cycle of events on a good many of the poor and destitute in Kabul. They were the beggars, who were usually young and of small stature and often malformed as a result of exposure to the elements, constant hunger and disease. Those who were fortunate died early, although some managed to live to be twenty or thirty years old. Their emaciated bodies were wrapped in whatever pieces of cloth they could find, coughing, spitting and shuffling, one hand was always extended to snatch a penny or a crumb of food. They inhabited the dark alleys, street corners, river banks and mosques."
Taught to read by his father, the young Anwar followed a brief stint as a tailor's apprentice with attendance at primary school. Perpetually hungry and ragged, he and his friends practiced all the survival techniques known to Kabul street urchins, including stealing and fencing stolen goods.
As the author introduces the people who influenced his life, the forerunners of those who finally achieved the national-democratic revolution of 1978 begin to emerge. There is Abdul Raheem Khan, primary school history teacher, who believed history should deal less with kings and more with "the mass of people, their modes of living, their aspirations, beliefs and economic pursuits." There is Amir Khan. the high school religion teacher, who refused to use corporal punishment and encouraged his students to debate fundamental moral questions, and whom the boy later saw stoned to death for heresy. There is boyhood friend Jamile, who was shot to death as he and Anwar participated in a futile attempt to keep Amanullah in power.
Most important of all is Hadji Zaman, the self-taught, wise adult friend, who began the boy's political education by introducing him to the writings of Thomas Paine. "The night is dark and long," says Hadji Zaman at one point. "Our resources are meager and untested. Our adversaries, both foreign and domestic, possess most of the trump cards. But let me tell you this. History is on our side. Imperialism is dying, causing dislocations in the very fiber of the world's political, economic and social structures. We must try to fill the gap in our limited way, giving meaning to the space of time left to us." When asked if he is advocating revolution, Zaman replies, "Yes." Zaman, too, was eventually tortured and killed.
Following the removal of Amanullah, the family came to power which ruled Afghanistan until the 1978 revolution. King Nadir was followed by King Zahir, who was ousted in 1973 by his cousin, Mohammad Daud, in a move which eliminated the monarchy but did not break the power of the ruling feudal and tribal elements. The young Anwar thus was witness to the beginning of an era ended only a few years ago, and his observations detail the corruption and despotism, the cruelty, terror, blood feuds and assassinations which characterized the actions of Afghanistan's ruling circles.
Again, he was directly affected by events: as first a close high school friend's older brother and then the friend himself were arrested for political activity, tortured and driven to suicide.
As he and another high school friend visited the governor of Kandahar Province, the cries of tortured prisoners formed the background for philosophical conversations and games of chess.
After Anwar graduated from high school he spent eight years in the US. earning bachelor's and master's degrees in education at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Johns Hopkins. He returned to Kabul in the summer of 1941. The second part of his book describes his efforts, as a staff member of the Ministry of Education, to modernize the educational establishments for which he became responsible, the teachers' training schools in Kabul and Paghman. His struggles to improve the miserable lot of his students and democratize their education, to ward off gross injustice to colleagues, and to keep his American wife, Phyllis, from having to wear the chaderi, or head-to-toe veil, were dogged at every step by a network of medieval intrigue, and brought him into direct conflict with the ruling circles.
A final dramatic clash with Prime Minister Hashim Khan, half-brother of King Nadir, followed by the arrest of a colleague and close friend for political activity, convinced Dr. Anwar that he, too, would be imprisoned and tortured to death if he continued his work to improve the conditions and increase the degree of freedom of his people. After two and a half years in his native land, he and his wife fled for their lives.
Memories of Afghanistan is worth reading not only for the insights it provides into the revolutionary ferment among intellectuals and working people during the first half of this century, but also for its many warm and vivid portraits of individuals, and for the moments of joy and of pleasure, the friendships and the achievements, which Dr. Anwar recounts.
Nowhere is there direct reference to the October Revolution or the subsequent events in Afghanistan's neighbor to the north, but the fresh breeze they brought throughout Asia can be felt throughout the book. Nor does the author refer to the present situation in Afghanistan. One has the feeling, however, that he is undoubtedly watching with friendly interest as its people cast off their feudal fetters, one by one.