Reasons for thanks extend to Afghanistan

Thanksgiving is possibly the only holiday I’ve grown to enjoy more as I grow older. There is just something about having a full stomach and taking a mid-day nap on the couch a small child simply cannot appreciate.

This year, as many of us sit down to our traditional Thanksgiving dinners (in my family that means away from the television and the football game), we will give thanks for the traditional things. Thanks for our families, thanks for our friends and thanks for our safe arrivals at that particular dinner table. These are the types of things we, as Americans, tend to take for granted.

Of course, this commonplace, stereotypical sentimentality has undergone a drastic transformation since the attacks of Sept. 11. After all, more than 6,000 families are missing someone special from their dinner tables this Thanksgiving. Likewise, on the other side of the world, there are those who cannot even contemplate possessing what the average American takes for granted. No, this isn’t one of those sappy “be thankful for everything you have because not everyone is as lucky as you”-type columns that are a lock to perennially appear in publications at Thanksgiving (and a second time during Christmas).

It is not the idea of the “haves and have-nots” that dictates the central issue of focus when discussing the differences between the people of Afghanistan and America, rather it is the “cans and cannots.” As the American-aided Northern Alliance beats the oppressive Taliban back into the country’s southern-most mountain ranges, changes are popping up everywhere across the Middle Eastern nation, like flowers suddenly blooming in a Disney film.

After all, the simple act of playing music inside a formerly Taliban-controlled city is worthy of front-page journalism. Music, people! In the United States, everywhere Americans go, chances are music accompanies them, whether it’s walking with your headphones on or driving with the radio on. And, if your car radio is broken (or if you’re like me and the radio gets drowned out by the static coming from the car’s rear speaker), just drive about with your windows down – I’m sure some low-riding friend will be more than happy to share his hip hop with you.

But in the Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan, music had been forbidden because it was deemed to contain negative images. Thus, after years of oppressive Taliban control, the country of Afghanistan has only recently rediscovered music again. I pray for them when the first wave of Britney Spears albums arrives in Kabul.

Music wasn’t the only thing strictly monitored and banned by the Taliban. All things of salient Western cultural influence were prohibited. This not only includes music but also dress. What exactly connotes a “Western” dress, I am not exactly sure, but I don’t think you’d get very far wearing a pair of Nikes and a cowboy hat.

According to the Taliban, Western dress apparently includes any images of Disney characters. Friday’s Star Tribune ran a photo of an Afghan man in the city of Herat proudly displaying an undershirt with the character of Pocahontas emblazoned across the chest. You want an example of a true difference in cultures, how many American men would ever walk around proudly wearing a Pocahontas shirt? Not me, no way, I would never wear a Pocahontas shirt. For me it’s the Little Mermaid or nothing. But to this man, he
doesn’t care what’s on the shirt; the important thing is he’s free to wear the shirt at all.

Such a difference in ideals is even more apparent when considering images of the television. For the people of Afghanistan, the television is an excitingly new phenomenon; for Americans, it is merely a common part of everyday life. After all, how important is the television to Americans, especially on Thanksgiving Day? You just got done shoveling half a bird down your throat, you don’t want to run (and for God’s sake, don’t swim). You just want to coil up on the couch like some kind of giant snake and sulk in shame over the amount you just ate. Americans will watch anything on Thanksgiving – that’s why the opportunistic NFL started running games on turkey day. And I will watch them – though I am dreadfully sick of watching Dallas, just because they’re Dallas.

Afghans will watch anything too, simply because they haven’t had the opportunity to watch anything for years. They don’t know how great the “Simpsons” is or how terrible “Undeclared” is. Television was forbidden upon the Taliban’s arrival, because it might depict Western cultural influences. One could argue television is the Western cultural influence. So when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, the television suddenly became a prime target. So what did the resourceful Afghan people do? They buried their televisions, right behind the house like you do when the family pet dies (well, any pets too big to flush down the toilet).

Thus, city by city, as the Taliban have been beaten back by the Northern Alliance and the coalition, the people of Afghanistan have been out exhuming and resurrecting their television sets. If the televisions actually work and are American-made, domestic TV makers should pat themselves on the back.

There are so many more examples of Afghan men and women expressing their newfound freedom in each and every opportunity. There are the men lining up to shave their beards and the women liberating their faces from the robes and garments to the newly free world around them. The stadium in Kandahar, built by the United Nations for soccer, is finally being used for just that; no longer is it a Taliban execution arena.

As Americans sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year and give thanks for any signs of normalcy, across the world there is another entire nation of people deeply thankful, simply, for change.

Chris Schafer’s column appears alternate Wednesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]