Conflict Kitchen, located at Schenley Plaza in Oakland, is a “restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events,” (quotation taken from the website). The featured country right now is Afghanistan.
The Carnegie Library will have a table with samples of materials pertaining to the featured country every other Tuesday, weather permitting. You can check the items out right at the table!
We were there on Tuesday, June 24th, with CDs, DVDs, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books from or about Afghanistan. Here is a sample of the items we brought with us:
What’s for Lunch?: How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World by Andrea Curtis
The Art of the Afghan Rubâb by Homayun Sakhi, rubâb and Toryalai Hashimi, tabla. CD & DVD packaged together.
Song and Dance from the Pamir Mountains by The Badakhshan Ensemble.
Every now and then a book comes along that really helps me get a handle on current events. A foreign policy junkie like myself gets a fix constantly from the reams of info available online. But there is usually something missing. A few paragraphs and a carefully chosen photo can fill me on some event, sometimes only hours after it happens on the other side of the world. But those paragraphs usually aren’t able to capture that vital element in comprehension. I am talking about context.
That’s when Print throws open the saloon doors and swaggers back into the room. The Internet is wonderful and all, but good luck trying to parse out what’s happening in somewhere like Nigeria from a few news articles and a Wikipedia page.
Getting context and background on the shadowy enemies of Obama’s drone campaigns had proven very difficult until I found this book, The Thistle and the Drone, by Akbar Ahmed. This remarkable work takes a historical and anthropological look at the tribal groups most likely to have their sleep interrupted by a hellfire missile. It’s impressive for a number of reasons. Ahmed’s encyclopedic knowledge on the topic was acquired by his own experience as a government administrator in Pakistan’s most notorious areas. There, in the pre-9/11 world, the author learned the histories and organizations of groups like the Pashtun and Baluch. His own scholarly research further completes an expansive understanding of tribal societies and elements common to all sorts of cultures from the Scots that gave the English so much trouble so long ago, to the Chechens and Avars that resisted Russian imperial aims. Books like this only come along so often. Ahmed provides the background and nuance to center-periphery conflicts such as those raging in Waziristan and northen Nigeria. This book should be required reading, as inconvenient as its contents may be.
For more background on Pakistan and Afghanistan and the long chain of events that led to our never-ending war against people wearing sandals, I highly recommend Ghost wars : the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll.
Any other news junkies out there that happen upon singular works that go beyond the headlines, please sound off. I am always looking for an edge, and I am sure the library has it.
Unless you are living under a rock (if so, I can hardly blame you), you are probably aware that the US and allies have been fighting a war in Afghanistan. October will mark the 10 year anniversary. CLP Main’s shelves are well stocked with books for any reader looking to expand their knowledge of the ongoing conflict past the nightly soundbites and short articles that are a now familiar part of daily life. I’ve read a good share myself but I have always felt a bit at sea when trying to grapple with some of the larger issues. I am not referring to the big debates, “good war” versus “bad war,” hegemony, imperialism, or the War on Terror and its implications. Whichever side of the fence you are on, there exists scores of books to either buttress or challenge your dearly held beliefs. I am talking about some fundamental questions about the war itself that have always bothered me. What is the big plan? What is the goal? What does victory look like, and what is the plan to see it through?
Naturally, I found a lot of answers on the shelf at CLP. Hot off the press and waiting for you on the New Books shelf is Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way. The book is written by two English professors, Tim Bird and Alex Marshal. Both lecturers have long ties to the UK’s security establishment. Straight from the horses’ mouths comes a long, detailed outline of “the big plan” and its numerous changes and ultimate shortcomings. Anybody looking to understand what the US and allies have been trying to accomplish this last difficult decade needs to read this book. Currently I am searching for more titles along these lines. After all, you can’t read just one source or outlook on such an important topic.
In my last post, I discussed some music from Iraq. This time around, we’ll go to another war-torn region, Afghanistan.
- Music from Afghanistan
— a collection showcasing myriad instruments in differing styles that developed from Afghanistan’s location at the crossroads of South Asian, East Asian, Russian, and European cultures.
- Omar, Mohammad Virtuoso from Afghanistan
— a legendary 1974 concert featuring one of the most important figures in 20th century music from Afghanistan, Ustad Mohammad Omar. He plays the lute-like rabab with accompaniment by Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain.
- Sakhi, Homayun Art of the Afghan Rubab
— more rubab (another spelling of rabab) and tabla duets that demonstrate Afghanistan’s geographical proximity to the Indian subcontinent. The Smithsonian Folkways label always releases high quality products; this one has a bonus DVD plus extensive liner notes.
- Kabul Workshop Trigana
— traditional Afghan (and Indian) instruments combined with electronic sounds. This UK group brings the sounds of an Afghan teahouse to the dance floor.
More music from Afghanistan can be found in two of our streaming music databases, Contemporary World Music (17 tracks) and Smithsonian Global Sound (24 tracks), both available for free to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh cardholders.
Finally, if you want to continue your aural journeys, you can take the The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan through the whole wide region around Afghanistan, from Iran to Mongolia and lots of countries in between.