A fresh look at the Afghans that discards old legends and stereotypes and characterizes the people as tremendously mobile and cosmopolitan.
Crews (History/Stanford Univ.; For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia, 2006, etc.) rejects the view of Afghanistan as “hopelessly archaic and insular” and finds that it has been long and unfairly defined by foreign occupiers. “The great powers who intervened in the country dictated what kinds of questions have been asked,” writes the author, and that meant the British, the Russians, and the Americans. Before there was an Afghanistan, there were “imperial cosmopolitans, the subjects of sprawling empires with far-flung centers of gravity in Iran, Central Asia, and north India.” By turns, the Mughal, Safavid, and Uzbek set up ruling dynasties across the land, but it was the remarkable network of commerce that linked the inhabitants. The rise of a true Afghan empire occurred in the 18th century with the Durrani, although soon enough, European rivalries began to intrude, especially entanglements with the British. Thanks to Lord Elphinstone, the Afghans came to be known for their “manly spirit of independence” and other less admirable traits. Crews devotes a chapter to the restless migration of the Afghans (into Russia, India, China, Africa, and Australia), even as the borders of their country were just beginning to coalesce. Insecurity and violence prompted this movement but also commercial trading, a theme that has remained constant to the present. Gradual exposure to global currents brought Afghanistan into the modern sphere, and its natural resources drew industrial powers. Enter the United States by the 1930s, willing to lend its developmental assistance while keeping an eye on how the country could play against Russia in the Cold War. Crews also examines the cannabis and heroin industries, the revolutionary currents and growth of jihadi movements, and the important role of women in the country’s modern makeup.
An impressively thinking-outside-of-the-box approach to reconsidering this pivotal Asian nation and its people.