Learning About Afghanistan in 5 Documentaries
Here are a Few Good Places to Start if You Want to Understand Afghanistan and the Taliban
When two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11th, 2001, it was inevitable that the US would be out for blood. When it was revealed that the man responsible for the terrorist attack was Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, it was clear that he wasn't going to get away with this. Where was he at that time? He was holed up in Afghanistan where he had been allowed to grow his terrorist network thanks to the Taliban.
In 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist after defeating other rebel groups fighting for power. This was after the USSR ended their war effort to back up a fledgling Communist government in Afghanistan. Soviet efforts to tame Afghanistan and pull it into their sphere of influence failed miserably. The US was well aware of this when it went into the country to overthrow the Taliban and capture Osama Bin Laden in their newly minted "War on Terror." But, they went in anyway, for better or worse.
Twenty years later here we are. The US is leaving Afghanistan in defeat, and the Taliban has swooped in and taken power once again. This means the return of a brutal style of governance based on extreme interpretations of Islamic law. When they ruled Afghanistan in the past, women paid the biggest price as they weren't allowed to work or go to school and had to be covered from head to toe and stay at home. They couldn't leave the house without a male relative as escort. Many women, especially in larger cities like Kandahar and Kabul, are scared that their rights are going to disappear once again.
As the Taliban began to take over, we saw horrible scenes on our TVs of throngs of people trying to flee the country, with some even clinging to the side of a military plane as it flew off. And, as the days go by, we see more and more evidence of the future of Afghanistan as protesters are being gunned down in the streets and Taliban fighters are going door to door looking for their enemies.
Now, I'm no expert on Afghanistan, but I do find the country fascinating. After watching 9/11 play out on my TV screen, I was interested in what would happen next. No one wants to see war, but there was no doubt that war was coming. It had to. The US couldn't allow this to happen without retaliation. At the time, I knew nothing about Afghanistan. But, I watched the news with interest and over time got a feel for what was happening there, even though the reality is far more complex than my more simplistic understanding.
Recently, now that Afghanistan is back in the news, I have been visiting YouTube, searching out documentaries on Afghanistan and the Taliban, trying to learn more about how we got to the point. The people of Afghanistan are scared, and they have good reason to be. They know what it's like to live under Taliban rule, and these documentaries do a good job of outlining that.
So, without further ado, here are five documentaries, in no particular order, that will help those who want to learn about the country and it's struggles.
The Girls of the Taliban (2014)
Al Jazeera presents this documentary about how students, particularly female students, have been drawn into ultra-conservative Madrassas where they are taught a very strict interpretation of Islam. It is through these schools that the ideas of the Taliban are spread.
Al Qaeda's Fight In Afghanistan (2011)
From Journeyman Pictures comes this documentary from 2011 where a terrified but brave film-maker, Najibullah Quraishi, heads into the Afghan mountains to meet up with Al Qaeda fighters.
Afghanistan: Life in Taliban country • FRANCE 24 English (2021)
This recent documentary, produced by France 24, shows that the Taliban have been ready all long to retake the country. They have known that the US will be leaving, and they have been set up, armed and ready to go.
Afghanistan before the Russian Invasion (1979)
This is a fascinating look at Afghanistan before the Soviet Union invaded. To watch this and then to watch a recent documentary on Afghanistan, you can see that in many rural areas almost nothing has changed.
The Taliban's Persistent Encroachment Across Afghanistan (1999)
In this Journeyman Pictures documentary, we get a look at pre-9/11 Afghanistan and the advance of the Taliban during the country's bloody civil war. Some hope that the Taliban have changed since those days. Reality is that they most likely haven't.