A few years ago, I watched the most horrifying and depressing movie I have ever seen. Called OSAMA not as in bin Laden, but rather, Osama is the name of a 13-year-old girl living in Kabul in Afghanistan when the Taliban powered over the city. The only child of a struggling, impoverished single mother who was forbidden by an insane law to work because of her gender, the teenage Osama, also a victim of the female ban on employment, decides to adopt the guise of a young boy in order to obtain work to buy food and fend off starvation (their poverty is palpable). As a boy, Osama finds employment in a bakery, but the Taliban uncovers her ploy and what then ensues is truly horrific. She is hung upside down by her arms for days in the street for all to see and after being tortured in even more evil and perverse ways, the final, sadistic cruelty has her imprisoned in the domestic environs of a Taliban senior, a haggard, grey haired monster aged in his 70s, or even older, where she is forced into slavery as his domiciled sexual plaything. Often at the movies, I shed tears, sometimes in joy, other times in sadness, but during OSAMA, I just sat stock still, totally shocked into an almost dehumanized demeanour as the depravity and disturbed iniquities of the Taliban unfolded before my eyes. As I walked out of the cinema, my mute numbness was transcended by a burst of hysterics, a flood of tears washing down my face as I confronted this was no celluloid fiction, but a narrative all too real and frightening. Our world had gone really mad.
Nearly ten years ago, Western allies walked into Afghanistan to wage war against the Taliban. They are still there, (some countries such as The Netherlands have pulled out) and while many soldiers have died and some US military personnel denounce the Kazai Government as corrupt (what are we fighting for?) and a few tribal warlords masquerade as friends when they are really in support of the Taliban, international debate rages over an unwinnable war (so why are we there?) Certainly, I’m as horrified at the inhumanity (or call it insanity!) of man to man that is the tragic reality of war as I was by the movie; the mounting death toll of bloody murder and the painful, crippling injuries of both mind and body to the soldiers and many civilians as the torment of the fight against the Taliban only intensifies. During my adolescence, I took to the streets against Australia’s presence in Vietnam; it was a civil war where our troops had no place, but as far as Afghanistan is concerned, I feel very differently. The haunting visage of Osama and all females living under the rule of the Taliban are prisoners in their own country and the war there is not just a war for power and control of the country to establish democracy and freedom (it’s all relative!), but for me, it’s a war for humanity; a quest for all human beings in Afghanistan to live without fear, without persecution, without oppression and without the enormity of Taliban insanity. It is a conflict for the courageous defenders of our humanness, the hearts and minds that make all Afghanis real human beings, lest their country sink into an abyss of abject misery and madness for decades ahead. Yes, we can truly lament the loss of life, but what is the price of being human? And do we in the West and particularly in Australia, abrogate our responsibility to those in other countries forsaking our own humanity simply because Afghanistan doesn’t seem to matter in the safety of our suburban wonderland. Why should our young men and women soldiers die fighting in a war where victory seems more and more unlikely every day and where suspicion and distrust of government and civilians alike renders the cause as hopeless?
For many months, I’ve argued with myself about the validity of this war as the covert corruption and wholesale slaughter of our troops splashes across our TV screens, but I have also been unable to shake OSAMA from my psyche. Whenever I read or see the latest immoral or iniquitous happening in the country, I recoil in horror, in sadness and sometimes, in tears, but I embrace a reality that dictates we DO have an international responsibility to other human beings when the essence of that very humanity is threatened, no matter where people are. Certainly, as a Jew, I will never forget that the British waged war against Hitler; fighting for a world where people could live as real human beings with dignity, respect and free of totalitarian authority. (While the war against Hitler was not an act of altruism for the Jews, the fact that many Jews survived was a fortunate by-product of the war). Without that war, I wouldn’t exist and while all wars are horrific and insane (I’m still a peacenik in spirit), reality sometimes makes them inevitable when rational dialogue is buried under a mountain of megalomania. And OSAMA is as etched in my mind as much as the Holocaust. Of course, life is precious, but ignorance or disinterest about the heinous crimes of the Taliban is no justification for apathy. Doing nothing is tantamount to complicit endorsement of its madness.
And while survival in the war ravaged country is tough at the very least, staying alive is only a beginning; a good quality of life is paramount in the people’s need to be fully realized human beings, they need to have safe shelter, healthy food and security of love and care, the best education for both girls and boys, high standard medical attention and of course, decent employment to ensure they can meet the costs of looking after their families and themselves. And all of this rests on a premise of peace, of freedom, of a new kind of morality that destroys all credibility of the Taliban and the carnage it wreaks. A Utopian ideal? Maybe, but where would we be in The West without the idealistic and valiant pioneers who struggled so defiantly and endlessly for democracy and freedom and for equality of opportunity for all females? It might be passé now to think of Australia as The Lucky Country as Donald Horne penned in the 1960s, but as a female who grew up with a great education (despite my family struggling financially) and employment (even tho’ it was sometimes less than what I really deserved), I only have to remind myself about OSAMA to realize we are overwhelmingly still, a Very Lucky Country. (No country is perfect!) And we have a duty, a moral right to ensure other human beings around the world must have every chance to live as we do. I thank all the military personnel engaged in the conflict; those who risk their lives every day to usher in a new regime of prosperity and peace; it’s without doubt, a long and winding road as they toil at destroying the Taliban, but as the pubescent image of Osama will always remind me, I can only hope that the war is indeed a victory for humanity with all its riches and spoils.