Hot on the heels of Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write about Africa” comes a new guide, this time from Registan: “How to Write about Afghanistan.”
Always use the word ‘war-torn’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘tribal,’ ‘Taliban,’ ‘corrupt,’ and ‘Sharia.’ Also useful are words such as ‘shuras,’ ‘fighters,’ ‘refugees’ and ‘insurgency.’ Do not distinguish between different ethnic groups with different languages, religions and histories, or regions with different landscapes and livelihoods. If people in Kandahar tell you something, assume people in Kabul feel the same way, and vice versa. Whenever possible, mention Pashtunwali. (Note: you do not need to understand what Pashtunwali is. You get points for mentioning it anyway.)
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted Afghan accompanying your article. (Make an exception for Afghans you want to be president.) A stoned cop, a woman in a burka begging, a scowling man holding a Kalashnikov: use these. If you must include an Afghan who is not miserable or threatening, make sure you get an elderly farmer with very few teeth, or a little girl holding a baby goat.
I’m reminded of why I chose ‘monolithic’ as my word of the month (possibly of the year).