The Afghan Renaissance: The Journey We Need to Start Now!

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    Shaukat Zamani

    June 28, 2010

    In my recent articles titled “Towards a Prosperous Future” and “Why Can’t Afghans Make Adequate Partners?”, I briefly touched upon the need for a Renaissance in Afghanistan.

    The central theme of my Afghan argument is that there are certain inadequacies on our part that have directly contributed to the current state of Afghan affairs. Two such inadequacies stand out: Firstly, a particular tendency on the general Afghan part – what I call the “me, now culture” – where long-term national interests are overlooked in favor of short term individual pursuits, and secondly, a certain, general lack of belief in our own abilities to become important agents of change in our country.

    As a direct result, we put too much emphasis on the external factors of our post-1979 crises. There is an overriding predisposition to interpret our problems purely in the light of regional and global interference in Afghanistan. Consequently, we see ourselves as nothing more than pawns in the hands of our neighbors and global powers. The Western efforts in Afghanistan similarly are considered capitalist expansionist designs in pursuit of the Central Asian natural resources, or a modern manifestation of the centuries-old Great Game.

    This limited paradigm overlooks the fact that we Afghans have been equal partners in the tragedies of the post-1979 Afghanistan. But most importantly, it neglects the fact that we Afghans are, and can be, active and important agents of creating our own destiny.

    We Need to Start a New Chapter of our History: The Afghan Renaissance

    Yes, we need a Renaissance in Afghanistan.

    An Afghan Renaissance is the only real, practical and legitimate solution to our current seemingly interminable crisis.

    Our Afghan Renaissance, above all, will be about looking inward and finding strengths that will enable us to change for the better, strengths that will help us set course for a new direction and achieve a qualitative and quantitative long-term societal transformation that is required in the context of the 21st century.

    The starting point of our Renaissance, our New Journey, is the attainment of the strength of self-critique, the strength to admit our failures.

    In our New Journey, we shall seek a higher level of consciousness which will help us identify with our “deeper selves”, or “the social us”, as opposed to “the individual me”; a higher level of consciousness that will assist us to identify with what is common about us as Afghans and Muslims, as opposed to the prevailing predilection that seeks to find what is different about us.

    Our New Journey shall be about the realization on our part that Afghanistan needs help, a realization that we can help our country, and the demonstration of a commitment and determination to start taking small, important, effective and pragmatic steps to help our country.

    The Afghan Renaissance is about reinventing ourselves in the context of the New Age, in the context of a new global culture of development and progress, and in the new context of living as responsible nation-states.

    Above all, the Renaissance we shall seek will repel the “me, now culture”, or the tendency to pursue short-term personal gains.

    Our Renaissance shall seek to replace notions such as tribe and ethnicity with the singular idea of Afghanyat. Our Renaissance will refuse to tolerate the politics of tribe and ethnicity. We will look for notions that unite us, not those that divide us.

    Today, in the context of the 21st century, being an Afghan should and must mean a lot more than a primordial affiliation to a certain tribe or a certain ethnic group. Rather we shall seek to become responsible Afghans and responsible Muslims.

    Instead, we shall seek a new solidarity and an Afghan identity that is far superior to the tribe and ethnicity culture that presides over Afghanistan today. We shall seek a new solidarity that promotes mutual respect and love for one another, regardless of our ethnic make-up, beliefs, wealth, knowledge or background.

    More importantly, our Afghan Renaissance will not contradict the Afghan culture, values and our great Islamic faith. It would augment these important elements of our common existence.

    Our great teachers Sayed Jamal-u-din Afghani, Dr Ali Shariati and Allama Iqbal all promoted a Renaissance-based vision. The idea of the spiritual revival of the Islamic civilization, as promoted by these great thinkers and teachers, derived, most importantly, from an emphasis of change of attitude and the promotion of the ideas of self-consciousness and self-reliance.

    We welcome the opportunity to learn from the enlightenment voyages of others. But our Renaissance will not seek wholesale Westernization. Rather, our New Journey will be based on the Afghan modus operandi. It shall be specific to our own society and must focus on our particular political, cultural, social and economic needs in the context of the 21st century.

    The European Renaissance, for instance, is relevant because it helps us draw parallels and learn from the experiences of the 14th to 17th century Europe. It is relevant in that it entailed widespread educational reforms, but most importantly, it was an intellectual transformation constituting a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. It is relevant in that it began as a change of attitude and entailed a series of small but effective changes, initiated by a bunch of unsung heroes who worked in isolation from one another but were driven by the same need for change; a need for change that must have begun at a personal level.

    It is also the literal meaning of Renaissance that is relevant to our context. It means “rebirth” in French and “being born again” in Italian.

    Our Renaissance too shall be about the need to reinvent ourselves. We need to become a forward-looking nation. We have been backward-looking for far too long now. It is good to be backward-looking in the sense of taking pride in our past history. But there comes a time when the future must become more important than the past.

    It is that time now, the time to make a new history so that our future generations will be proud of us, like we have been proud of our forefathers.

    We shall seek a Renaissance based on the idea of a culturally-specific modernisation, focusing mainly on the important institutions of education, economics and politics. We will not have true stability, freedom or prosperity until we bring deep-rooted reforms to these vital societal institutions of ours.

    Modernisation seen in this light cannot conceivably be anything but an important and positive phenomenon for Afghanistan and its people.

    Today, all Islamic societies are in need of their own Renaissance.

    But we can learn from the Malaysian experience which, to me, seems to be the best example yet of a progressive Muslim society. We can learn from the Malaysian willingness to maintain, though delicate it has proven to be at times, an ethno-political balance with a system of government that attempts to combine overall economic development with policies that promote an equitable participation of all races.

    The Malaysians I meet today impress me the most in that, above all, they make model Muslims.

    The rapid Malaysian economic growth of the 1980s and 1990s is also sufficiently demonstrative of the fact that modernisation does not bring about the mass extinction of indigenous cultures, but if pursued correctly, infrastructural modernisation of the vital societal institutions can bring about relative prosperity and harmony.

    The Afghan Renaissance must ultimately compel us, as educated and responsible Afghans, to take action in Afghanistan and bring about a better society.

    Only and only an Afghan Renaissance can truly enable us to legitimately reclaim our long-lost right to become a respectable member of the international community.

    I am fully aware that the road ahead is long and the journey is a difficult one. But an unprecedented opportunity to create a unique chapter of our proud history beckons; the opportunity to create a new Afghanistan, one based on an undivided national identity and national equilibrium.

    It is an opportunity that we Afghans can ill afford to miss.

    Shaukat Zamani is the founder of Help Afghan Education He can be reached on: shaukat.zamani@helpafghaneducation.org
     

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