Saturday, April 25, 2009

We Should Have Taken More Geography

This is the Band-e-Amir lake region in Afghanistan, location of the country's first national park (more pictures here). While this is a nice sign of normalcy for a troubled nation, natural divisions such as these may be more important than ever. In an interesting article on, Robert Kaplan discusses the importance of that most neglected of ninth grade social studies topics: geography. Since most geography conversations I have ever been a part of range in topics from "What do you mean New York City is not the capital of New York (state)?" to "What do you mean Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey?" It was nice to not read anything justifying the importance of Albany or Ankara.

In The Revenge Of Geography, Kaplan uses the differences in geography within nations, specifically in Eurasia, to explain their instability. While I have heard the artificial boundries, set up by colonialist arguments for Africa before, he makes some interesting points about the same dynamics promoting difference between comparitively docile areas of Afghanistan beyond the Hindu Kush, and the Pashtun-speaking areas in southern Afghanistan and tribal regions in northern Pakistan (he would prefer to call this area of mountainous disorder Pashtunistan).

While I'm not so sure that the Taleban movement can be reduced to simply Pashtun nationalism, keeping in mind ethnic differences and conflicting allegiances that happen when a nations' borders are illogically bound is cool. Americans are fortunate to have a lot of stability which comes from clear borders and a pretty culturally inclusive society; but this may blind us to seeing the legitimate threat of an divided country. Flashpoint by flashpoint, this article offers illogical national boundries as a cause of violence and oppression. He makes some pretty disconcerting implicit statements, which could be paraphrased as; Saddam had to be brutal, since that sort of brutality is the only way to govern as illogical a place as Iraq (Yikes! for the prospect of Democracy), and, all of Eurasia is about to be as hotly contested as Israel/Palestine (Yikes! in general).

But, if you consider Saddam Hussein's brutality stemmed from the impossibility of governing his disparate nation, we have a better sense of how to help make the area more stable (but don't ask me how), and it may not hurt to stop asserting there exists an international identity like "the Muslim World." Then maybe imposing sharia law worldwide is not the only way for everyone to live peacefully together. Thats good news for those scantily clad, hard drinkin ladies out there, and all who admire them.

so can geography be blamed for our shameless exploitation of women and consumption of alcohol?

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