Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Dropping the Ball in Afghanistan

with 7 comments


I apologize for two nearly consecutive posts on essentially the same subject, but this breaking story is so illustrative of the incompetence that has pervaded America’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that it just begged to be discussed.

In short: the US military used a helicopter to drop soccer balls for children in Afghanistan. OK, nice gesture, right? The soccer balls were decorated with the flags of various countries, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudi flag has a passage from the Koran on it, which includes the name of Allah. Muslim’s are very sensitive about where and how Allah’s name can be used. And to put it mildly, putting this passage from the Koran on a ball that children are going to kick around in the dirt is blatantly offensive to many Muslims. Afghans complained bitterly about this incident, and there was a demonstration against it in the city where it was done.

I mean, we have been in Afghanistan for five years and the military didn’t even think to ask one of the locals about this idea beforehand? The good will of the Afghan public is crucial if we are going to win them to our side, and if we can’t even do something like a simple PR stunt without blowing it, one has to really wonder about who is running the show over there. Is anyone is running the show over there? It’s not the end of the world of course, but still, this would be like if China decided to engender good will in the USA by giving out doormats with Jesus’s face on them. It might get China some press, but I doubt many Americans would want one on their doorstep…and some Americans most definitely would take offense.

So this soccer ball case was just a stupid waste of money that probably did as much or more harm than good, which frankly when one is fighting to win people’s hearts and minds is pretty lame. I think this is a fine illustration of just how insulated and isolated from the locals our troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a whole other topic for discussion some day. It’s hard to win people’s hearts and minds when your representatives live in fortified isolated air conditioned splendour and luxury while the native people live in poverty and need.

I’m not arguing that westerners need to defer to non western mores in all things, this sword cuts both ways obviously. My premise here is that whatever our justification for having troops stationed in hostile foreign lands, be it conquest, liberation, democracy, or what have you…aren’t these troops going to have the best chance of success if they understand the locals? Whether fighting someone or making friends with them, the better you understand them, the better your chance of success however it’s defined. And this incident like so many others just illustrates once again how our efforts are simply being wasted (at best) in Afghanistan and Iraq, because in our arrogance or incompetence, we couldn’t even be bothered to read “Colonialism for Dummies.”

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is central to illustrating the post. And no offence is meant or implied toward the Islamic faith, the opposite in fact. Credit: BBC)

Written by unitedcats

August 27, 2007 at 7:05 am

Posted in Philosophy, Propaganda

7 Responses

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  1. I was just reading an article about how we need to learn about war, but most importantly how we need to study history. We need to respect other countries, even if we don’t agree with them or want to appear to be catering to them. Human dignity is one of the most valuable things in the world, but also one of the most taken for granted or disregarded things.


    August 27, 2007 at 9:03 am

  2. We should learn peace. You do not end war by making more war.


    August 27, 2007 at 12:23 pm

  3. I think this article is a bit weak on the logic side. I’m in no way saying things are going “well” in Iraq, or Afghanistan; or that the US is doing enough to understand the culture. But this seems like a fairly petty slam on America.

    As far as this being a waste of money, soccer balls are THE toy for children in Iraq (and probably Afghanistan). Remember the huge holiday rush caused by past toys like Tickle Me Elmo and Furbies? In some poor parts of the world, a soccer ball causes similar excitement.

    The fact is, the US tried to help out some kids. It would be interesting to find out where these balls were manufactured, and how many Muslims were actually offended. There are better examples of the US’s difficulties in winning hearts and minds. I do not know what the author’s actual beliefs are, but “nitpicking” everything and anything shows a bias and reduces credibility.


    August 27, 2007 at 12:59 pm

  4. You’re loosing me Doug. You’ll say no great loss but hey. The soccer ball incident is a major overreaction. The people were previously using their soccer stadium for executions due to “Islam” . Somewhere in the middle of this let’s all say hey thanks for coming get out and let’s move on.


    August 27, 2007 at 4:35 pm

  5. Um, by our standards it is an over-reaction. That’s my point, after five years in the country we are still ignorant of local customs? If they had vetted this idea with a single Mullah, it could have been avoided. I agree it’s not a terribly important issue, most Muslims would likely agree (though I haven’t asked my neighbours yet,) and in the the greater scheme of things is trivial. I just thought it was a nicely illustrated concrete example of how we are apparently still wearing colonial blinders as it were. :)


    August 27, 2007 at 6:50 pm

  6. Good one Doug. It reminded me of another news item at the beginning of Afghan war. It was first called “Operation infinte justice”. Later they had to change the name because Muslims believe only Allah can provide infinite justice and they thought the name was blasphemous. Another blunder was Bush calling the Iraq war a crusade, which gave it a religious connotation. It made the Muslims think of many religious crusades launched by the Christians.because Muslims believe only Allah can provide infinite justice and they thought the name was blasphemous. Another blunder of Bush calling the Iraq war a crusade, which gave it a religious connotation of Christians fighting the Muslims.

    Archana Raghuram

    August 27, 2007 at 9:50 pm

  7. Muslim people are very protective of their religion and anything with the name of God needs to be protected. The first step in loosening this hold is targeting children. This was no blunder. This is a deliberate act to brainwash children into thinking it’s ok to kick around (essentially desecrating) the words of the Koran. When it backfired…well Ooops! Sorry! We didn’t know.


    September 17, 2007 at 5:48 am

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