A picture titled: “Phonograph record store”
Shocking, isn’t it? Kabul, Afghanistan, 1950s.
And this — “Furniture display room”:
One more —
“Biology class, Kabul University”:
Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…
These eye-opening, mind-bending, heart-sinking pictures of a Mad Men era are from a photobook published by the Afghanistan planning ministry in the 1950s — “perhaps a little airbrushed by government officials, but a far more realistic picture of my homeland than one often sees today.”
They are part of the photo essay accompanied by a brief, perspective-expanding article in Foreign Policy by Mohammad Qayoumi. Qayoumi, president of California State University, grew up in Kabul in the 50s and 60s.
Then and now
His article begins with our current picture of Afghanistan (or pictures, left):
‘On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it “a broken 13th-century country.” The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt … Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by “barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.”
Qayoumi writes: ‘A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods … Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.
‘Some captions in the book are difficult to read today: “Afghanistan’s racial diversity has little meaning except to an ethnologist. Ask any Afghan to identify a neighbor and he calls him only a brother.” … But it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable.’
In 2002 Qayoumi volunteered his services to the reconstruction effort: he is on the board of the central bank and is the senior advisor to the minister of finance.
The unwelcoming world
See for yourself: check out the other photos. In our rare, peaceful zone (yes, yes, there is also our alternate, invaded history) it is hard to understand how terrible war can be. How a home — your home, your homeland, can be destroyed. And how it is, unthinkable though it may have been, that one must flee — into the unwelcoming world beyond.