In our lifetime we have been either exalted or shattered by our names on a list. Our entry on lists starts from birth. First it’s the male or female list at the hospital. Then on an admission list for school. While in school, we are on the pass or fail list. In our social life our politics is decided through number of stamps on an election list. When we reach college we again find ourselves in competition for various other lists. We can all relate to such lists. It is part of our collective experience.
However, in this column I am going to tell you a story of two very different kinds of lists. Not many people might know of, or can relate to these lists. These lists are found in my country of Afghanistan. Your name on this list can change your fate overnight. Your name on one of these lists can mean life or death. I know these lists as white and black lists. In Afghanistan, the white list contains the name of all those who are good and righteous. The black list contains the names of all who are evil and wicked. Who gets to live and who dies is decided in accordance to these lists. The story of these lists is the story of modern Afghanistan.
As a child, I did not know where these lists exactly came from, or knew how somebody get on it, but I do remember seeing big military jet planes flying over us, dropping bombs and leaflets with names and faces on them. These leaflets told us who we should honor and praise as our heroes. But when the Soviets left Afghanistan, we were handed another leaflet that told us that these same heroes of Afghanistan were actually traitors and enemies of the people.
Then later, while I was living in a refugee camp, one day a redhead lady and a well suited-booted gentleman, with small US flags pinned to their chests came to visit our camp. We loved whenever they came to visit us because whenever they would come, they would bring us toffees and chocolates with them. However, along with chocolates, we were also given a compulsory leaflet to read, which had names and sketched faces on them. And just like before, these leaflets told us who were our real heroes and asked us to pray for them, and it also told us who were the real enemies and asked us to hate them. And just like the heroes from the time of the Soviets, today we are being told that these new heroes are actually terrorists and we are being taught to hate them.
I also remember a time when dusty cars with mud soaked wheels would drive around in narrow streets of my city in eastern Afghanistan, announcing the victory of Afghan and Non-Afghan freedom fighters over the Soviet Union. Alongside, they also announced another version of the black and white lists. We all loved them at that time and I remember watching the evening news on a black and white TV. The world congratulated us for defeating the Soviets and thanked our heroes who defeated them. A day later we came onto the streets with plucked flowers from the only tiny flowerpot left standing at home after the war. And we celebrated our freedom by putting those flowers in front of our heroes. But today, we find these heroes on the world’s black list.
And then there came a time when nobody came with any lists. We stepped into starvation and poverty. We were alienated from the world. We fought among ourselves. A civil war raged on in Afghanistan. This time around, however, there was no white or black list. Might was right, and the mighty symbolized the white.
After that we were given another version of the black and white lists. That was the time when my cousin was punished and fined by the authorities for trimming his beard. Their black list was quite long, and the white list consisted of only those few who wore white turbans on their heads. During their time, the people who used to give us chocolates had stopped visiting us. Sketching was declared to be haram (prohibited) so the white and black lists were taught to us orally. We were also taught to hate foreigners, except the ones with a bit of a brown complexion who came from beyond the eastern border of Afghanistan. They were considered to be all right.
After the World Trade Center collapsed, the lists once again changed. The names and faces that used to top the white list were now on the black list. The people, who were gifted with titles of heroes and SAM missiles, were now called terrorists. This time around the criterion to be on the white or the black list was simplified. If a person had a US rocket launcher on his shoulder, then he was on the white list, and if that rocket was pointed at your head, then you were on the black list.
In our history these black and white lists have been inked by one or the other super power. The game remains the same, all that changes are the players.
Today, even the lives of innocent children are being evaluated on the basis of which list his or her father is on. Malala, whose father is on the white list, gets shot by a person on the black list; so she receives over 20 national and international awards and prizes. While on the other hand, when other hundreds of Malalas are shot and killed by people on the white list, nobody cares.
After seeing how these lists are used over my lifetime, I have understood the purpose behind these black and white lists. These lists are nothing but a propaganda tool to justify the acts of the oppressor for victimizing anyone, anyhow, anytime he wants.
The story of these lists continues on in Afghanistan. You never know when the names on these lists might change.
[Khalid Yousafzai (2015) is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached via email at: khalid.yousafzai5 [at] yahoo.com]