There were over 10,000 civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan last year, according a UN report released on Feb. 15. The report said that 27 percent of the 3,348 civilian deaths that occurred were a result of direct attacks on civilians.
Though this statistic represents a nine percent drop in casualties from the previous year, it demonstrates a continued trend of high levels of civilian casualties. “It is the fourth consecutive year where we’ve seen more than 10,000 civilians killed or injured,” Danielle Bell, human rights director for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told the Guardian.
The scale of this statistic makes it nearly impossible to conceptualize on any kind of personal level, according to Visiting Assistant Professor of English Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine, who teaches a class on Anglophone Arab Literature. “I think it’s a matter of humanizing the conflict. In all the conversations we have here [on campus], we tend to lose sight of the human factor,” he said. While Abou-Zeineddine admits that “books don’t save lives,” he said that reading literature on the experiences of those living in the Middle East can lead us to “seeing the conflict with a panoramic view.”
Nurten Kilic-Schubel, associate professor of history, said that Western ignorance is often the first impediment to developing the conversation about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I would call that a narrative of pretend,” she said. “We pretend it’s a moral war, [we] pretend it’s not happening.”
She said that increasing the visibility of these conflicts, especially in American politics, is essential to rousing Americans from their apathy. “One thing [we can do], as both American citizens and global citizens, is to make the war visible in America. That’s always my frustration, that we only discuss it in the context of Global Kenyon, in the context of these reports.”
Kilic-Schubel argues that the epidemic of gun violence in the United States can be related to the war in Afghanistan more so than it might at first seem. “[There’s] a close connection between the gun violence, the arms trade, and the militarization of the Middle East. They’re not two different things,” she said. Kilic-Schubel added that it is important to recognize how the history of American imperialism has contributed to the emergence of Middle Eastern conflicts and has led, if indirectly, to the deaths of these civilians.
“That sort of brings the question: How can we talk about the conflict in the Middle East, [not] framing this as a zone of exception,” Kilic-Schubel said. “Linking the violence and conflict with the histories of imperialism and histories of geopolitical competition.”
Kilic-Schubel said that our political discussions on the turmoil in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries would improve by focusing on the individual human effects, rather than on some broad idea of national security. It’s about choosing to emphasize human lives, she said.
“Oftentimes the discussion of wars is presented in terms of security, the security of human lives never really [comes up],” she said. “It’s all about national security, state security — never about human security.”