Lost in Translation

Last Saturday, two US Servicemen were shot dead by “their interpreter”. The interpreter himself was shot dead by troops soon after. Reports suggest this attack was due to grievances over pay and conditions rather than in anyway related to the Taliban. What the incident does reveal most clearly, however, is the shocking disregard the occupying forces have for the men and women who risk their lives in the so-called “war against terror” and “reconstruction effort”. Being an interpreter is putting your life at risk, both in direct battles with the Afghan resistance and the vulnerability many feel within their communities for assisting the US and its allies. Many Afghans participate with the hope of an opportunity to start fresh lives in the US, yet the US has acted to sharply cut the number of Afghans allowed to settle in the US.

Which brings us to the whole issue of English and invasion. The BBC wrote in January:

The penetration of English is now influencing nearly all sectors of Afghan society. In previous decades when the Soviet Union was heavily involved in training and equipping the Afghan military, knowledge of Russian was considered a critical skill. But since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Russian has been replaced by English. Courses have been launched to teach English to Afghan military personnel who often work alongside international forces. “Learning English has become an important skill for members of the Afghan National Army and police,” says Ustad Paktiawal, a teacher at the police academy in Kabul. “This enables them to communicate with their trainers from different countries of the coalition and understand each other.” English also helps members of the Afghan security forces to be considered for attendance at military schools in the UK and US. President Hamid Karzai is a fluent speaker of English and so are many members of the Afghan cabinet and state bureaucracy – a number have lived or studied in the West.

(This of course will be the same cabinet and state bureaucracy that, in November 2009, was found to be the second most corrupt in the world).

We raise these issues because unlike Mohamed Faiq and his fascinating piece on teaching English in Afghanistan (read here), we do not believe that there can be any meaningful “linguistic exposure and socialisation” whilst imperialist powers (like Russia and Britain In the past and the US and Britain today) continue to impose their self-interested agenda on this country. We would ask that no Afghan assist the US as an interpreter and no-one works with the NGO’s in teaching English in Afghanistan.


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