Reflections on my illuminating visit to Afghanistan

Pic: Prosper Afghanistan

Shaykh Hamid Mahmood reflects on his recent fact-finding mission to Afghanistan which was demonised by the mainstream media, and asks why British Muslims are not more active in the affairs of this Muslim nation?

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to join a delegation of ulama from the UK that visited Afghanistan as part of a fact-finding mission.

A series of visits to the country had already been undertaken by officials from the United Kingdom, the EU and other major powers. Most recently, Tobias Ellwood MP returned from Afghanistan claiming that the “country had transformed.” The UK Charge D’Affaires Robert Chatterton Dixon, and his predecessor Hugo Shorter have both held meetings with Islamic Emirate officials and called for further engagement.

Calls to “maintain engagement” with the Taliban were also issued from military leaders including General Sir Nick Carter and former British Army officer Simon Conway who echoed remarks that “the Taliban have changed.”

Furthering this goal of seeking to understand and engage with the new reality in Afghanistan, this ulama delegation to Afghanistan was initiated. It is a Muslim community-led initiative designed to gain first-hand evidence on the situation of the country, instead of relying on second-hand reports that are often conveyed to us through the prism of media propaganda.

Our delegation was facilitated by Human Aid & Advocacy for the humanitarian segment, which included visits to an orphanage, two vocational centres, a girls’ primary school and Zakat distributions in villages devastated by war.

The fact-finding mission was completed in coordination with a soon to be launched organisation, Prosper Afghanistan.

Sign up for regular updates straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!

But since returning from Afghanistan, I’ve realised just how biased the media landscape is here in the UK in relation to any discussion on the country. I’ve also hinted towards the demonisation project in my article on girls’ education.

Within a day of our return to the UK, the delegation received the tabloid treatment from GB News and Daily Mail resorting to the usual smear and slander that Muslims in the UK have become accustomed to. Such “news” organisations are not interested in true journalism at all.

And a few days ago, I got a message from BBC Radio 4 asking to interview me about my visit to Afghanistan. I declined their offer. I’ve seen their coverage of the subject and any objective observer will be able to discern just how biased and one-sided the reporting is. There is a fixation on narratives of the white saviour complex, desperate to “rescue brown women from brown men.”

Shaykh Hamid Mahmood

Although this is hardly surprising since the BBC as an institution was found to be systematically pro-war. It is also notoriously pro-Israel in its coverage on Palestine. More recently, Muslims in Britain saw BBC bias clearly on display during its coverage of the World Cup hosted by Qatar. The organisation has also been accused by its own staff of racism.

Hence, I knew any interview I gave would hardly be cast in a fair light. And I do not think that there are many journalists brave enough in the BBC who can challenge the prevailing narrative on Afghanistan. Let’s not forget what happened to Gary Linekar when he decided to speak his mind!

So I was expecting the same lazy and tired reporting when the BBC published its story. Most of us in the Muslim community know the drill now – we are simply not going to be allured into Islamophobic traps that the media set up for us. We will speak and advocate our message on our own terms.

And I was right. You can listen here from 18 mins onwards and decide for yourself. One could listen to the segment and come away thinking that the UK was never part of the invading force maintaining a foreign occupation of the country for two decades! There is no mention of the death and destruction brought about by carpet bombing, daisy cutters and drone strikes carried out by U.S. and UK forces. The BBC reporting conveniently deletes the UK’s role in the problems of Afghanistan completely.

Was it a wise decision to visit?

Some may argue that I was naive to visit Afghanistan. Perhaps I should’ve seen how the British media dealt with a sitting MP and Head of Defence Select Committee when he dared to challenge the dominant narrative.

But Tobias Elwood is not alone in arguing for a more realistic approach. I have discovered a number of influential policy makers and thought leaders that have realised there is no better alternative than to engage with the Islamic Emirate in a fair and respectful manner. It is my belief that the tide will turn and there will be a slow but necessary normalisation with Afghanistan that will take place. The British Muslim community needs to be ahead of this curve.

Most people comment on Afghanistan from afar, rely on third hand accounts or those with a political bias. I decided to see for myself by being a part of this delegation, visiting the country and speaking to ordinary people as well as officials. To hear about my experiences, you can follow my socials instead. I’m keen to talk to any person that is genuinely interested in understanding Afghanistan and also what the future of relations between Afghanistan and Britain may look like.

Also, as many objective and concerned followers have requested for my engagement with the Afghan Government on the question of girls’ education, I thought it apt to deal with it in a stand alone article I have penned, all are welcome to read and share widely.

Therefore, it makes me wonder: why is the Muslim community so absent when we all know that this is a major issue of the Ummah and we all know that our Afghan brothers and sisters have rights upon us? Perhaps we are intimidated by the tabloids? Perhaps we have consumed much of the propaganda ourselves and are unable to critically analyse facts?

I commend the members of the delegation that decided to take the initiative and engage in this fact-finding mission. I also commend Human Aid and Advocacy and Prosper Afghanistan for facilitating this trip and the aid and support they are offering to the trauma-ridden, innocent people of Afghanistan.

I and colleagues will be publishing a report on our findings in due course and I look forward to the British Muslim community engaging with this work.

Add your comments below

Previous articlePakistan is neither independent, Islamic nor democratic
Next articleJailed Bangladesh Islamic leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi dies