Culture and Conflict in Diplomacy Friedrich Ebert Foundation Goethe Institute Washington, DC
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to attend this fascinating photo exhibition. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Media Tech centers have been doing noble work throughout Afghanistan, including sponsoring the very first photography exhibition in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz.
I must admit, exhibitions like this one make my job much easier. When many people in America and across the world think of Afghanistan, they conjure images of a barren, empty wasteland populated with desperate and dangerous people. A 24 hours news-cycle and a mentality that “if it bleeds it leads” give the impression that Afghanistan is a place of war and destruction and not much else. Part of my job here is to show another side of Afghanistan, and to celebrate my country’s rich cultural heritage and long history.
As this exhibition demonstrates, Afghanistan is home to many images of hope and progress. Every person who travels to Afghanistan comes back with such mental pictures. In my last trip, the images that resonated were signs advertising English and computer classes; groups of girls going to school in their black and white uniforms; a shopkeeper with a prosthetic leg who was able to achieve economic independent with a micro-credit loan; the Kabul museum being restored to its former magnificence; shrines and pilgrims; a rainbow of kites flying and fighting; hundreds of children, their faces dirty but their smiles wide.
Of course, there are other images, tragic images. The most hopeless image I can recall ever having seen is a photograph of an Afghan child holding a rifle. I don’t recall the date of the picture, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the greater tragedy it represents, when my country grew familiar with terror and fear and nearly forgot the bright light of freedom, pluralism, and human kindness.
Throughout Afghanistan’s tragic past, some thought that the solution to the problems in our country was to put guns in the hands of Afghan children. Today, education is helping to right these wrongs. We are giving the children books instead of guns, and teaching them how to read instead of how to fight. Like fragile trees that are planted to provide oxygen to a devastated landscape, our children are re-growing roots into the social fabric of our Afghanistan. While the boys and girls of Afghanistan have grown up knowing only war, it is my hopes that through education that they will gain the confidence and the skills necessary to begin writing a new chapter of Afghan history, one defined by peace and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Those of you who have visited Afghanistan know how dramatically our country has changed over the last five years thanks our people’s determination to rebuild. You know that for the first time in 30 years images of hope are replacing images of war in Afghanistan. Children are in schools and our people are embracing the many pleasures that they were long denied. With the continued support of our American and international friends, we will ensure that the country our children inherit will be democratic, secure, prosperous and free.
Thank you for sharing these photographs with your friends and colleagues in Washington, D.C. With our combined efforts, Afghanistan can regain her former reputation as a must-see destination for world travelers. Unique wildlife, villages untouched by the modern world, placid blue lakes that calm the soul, impossibly deep canyons that seem to reach down into the center of the earth, and massive mountains that dwarf all ambition. Those who glimpse Afghanistan’s natural beauty will never forget what they have seen.
I think I speak for everyone here when I say that I look forward to future exhibitions and to more images of peace, hope and beauty in Afghanistan.