Trinity Long Room Hub goes ‘Behind the Headlines’ on the crisis in Afghanistan

Posted on: 29 September 2021

Humanitarianism, ethics and culture in Afghanistan were all under the spotlight in the latest Trinity Long Room Hub’s ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion.

Asking “what happens now?”, Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, welcomed members of the public and representatives of the Afghan Community of Ireland to the first ‘Behind the Headlines’ of the academic year, reflecting on the ethics of intervention and the humanitarian responsibilities of the international community following the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan.

Filmmaker and journalist Nelofer Pazira-Fisk (below)was a teenager when her family fled Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to settle in Canada. Opening the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Behind the Headlines, she told the audience of the difficulty in watching the news in the last few weeks in that “it glosses over a multitude of realities that have contributed to the current crisis”, adding that Afghanistan is often either victimised and pitied or “romanticised” for its “brave warriors.”

Taking the public audience back to the time of Soviet occupation, she said the money that poured in through the west and was channelled through Pakistan to the so-called “resistance fighters” or Mujahideen groups gives us an insight into how Islamist groups took hold of a society that was “poor” and “fractured” after the Soviet war.

Also speaking to her personal experience as an Afghan woman now studying in Ireland, Soraya Afzali (below) said that Afghans are currently experiencing a full circle of “intergenerational trauma and pain”, adding however that “it is no longer an Afghan issue or problem.” Soraya is a PhD candidate with the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies and a researcher as part of the Network of Excellence Training on Hate (NETHATE) project at Trinity College Dublin.

It is no longer an Afghan issue or problem

She described the risks facing women in her home country and the “systematic genocide” against the Hazara ethnicity as well as atrocities and persecutions taking place in the Panjshir province. She said the international community should not give legitimacy to the Taliban, and called for solidarity with Afghan refugees in Ireland and elsewhere.

Vincent Durac, Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin, spoke of the geo-political environment and the fear among the international community that the country will become a “safe haven for terrorists.” He also outlined the “critical governance challenges” at play as the Taliban aspires to move from an insurgent group to a governing role and the external support required to deal with the very urgent economic and humanitarian challenges which have deepened since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Concluding the panel talks, Roja Fazaeli, Associate Professor in Islamic Civilisations at Trinity College Dublin, outlined what the academic community “can and should do” to help Afghan researchers, scholars and practitioners, adding that this approach to solidarity should go beyond the university setting. She said that the human migration we are currently witnessing will have an acute impact on the future of scientific and cultural life in Afghanistan, but the work underway through the Scholars at Risk network will help to protect this legacy.

She described the efforts in Trinity in collaboration with the Scholars at Risk network to help with the evacuation of a prominent scholar from Afghanistan and their relocation plans. Alluding to the “tremendous support” across the university, she said she is “hopeful” that the scholar can exit the country safely to join Trinity College Dublin’s community. Highlighting the “critical importance” of academic solidarity, she argued that the national higher education sectors need to step up to protect those at risk from the Taliban.

The Trinity Long Room Hub’s ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion series offers background analyses to current issues by experts drawing on the long-term perspectives of Arts & Humanities research. It aims to provide a forum that deepens understanding, combats simplification and creates space for informed and respectful public discourse. See list of previous lectures here.

The Behind the Headlines discussion series is sponsored by the John Pollard Foundation.