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20 THE TEXAS OHSERV Picturing Afghanistan BY JAKE MILLER 0 n September 11, like many of you, I spent most of the day and most of the night staring at what looked like the end of the world on my television. At one point in the evening, the anchors broke away from replays of the World Trade Center crash and coverage of the rescue efforts in Manhattan to show what seemed to be a missile attack on Kabul, Afghanistan. The correspondent was standing on a hotel rooftop overlooking the city, reporting on what some thought might be the first U.S. attack in the war. It soon became clear that it was just another sortie in Afghanistan’s lingering civil war. While the reporter was speculating that the Northern Alliance had blown up a Taliban munitions dump, something struck me as odd. The cityscape behind the reporter, flickering as it was through his videophone connection, seemed altogether too mod ern, too whole. Rows of streetlights illuminated the city’s avenues, and it looked more or less like any other hilly city in the world. On my bookshelf, I had a copy of Fazal Sheikh’s The Victor Weeps \(Scalo, the book quickly and found images of Kabul that confirmed my suspicion. In the daylight, Kabul doesn’t look anything like a city. It’s a bombed-out, dusty moonscape. The shattered buildings look more like an archaeological dig than a habitable city. I turned to The Victor Weeps and the other books of photojournalism that I mention in this essay the same way some people turned to scripture or to the American flag. I was looking for answers, for insight, for some sense that the world is intelligible, for reassurance that we can look at life and make some sense of it. I wouldn’t say I found any answers there, but answers are hard to come by lately. In the days after the attack in September, a friend kept asking me what my solution would be for the problem, taking it on faith that there is some solution. In the books that I looked at, it seemed clear to me that the photographers were searching just as hard for answers, or even for a way to ask the right questions, as the rest of us are. Fazal Sheikh’s grandfather was a Muslim cleric who emigrated to Kenya from what was then India. Sheikh’s family eventually settled in New York. In 1996 Sheikh traveled to his grandfather’s old village in what is now Pakistan. When he arrived he found that the region was home to hundreds of thousands ofAfghan refugees. Many had been mujahedeen who first helped to dispel the Soviets and then were driven from their homes by the Taliban. Sheikh began to photograph these refugees and to record their stories. Eventually he tray