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Pet Sins July 2005

Non-European involvements with Afghanistan

There are many stories of white Westerners going all over the non-Western world to help people, not just in the Western media, but also in the news media of non-Western countries. Western filmmakers bring the stories of 'forgotten' peoples to the world. Western aid workers serve in Third World countries. And the faces of these Western heroes which the media presents are almost always white, despite the fact that many Westerners are people of color. While we at ColorQ.org have the utmost respect for people who do good work, whether they are white or not, we believe that such stories, without being balanced by stories of non-whites supporting their own communities or non-whites helping each other across ethnic lines, unwittingly contribute to the stereotype of the "great white savior".

Take for example the media focus on Afghanistan, one of the more recent 'celebrated' causes. The news coverage in the US often repeats the myth of the invasion as "the great white savior standing up on behalf of oppressed women of color". Sonali Kolhatkar, vice-president of the US-based Afghan Women's Mission, uncovers the hypocrisy of the white liberal media and the US government in her article 'Saving' Afghan Women. She mentions "white women feminists in the US who seek to control the message of women's movements in the Global South."


Sonali Kolhatkar is an example of a person of color helping other people of color across racial lines without the paternalistic mentality that sometimes comes from white 'allies'. She believes "Afghan women were actively fighting back and simply needed money and moral support, not instructions." Kolhatkar is not Afghani. She is an Indian American, but because she is "a brown woman helping brown women", others often assume she must be Afghani. Such assumptions might possibly spring from the widespread but unspoken belief that non-Europeans can/should only help their own kind, but Europeans can help anybody.

Humanitarian Aid

Audiences in the west typically only pay attention to the 'generous' aid that Western countries send to non-Western nations (well, then there is the debt that 3rd World nations have to repay, but we won't go into that here). Any pre-conceived notions about Western countries being the only significant providers of international aid might have to change: Japan and Saudi Arabia are among the largest donors of international aid to Afghanistan. China, India and Iran also chipped in.

We don't claim that non-European countries who provide international aid are any less motivated by their own political gain than European countries. We also make no claims that the donations are enough to meet Afghanistan's needs. We only want to mention there are other countries who have international influence besides Western countries.

Arts and Culture

Osama (2004), Afghanistan's first feature film shot in the post-Taliban era, was made with support from Iran and Japan. After the fall of the Taliban, Iran's Ministry of Culture and Makhmalbaf Film House helped resuscitate Afghanistan's film industry with financial support and the donation of books, materials and training. (See Osama Official Movie Site for more information.) Osama, which was co-produced by Barmak Film, NHK Japan, and leBrocquy Fraser Ltd, won the Golden Globe award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003.

This at least shows that constructive cross-cultural exchanges are not limited to European/Other as media focus seems to indicate. Non-European cultures have been exchanging ideas, technology and people for thousands of years.