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April 28, 2010

Snarky tips for writing about Afghanistan

In homage to Granta's seminal 2005 satirical piece, "How to Write about Africa," by Kenyan author Binyavanga WainainaRegistan.net this week posted "How to Write about Afghanistan" by an anonymous expat in Kabul.

The very first tip:

"Always use the word ‘war-torn’ in your title." Merchantblog

Other helpful suggestions:

"Your Afghan characters may include bearded Talibs, tribal elders, comical cab drivers, and former warlords living in opulent palaces. Or corrupt politicians, inept fixers, and heroin addicts."

"Bad Western characters may include aid workers who drink, sleep around or do drugs, USAID contractors, Italians, and employees of the World Bank."

"Always end your book with an obscure Soviet or British general saying something about how Afghanistan is a land of ferocious, fanatical, crafty people capable of fighting forever."

The piece also owes a debt to last year's "29 Tips for Bad Writing on Afghanistan" by Christian Bleuer over at the defunct Ghosts of Alexander.

In that piece, Bleuer offered this helpful advice:

"#6. Repeat some false historical cliché about Afghanistan. Only the historians will be able to call your BS in a convincing manner."

"#8. Use exoticisms that make you sound really informed. Something like 'Pashtunwali,' 'Deobandi,' 'badal,' 'arbakai,' 'jirga,' 'shura,' etc… You don’t understand these terms in their social context. But no worries, neither does your reader."

"#23. Coin a neologism using '-stan.' Sorry, 'Vietraqistan' and 'Jihadistan' are taken."

In response to the latest Registan piece, readers offered some added advice:

Reader M. Shannon had these tips:

"If you talk about the US military don’t forget to mention McChrystal only eats one meal a day and Petreaus is a soldier scholar who can do 50 push ups."

"You get extra points if you mention that NATO is now doing 'classic counter-insurgency."

For the extra-curious, you can see actor Djimon Hounsou (from "Blood Diamond," "Gladiator" and "In America") reading "How to Write about Africa" below.


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What? No clichéd reference to Kipling??

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Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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